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Theresa May Must Demonstrate Her Liberal Credentials With Increased Rights For Transgender People

This would provide far more protection to all transgender people

22/11/2017 17:37 GMT

One of the key factors in the Conservative Party’s failure to secure a majority in the House of Commons in June’s general election was young people’s decision to overwhelmingly support the Labour Party. This was driven by a number of factors but the Prime Minister’s perceived lurch away from liberal values – advocating a ‘hard Brexit’, tough controls on immigration and scepticism with human rights - was one such factor.

To win the votes of more young people, Theresa May should show young people that she shares their liberal values. David Cameron was able to establish himself as a socially liberal politician through a range of policies, especially the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Now, Theresa May should do something similar.

Recent analysis polling by Bright Blue shows one way to do this is through better protecting transgender people in the UK. Just last year the House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee found that, sadly, transgender people face “high levels of transphobia” on a daily basis. A quarter of trans people report being discriminated against in the workplace.

Our polling found that 67% of under 40s would be proud to support a political party that strengthens equalities legislation to ban discrimination against all transgender people. Just 13% of young voters would be embarrassed to support a party that did the same. But, crucially, our polling also shows that the majority of voters would be proud to vote for a political party that better protects transgender people. Almost half of the very oldest in our society - those aged 65 and above - would be proud to support a political party that strengthens equalities legislation for transgender people.

Of course, the Conservative Party should not just pursue policies because they are politically right, but – most importantly – morally right too. The Government should focus on strengthening current equalities legislation to improve transgender people’s lives in Britain. In Bright Blue’s recent report, Britain Breaking Barriers, we recommended amending the Equality Act 2010 to replace ‘gender reassignment’ with ‘gender identity’ as a protected characteristic.

Currently, the Equality Act only protects individuals if they are “proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.”

This means that people with broader kinds of transgender identities, who may not be seeking, or may not have sought, gender reassignment, medical or otherwise, are largely unprotected and cannot bring cases against specific people and employers when they feel have discriminated against them. This would provide far more protection to all different types of transgender people than what they currently enjoy.

The Government has also recently announced that it wants to introduce provisions for adults to be able “to change their gender legally without a doctor’s diagnosis”. The provisions will apparently ensure that “in future, people are expected to be required only to make a statutory declaration that they intend to live in the acquired gender until death”. Such provisions are commonly known as ‘self-identification’. Four countries in Europe - Denmark, Malta, Ireland and Norway – have very recently allowed citizens to self-identify.

The reasoning behind this possible reform is understandable. Currently, transgender people must obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) in order to legally change gender in the UK. However, many transgender people have described the process of gaining a GRC to be intrusive and unnecessarily difficult. It currently requires the transgender person to gain a mental health diagnosis from a doctor for gender dysphoria. In whole, the process is lengthy and can take many years to complete.

However, the Government should proceed with this carefully, for the sake of the transitioning individual but also others. While the vast majority of those who choose to legally identify as a different gender will do so definitively and truthfully, there will be a small proportion who do not. There is a danger that self-identification will allow a small number to transition prematurely or to abuse the system in order to gain access to women-only services, such as prisons. These legitimate concerns must be addressed before proceeding with the introduction of self-identification.

Nonetheless, the Prime Minister should show her liberal side and offer a package of greater support for different transgender individuals in the UK.

James Dobson is a senior researcher at Bright Blue

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