Transgender campaigners have blasted misleading reports that trans women will not be legally entitled to use female-only spaces, such as toilets, when new legislation is introduced.
Several news outlets, including the Sunday Times, reported that the government had vowed to defend women’s rights and exclude transgender people from female-only spaces, including changing rooms and swimming sessions.
The reports come as the government prepares to launch its consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which could make it easier for people to change their gender.
However, transgender charities and campaigners have claimed the story is a “media-generated ‘debate’”, as transgender women and men can still legally access appropriately gendered toilets as set out in the Equality Act.
Paul Twocock, director of campaigns, policy and research at Stonewall, the UK’s leading LGBT charity, said: “Trans people can and have been using the toilets that match their gender for years without issue. This is another media-generated ‘debate’ based on inaccurate information.
“This is not what reform of the Gender Recognition Act is about because the law already states that trans people can access single-sex spaces that match their gender, and should not be discriminated against.”
He added that the exemptions to the rule only apply to sensitive and complex services, such as women’s refuges.
“However, these exemptions are rarely used and in almost all situations trans people are treated equally as is required by our equality laws,” he continued.
Twocock said the “toxic media debate” is one factor in Britain’s lack of progress on trans equality.
He said two-in-five trans people have had a hate crime committed against them in the past year, and two-in-five trans young people have attempted suicide. One-in-eight trans people have been physically attacked by colleagues or customers at work, he added.
“We need urgent reform of the Gender Recognition Act to guarantee the safety and dignity of trans and non-binary people,” he added.
In response to a petition calling for women to be consulted before any change to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) is made, the Government Equalities Office said: “We are clear that we have no intention of amending the Equality Act 2010, the legislation that allows for single-sex spaces.
“The Government does not intend to change the safeguarding processes that are currently used in refuges and healthcare services.
“Any GRA reform will not change the protected characteristics in the Equality Act nor the exceptions under the Equality Act that allow provision for single and separate sex spaces.”
It added: “Providers of women-only services can continue to provide services in a different way, or even not provide services to trans individuals, provided it is objectively justified on a case-by-case basis.
“The same can be said about toilets, changing rooms or single-sex activities. Providers may exclude trans people from facilities of the sex they identify with, providing it is a proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim.”
The statement concludes: “We are confident that advancing the rights of trans people does not have to compromise women’s rights, and will work with all groups to ensure this.”
Started by a number of feminist groups that have voiced concerns about the consequences of allowing men to self-identify as women, the petition called for women’s voices to be heard before the law is changed.
The petition, which received more than 12,000 signatures, said: “We call for women to be consulted on how to protect women and girls’ rights, safety, privacy and dignity.”
It also calls for the government to consult with women’s organisations on how self-declaration would impact on women-only services and spaces, data-gathering, and monitoring of sex-based discrimination.
The statement was welcomed by members of Woman’s Place, a campaign group on the subject. In a statement, they said: “This is a significant commitment to uphold women’s rights as they currently exist under the law.”
Sarah al-Maghribi Murphy wrote on the group’s Facebook: “Glad they had sense. Female-only spaces are penis exclusionary for a reason.”
Trans campaigner Jane Fae said: “What [these women’s groups] have done is create a wholly imagined fear based a misunderstanding of what was proposed. They have refused to listen to anyone explaining what was actually proposed until finally the government stepped in with its response, at which point they have declared victory.
“The only danger now is that some small business owners will believe the misinformation peddled by the press at the weekend and use it as an excuse to break the law.”
In last week’s Women and Equalities Committee, Penny Mordaunt was quizzed about the issue and said there was a raft of issues and “very legitimate” questions that are being asked that will come out during the consultation period.
The Minister for Women and Equalities said: “We need to address people’s concerns. But fundamentally, the discrimination and bigotry that the trans community faces is very much like what gay men went through in the 1980s.
“I said to a meeting the other day that none of us were in politics at that time, but we must ask ourselves whether if we had been we would have stood up for that community. I hope we would have. But that is happening now to the trans community.”
In a separate statement, a spokesperson for the Government Equalities Office said: “Since we announced our intention to reform the Gender Recognition Act in 2017, we have been clear we will not amend the Equality Act 2010.
“Any reform of the Gender Recognition Act will not change the protected characteristics in the Equality Act nor the exceptions under the Equality Act that allow provision for single and separate sex spaces.”
The consultation on the reform is due to be published before the summer recess, which begins on July 20.