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Why Women’s Aid is no safe haven for trans staff

Why Women’s Aid is no safe haven for trans staff

A falling out between the UK trans community and feminist charity Women’s Aid has highlighted what many activists consider to be a job half-done when it comes to legal protections for trans persons.

It illustrates why, with a UK general election now less than a year away, many are calling on politicians to think again about half-baked equality laws and a Gender Recognition Act, which creates more problems than it solves.

Trouble erupted when the Women’s Aid Transgender and Transsexual Equality Policy and Procedure was publicized on a number of trans forums.

According to this policy: ‘Women’s Aid will only employ trans women who can present a birth certificate confirming their female identity, or if non-UK born, a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) confirming their acquired female identity.’

Also: ‘Women’s Aid will not discriminate against any trans man who does not have a birth certificate confirming his male identity, or if non-UK born, a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) confirming his acquired male identity and will consider an application for employment without regard to the candidate’s gender.’

Women’s Aid then go on to explain that an individual may be employed without being required to provide a GRC, but ‘an offer of employment may be withdrawn or subsequent employment terminated, if a trans woman’s status is later disclosed’ and she is unable to furnish proof of change of gender (including a GRC or birth certificate).

According to Women’s Aid, their intention at the time of drawing up the policy was to be as inclusive of the trans community as possible. They consulted with Press for Change, which describes itself as the ‘UK’s leading experts in transgender law’. PFC’s founder, Stephen Whittle was also closely involved in government consultations on setting up the Gender Recognition Certificate.

In a statement issued yesterday, they explained this policy had been created ‘to ensure that we avoid discriminating against transwomen (and transmen) in our employment practices’.

However, many in the trans community, including those entitled to apply for one, object strongly to the Gender Recognition Certificate. They argue it is not up to the state to determine their gender, and refuse to apply for a GRC.

Over the last 12 months, the case for moving to a system that more accurately reflects the reality of gender identity has been made to members of all parliamentary parties.

Activists have asked that parliament consider adopting a position similar to that made law in Argentina in 2011, according to which, trans people may obtain gender recognition by a simple administrative procedure, without the need to jump through the various hoops set up by the GRC scheme.

Others have expressed fears that with the equalizing of pension age, the GRC confers few benefits, but creates new problems.

Trans forums regularly report of organizations demanding to see a GRC – even though they have no legal right to do so. There are also concerns that the GRC system creates a central register of trans persons that could be used for more sinister purposes – as appears to have occurred with the internment of trans women in Greece by right wing elements in the local police force.

The Women’s Aid policy also highlights issues with the Equality Act 2010: although the Gender Recognition Act 2004 states that individuals possessing a GRC are to be treated as their acquired gender for all legal purposes, the Equality Act nonetheless includes an exemption that allows trans persons, including those possessing a GRC to be discriminated against where such discrimination is a ‘necessary’ means to achieve a ‘legitimate aim’.

According to trans rights campaigner and member of the LGBT+ Liberal Democrats executive, Zoe O’Connell: ‘The Equality Act was regressive, allowing discrimination against trans people that had previously been unlawful under the Gender Recognition Act. It was a job half done and politicians need to revisit it. We are long overdue some progressive legislation in this area.’

Women’s Aid have further justified the policy by citing concerns about security.

They told GSN: ‘Victims of domestic violence are at the center of what we do, and there can be no compromise on the safety of the women and children we work with.

‘Decades of experience working with women escaping perpetrators of domestic violence has taught us that there is nothing perpetrators will not do to gain access to their victims.

‘Perpetrators hack into computer records, break into buildings, and will tell any lie that they think will allow them closer to their victim. We therefore take steps to ensure all of our employees and volunteers, cis [non-trans] and trans, are who they say they are and do not pose any risk.

‘We ask all potential employees and volunteers for proof of identity to ensure we can meet our safeguarding responsibilities.’

This was rejected by equality campaigner, Sarah Brown, who is now calling for Women’s Aid to review their policy.

She told us: ‘I support Women’s Aid in their aim, I understand they have good intentions, but I do not see how it is achieved by this policy: a GRC is irrelevant to what they are trying to achieve.

‘Worse, this policy, echoes the tired clichés that we always hear around about trans women in public toilets: it assumes the transition process is something that can be adopted as a disguise and punishes vulnerable trans women for hypothetical acts of infiltration by men claiming to be trans women.’

Women’s Aid are now looking at their policy in light of feedback, and would welcome input from the trans community.