13/12/2015 19:40 GMT | Updated 13/12/2016 05:12 GMT

The Tories Are Trailing Behind on Transgender Rights


As a country we've made huge strides forward on transgender rights but there is a long way to go. Attitudes are shifting in a positive direction as shown by the recent polling from The Huffington Post UK and I hope that this will pave the way for change from Government.

Yet, on this issue - like so many others, we still seem to have a Conservative party which trails public opinion rather than stands fast on principle. In Coalition we pulled them along with us but without the firm, unwavering hand of the Liberal Democrats they've stalled. In 2011, thanks to the work of Lynne Featherstone we published a Transgender Action Plan, we hope that this isn't simply just put away in a box marked 'Coalition work', it will need to be revisited, updated and improved.

As ever the Liberal Democrats are ahead of other parties when it comes to LGBT equality. It was Liberal Democrats that first raised trans issues in parliament, with the Gender Identity Bill back in 1996, 8 years before the Gender Recognition Act.

This Autumn our party conference introduced the Transgender and Intersex Charter with astounding support from party members. This called for the phased removal of gender markers in documentation unless it is absolutely necessary, and the introduction of an 'X' gender option and 'Mx.' title option on the remainder and a streamlined simplification of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to allow individuals to change their legal gender at will amongst other things. And we are leading the way, our own party documentation is changing to phase out gender wherever possible.

Something as small as not having to choose whether to tick the male or female box on applications can make a huge difference. In the last Parliament we desperately tried to get the Tories to agree to introducing gender neutral passports. This is not as radical an idea as it might seem - other countries like Australia have already introduced it and it is accepted by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. It is frankly ridiculous that even on something this small the Tories have refused to act.

Unfortunately though, it is not just small problems trans and intersex people face. They are all too often marginalised, ignored and discriminated against. Gender identity clinics are chronically underfunded and trans women have been repeatedly put in all male prisons, which has had fatal consequences.

This summer, the state funded watchdog, Healthwatch warned that people preparing for gender reassignment surgery were being treated as second class citizens with disgraceful waiting times and delays. I'm glad that NHS England has responded - increasing funding and communicating what they're doing better. I hope that this response can be mirrored across Government but this will need us to keep holding those in power to account and pushing for change.

We are an open and liberal society, we should be a world leader on this issue, for trans children, non-binary adults and their families, but that will require work both in Parliament and outside it. I believe the barriers are coming down and I and my party will be doing our bit to help them on their way but ultimately this is a group effort and will require more awareness raising initiatives like this to drive the change.

Tim Farron is the leader of the Liberal Democrats, and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale