Proposals to make it easier to ban trans women from single-sex spaces are part of a “manufactured culture war”, the government has been warned.
Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch is considering changing the Equality Act so the protected characteristic of “sex” means “biological sex”.
It follows a recommendation from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The change would make it easier to exclude trans women from sports, hospital wards and jobs.
Loose Women panellist India Willoughby – who is also the UK’s first transgender newsreader – hit out at the plans.
“In light of this 50s-style move by the disgusting EHRC we are heading to civil disobedience from the trans community,” she said on Twitter.
“Black and Gay were forced to break laws - so will we. Let them arrest us, take us to court. Trans will NOT be segregated or accept 2nd Class status.”
LGBTQ+ campaign group Stonewall said the move “risks opening yet another chapter in a manufactured culture war”.
A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to protecting women’s rights and the minister for women and equalities regularly seeks advice from the independent equality regulator as part of her role.
“We have received advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the Equality Act and will consider it in the usual way.”
Writing in The Times on Wednesday, the chair of the EHRC, Baroness Falkner, said it was “clear that change is needed” to the status quo.
“Confusingly, the Equality Act prohibits sex discrimination but it does not define ‘sex’,” she said.
“It says only that in relation to sex, a person with the protected characteristic is a man or a woman, male or female, of any age.”
The EHRC decided to look into the impact of a change in February following a request from Badenoch.
In a letter to the equalities minister, the EHRC said making the change would mean trans people with a gender recognition certificate (GRC) could be excluded from same-sex spaces.
The Gender Recognition Act 2004 provides that the gender of a person with a GRC becomes the acquired gender for all purposes and recognised as their legal sex.
The move would not affect trans people who do not hold a GRC.
The EHRC said it would mean those trans women could be excluded from, for example, a women’s book club.
Trans people with GRCs would also be banned from some jobs which are restricted to women or men, such as being a warden in a women’s or girls’ hostel.
Trans women with GRCs would also no longer be allowed on all women shortlists used by political parties to increase the number of female MPs.
A biological definition of sex would make it easier to exclude trans women from women’s sport.
It would also mean hospitals could exclude trans women with a GRC from women-only wards
In its letter, the EHRC said the change would also mean a trans a trans woman with a GRC would no longer be able to make equal pay claim by citing a legally male comparator who was paid more.
A Stonewall spokesperson said the Equality Act has successfully supported businesses and service providers to challenge discrimination for more than a decade and there was “no substantive evidence of demand” for a change.
“At Stonewall, we work with hundreds of employers week in week out. They would say that the Equality Act is working well and do not see a world where cis women are desperate to exclude trans women from their spaces,” they said.
“Instead, poll after poll shows that women are much more likely to support trans equality than men.
“The EHRC is right to consider how trans men miss out on provisions and protections, but it is fundamentally wrong to imply that trans women do not experience sexism, which cuts far beyond biology.”
“We would also expect the EHRC to make further reference to some of the challenges defining ‘biological’ sex, discussion around how these measures would interact with the Equality Act’s protection for people who are ‘perceived’ to hold protected characteristics, and how rights for intersex people might be considered.
“Rather than finding a way forward on this discussion, this move risks opening yet another chapter in a manufactured culture war that will see little benefit to women, cis and trans alike.”
Steve Reed, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, said he agreed with the EHRC that “equality legislation is unclear”.
“I do believe that safe spaces for women like a Women’s Refuge for instance, there are very good reasons why that should be for biological women,” he said.