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Trans demands give UK a simple roadmap for change

Trans demands give UK a simple roadmap for change

Today’s announcement of the Trans Manifesto is another huge step forwards for trans people in the UK.

Four years ago I was involved in drawing up the massive Trans Statement of Needs. While an impressive piece of work, it was simply too daunting for any government to know where to start. A simpler, more focused, approach was needed.

Last summer I had a series of talks with Kate Green MP, who was then responsible for Labour’s equalities brief, and Helen Grant MP, the Conservative equalities minister, and the idea of a trans manifesto was born.

We wanted to raise the inequalities trans people still face, but make this a cross-party issue, with the idea of getting commitments to the same policies across the board.

Fairly quickly, and with the massive help of the LGBT Consortium, a meeting was held between a number of trans groups, and a productive few hours saw three core statements agreed as well as an agreement to try to get two or three specific policies.

The first statement is ‘respect trans individuals as equal citizens with equal rights’.

While this was shaped by discussions around same-sex marriage which give existing spouses a veto on gender transition, there are many other areas where inequality applies. These include widespread concerns about the way the Equality Act can be read, the growing emergence of non-binary people (those who don’t identify as exclusively male or female) and the complete lack of recognition for them, and continued discrimination in employment and education.

The second statement is ‘empower trans individuals to be authorities on their own lives’.

This was addressing concerns both about having to ‘get permission’ to have your gender changed and the age at which you can make an application, as well as the overall continued medicalization of the trans experience.

The then-Labour government said clearly in 2001 that being trans did not mean you are mentally ill, yet even now the accepted practice in the National Health Service (NHS) is you have to see a psychiatrist (rather than the possibly more appropriate endocrinologist), and probably at least two, before hormones are prescribed.

The model of informed consent seems to be a long way away for trans people.

It is interesting to note that several key people in NHS England, including Sir Bruce Keogh, their medical director, have said recently that people with long term conditions frequently become more expert than the medics about how to manage them.

The third statement, and one particularly close to my own heart because of my work with the media, is ‘Develop diverse, representative, realistic and positive portrayals of trans individuals’.

For years trans people have been portrayed in our media as exotic or needy individuals, and targets of comedy – a bit like we’re exhibits in a zoo and not real people.

Trans people need to be actively shown as ordinary people with ordinary lives, so a wide variety of trans people should be positively portrayed across TV, radio, publications and the internet.

Unanimity was reached incredibly quickly. For a set of communities not known for harmonious cooperation, this was indeed a rare result. Changing these statements into actual policies for a government to implement was harder, not because of the lack of unanimity, but because cost constraints needed to be recognized and government has increasingly drawn back from direct involvement in health.

Coming up with two policies was actually pretty quick, but it took a while to accept and agree that two was probably all we could get. In any case, a general election manifesto simply wouldn’t have room for a long list of trans-specific policies.

The Gender Recognition Act (GRA) became law in Britain almost exactly 10 years ago.

It’s not unusual for governments to review legislation after this kind of time has elapsed, and while the GRA was rightly seen as ground-breaking in its time, other countries seem have to moved beyond it now. Several discussions with civil servants and politicians, as well as many trans people, seem to indicate the GRA is not well understood, and can actually be causing some problems.

Different people will want different outcomes, but the first step is getting a government to commit to review the legislation, and consult widely on how it can be improved or if necessary, superseded. So that’s the first policy request. It was pleasing to hear Gloria de Piero MP, the current Labour equalities spokesperson, say last night she thinks a review is long overdue.

The second policy is a direct reflection of the third statement. Government produces a number of publications each year. It would be good for government to commit to including images and stories of trans people in those publications which don’t have an explicit link to trans policies. After all, trans people have children which go through the education system, trans people are employed and some are employers, trans people vote.

If parties want to commit to doing more, that’s great. We view the manifesto as a minimum set of requirements.

In particular access to appropriate healthcare, not just trans-specific treatment, has been high on trans peoples’ action list for many years now. We felt any including health-specific policy would be viewed as not a matter for government because the Department of Health now seems to view the NHS as a completely separate body responsible for its own policies.

Initial reaction from MPs and peers we have sent the manifesto to has been positive. Hopefully we’ll be able to give more feedback on this next week. The level of agreement amongst trans campaigners is also very high.

It’s good to be able to put trans issues positively onto the political table. Let’s hope that this will be actively picked up, and form a baseline for future progress.