Why I fought for the right to be female

Exclusive interview with sex-swap man who may force a change in law
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The Independent Online
A man who was sacked after beginning treatment to become a woman was sexually discriminated against, the European Court of Justice ruled yesterday, opening the way for hundreds more potential cases against employers.

Legal representatives of the woman, who can only be named as "P" for legal reasons, said another 20 cases of alleged discrimination were already "in the pipeline" and more individuals were already coming forward following yesterday's decision in Luxembourg. At least one case, concerning a woman known as "M", is to be brought against the Ministry of Defence.

The woman, who was dismissed from a further education college, said yesterday: "I am delighted not only for myself but for everyone who suffers from this condition.

"In all of my life and all of the treatment I have suffered, the way the head of the college behaved towards me was the most brutal and the most hurtful."

The woman was dismissed from a business consultancy position at the Cornwall college in 1992. She alleges that while employed as a man she had been offered a renewed contract with a rise in salary and other benefits, worth about pounds 70,000.

Lawyers for the headteacher, who also cannot be named, said that it was a matter of redundancy and not of discrimination.

"P" said that the sacking had came at the worst possible time, because she was about to undergo a major life change. She also needed her income, because private surgery is expensive. For many years she had not been able to find the language, or a concept, to explain why she felt different from other people.

"I have a twin sister and I could never understand why we were treated any different. I didn't feel as if I was born in the wrong body or anything like that, I just knew something was wrong with me. When I got to about seven years old I realised that everything couldn't come right and I assumed I would die because that was the only possible future for me."

It was not until the late 1980s that she found a support group and realised the possibility of acceptance and surgery.

"It was like coming home," she said. "When I realised that I could have surgery, it was like having an incurable illness that could be cured. No-one ever asks a blind person whether they actually want an operation - of course they have it."

The first stage for anyone who is intending to embark on a course of gender reassignment surgery is for them to live as someone of the gender that they wish to become.

It was at this stage that "P" decided that it was time to talk to her employers. "I told the headteacher about my circumstances and, initially, he was supportive, saying that he valued me for my aptitude and skills and that wouldn't change," she said.

"But the weeks passed, by which time I was living as a woman at work, and it became clear that the new contract he had promised me wasn't going to come. He then made me redundant and while I was on holiday, he emptied my office and put someone else in my place and banned me from speaking to my staff."

Yesterday, the European Court of Justice found that the behaviour of the school directors breached the 1976 European Union directive on equal treatment, which guarantees men and women the same rights.

The Court heard that "article 5 precludes dismissal of a transsexual for reasons relating to gender reassignment" and that the principle of equal treatment for men and women meant there should be no discrimination whatsoever on grounds of sex.

The case was sent to Luxembourg by a industrial tribunal held in Cornwall, to establish whether transsexuals and attitudes towards changes of sex are covered by European law. The tribunal will now decide on damages.

Last night the college and headteacher refused to comment, other than to acknowledge that they were aware of the judgement. Cornwall County Council, which was also named in the industrial tribunal proceedings said: "All submissions in this case have been entered by the Government."

The Equal Opportunities Commission, which financed the case, said it was now likely that the Government would have to amend legislation.

The ruling provoked a flurry of protest in Westminster, however, with several Conservative MPs expressing outrage about "more interference from Brussels".

The Department for Education described the ruling as "very disappointing". "We will now be looking very carefully at the details of the judgment," a DFEE spokesman said.

Stonewall, the gay rights campaign group, said that the ruling would aid their fight for gay men and lesbians to be allowed to serve in the military, as transsexuals would now be protected from dismissal from the armed forces on the grounds of their sexual condition.

"This is the first case of its kind and we are expecting many more," said Ramby Diemello, the woman's barrister.

"Independent figures show there are 20,000 transsexuals in the country. Cases to be brought would not just be about employment rights for transsexuals people, but - in order for the law to be consistent - would also concern matters such as marriage, adoption, birth certificates and passports."