The UK government was forced to defend its ‘failing’ approach to issues affecting the transgender community last night (14 September).
The Women and Equalities Select Committee held a meeting in the House of Commons, chaired by Maria Miller, who added her own voice to the criticism of the government response to her committee’s report on trans issues received when it was released in July.
The report, while calling for a review of the Gender Recognition Act and stating being transgender is not a mental illness, was welcomed by the trans community. The government response, however, said very little of note.
Miller called the response a ‘little thin’ and the job the committee set out to achieve is far from done. A panel of speakers addressing the meeting were unanimous in their view that government was ignoring the major issues raised by the report.
Helen Belcher, director of Trans Media Watch, called the government ‘woolly’ and ‘disappointing’ and failing to tell the truth in many areas.
Citing government claims to have done many ‘amazing things’, she summarized the response of the trans community as a sense that government had done the least amount possible.
She also spoke of her amazement at reading some government claims that appeared to have been motivated more by the need to produce a positive soundbite than reality. One glaring instance of this was the government claim it now accepted that being transgender was not a mental illness: this attracted headlines, but was a position first expressed in government in 2002.
Ashley Reed, creator of the petition ‘Allow transgender people to self-define their legal gender’ described the report as a ‘massive step in the right direction”’ although they were disappointed it failed to address the issue of trans people being excluded from rape crisis centres.
Trans people – particularly trans women of color – were particularly at risk, and the present situation meant many had nowhere to turn for support if they were victims of sexual violence.
Reed was also critical of the government response, particularly in respect of non-binary individuals, reminding the audience that the Ministry of Justice were aware of ‘no specific detriment’ to non-binary people.
Dr Jay Stewart MBE, director of Gendered Intelligence, said government was too wedded to a ‘light touch’ and trans people needed to be able to self-identify their gender. The law needed to expand the list of protected characteristics to include non-binary individuals: and at the same time there needed to be greater focus throughout society on the removal of gender markers where they were not essential.
The meeting heard from a wide range of trans speakers, but also many opponents.
A speaker for Transgender Trends accused Stewart of going into schools and confusing children over issues of sex and gender. Academic Julia Long criticized the Select Committee for failing to take account of the rights of women and for conflating sex and gender.
Political activist and long-term critic of trans rights Sheila Jeffreys echoed Long’s criticism the Committee were ignoring the rights of women. While being supportive of the right of transgender people to exist they were still men and as such the Committee should take into account that they were as likely to be violent towards women as non-trans men.
However, Ruth Cadbury MP concluded the meeting by agreeing the general mood expressed was that far from improving the situation for trans people in the UK appeared to have worsened in several areas, including access to medical treatment, in prisons, and in violence on the streets since the report came out.
Cadbury repeated Miller’s earlier assurance the matter was not finished and the Committee would be seeking parliamentary time to discuss issues raised by their report in the autumn.