LGBT rights campaigners have voiced concern after the government’s equalities minister said she wanted to protect under-18s from “irreversible” decisions about their gender.
Liz Truss‘s comments came as she announced that the government’s long-awaited response to a consultation on reform of transgender rights legislation, which closed in 2018, will be delivered by the summer.
She confirmed that the review of the Gender Recognition Act will preserve the protection of single-sex spaces to which only women have access.
But she sparked concern by adding that she wanted to make sure that under-18s are “protected from decisions that they could make that are irreversible in the future”.
Ms Truss told the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee” “I believe strongly that adults should have the freedom to lead their lives as they see fit, but I think it’s very important that while people are still developing their decision-making capabilities that we protect them from making those irreversible decisions.”
LGBT rights group Stonewall demanded talks with the minister to establish what decisions she had in mind and to ensure that young people continue to be offered appropriate support.
The group’s director of campaigns, policy and research, Laura Russell, said: ‘While it’s good to hear the government will set out its proposals for next steps on reform of the Gender Recognition Act, we’re concerned about comments that relate to protecting trans people who are under 18 from making ‘irreversible decisions’.
“We’d welcome an opportunity to discuss this with the minister, as it’s crucial all young people who are questioning their gender identity are able to access high-quality, timely support. Every trans young person should be given the care they need, in an informed and supportive manner, so they’re able to lead a happy, healthy life.”
The central aim of the review is to consider how to make the process of changing legal gender easier, but it has sparked furious debate over trans women’s exclusion from some female-only areas like refuges, toilets or changing rooms.
Pressure has grown for a change in the law after a series of incidents in which people self-defining as a gender that is different to their biological sex have been turned away from single-sex spaces.
Addressing the Women and Equalities Committee by video link, Ms Truss said: “We’ve been doing a lot of work internally, making sure we’re in a position to respond to that consultation and launch what we propose to do on the future of the Gender Recognition Act. We will be in a position to do that by the summer, and there are three very important principles that I will be putting place.
“First of all, the protection of single-sex spaces, which is extremely important.
“Secondly making sure that transgender adults are free to live their lives as they wish without fear of persecution, whilst maintaining the proper checks and balances in the system.
“Finally – which is not a direct issue concerning the Gender Recognition Act but is relevant – making sure that the under-18s are protected from decisions that they could make, that are irreversible in the future.
“I believe strongly that adults should have the freedom to lead their lives as they see fit, but I think it’s very important that while people are still developing their decision-making capabilities that we protect them from making those irreversible decisions.”
The consultation was launched in July 2018 by Ms Truss’s predecessor as equalities minister Penny Mordaunt.
Under the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, a trans person has to undergo a two-year waiting period, a review or appearance before a specialist panel as well as paying £140 before being able to change their gender legally.
Ms Truss, who is also international trade secretary, told the committee the UK should not shy away from trade deals with countries with a poor record on LGBT issues.
Asked whether Britain should sign trade agreements with states which do not adhere to high standards on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, she replied: “The way I see it is that what we should seek to do is have tracks dealing with issue of climate change or LGBT rights, but we should treat those separately from trade agreements.”
She added: “We already trade with most countries in the world anyway on World Trade Organisation terms. We have to as a member of the WTO.
“What trade agreements are really about is mutually lowering barriers and helping more trade between our countries. That trade leads to economic development in those nations which can often have a positive effect in terms of attitudes to LGBT rights and women’s rights.
“If you take the example of Rwanda, 80% of cross-border trade is by women running small businesses. I don’t want to hold back potential benefits for some of the poorest people in the world because we are seeking agreement with their governments’ on LGBT rights.
“I think we need a twin-track approach to encouraging economic development at the same time as working closely with those nations to move in the right direction on LGBT rights.”
Stonewall’s director of global programmes Leanne MacMillan responded: “We would expect the government to use trade opportunities to open up discussions with different countries about LGBT equality.
“These conversations and any resulting activities must be made in consultation with and led by the expertise of LGBT human rights defenders based in those countries to ensure the safest and most productive outcome.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies