Transsexuals in test case

Rosa Prince on the fight for legal status
Click to follow
The Independent Online
KRISTINA Sheffield used to be a husband and father with a successful career as a pilot. Then she decided she could no longer live as a he - and spent a year enduring operations to turn her into a woman.

She was divorced from her wife, because transsexuals may not legally be married; a judge granted an injunction banning her from seeing her daughter on the grounds that transsexuals are not suitable company for children; and she left her job at Britannia Airlines. She has not worked as a pilot since.

On Tuesday, Kristina and another transsexual, Rachel Horsham, go to the European Court to argue that the British Government is invading their privacy by refusing to allow them to change their birth certificates to show they are now women. If the case succeeds, British transsexuals say they will finally be given full legal status and civil rights.

But Kristina does not see herself as a figurehead. "I don't want to be a heroine," she says. She is going to court because until she is allowed to change the sex on her birth certificate she feels she will never again work as a pilot.

She says: "I returned to work in 1986 after becoming a woman. The Airport Authority said: 'Fine, no problem.' And then I was sacked. After that it was impossible to get a job. From that moment, I was a third-class citizen."

Kristina has applied to every airline in the UK, but once she shows her birth certificate to prospective employers and her previous existence as a man is revealed, she usually fails to get the job. She says: "At one interview, they said: 'We have no intention of giving you a job. We just wanted to have look at you.'"

Britain is the only European country where gender re-assignment surgery is done by the state, but transsexuals' new status is not legally acknowledged on their birth certificate. A spokesman for the Office of National Statistics said birth certificates were documents of historical record, so did not acknowledge changes in personal detail.

Liz Parratt, campaign co-ordinater for civil rights organisation Liberty, said: "Transsexuals in the UK are treated appallingly by the law. There are no obligations on people to compel them to recognise your new identity."

Kristina is optimistic about her chances of success, but less sanguine about the effect it will have on her life. "The damage has been done but it will stop it happening again and take a lot of the fear out of being transsexual."

A spokesman for Britannia Airlines said Kristina left by "mutual consent".

Comments