Last night, news emerged of the government’s plans to scrap proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act. Instead of simplifying the process of changing one’s legal gender, and extending that right to non-binary people, these plans appear to comprise an attack on fundamental trans rights, some of which are protected under the Equality Act 2010.
Currently, changing your legal gender is an expensive, arduous and dehumanising process. To obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate, you have to prove that you have been living as your acquired gender for at least two years, and provide two medical reports showing that you have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. You also have to pay £140, more than it costs to renew a passport in the UK.
This process is not only excessive: it puts us in very real danger. When you ask people to live for two years as their acquired gender without legal recognition, you require them to expose themselves to violence and discrimination without any real legal protection. And it also excludes non-binary people, who have no possibility whatsoever of legal recognition, or of the protections that come with it.
The leaked plans suggest that people with “male genitalia” will be refused access to women’s spaces. Some trans women do not want to have surgery; they will never be allowed to use such spaces. And trans women who do want surgery face waiting lists of several years. During that time, even if they are legally recognised as women, they will be excluded from women-reserved spaces and services.
These plans constitute a direct contravention of the Equality Act 2010, under which people who are legally recognised as women are granted access to women’s spaces. The Act does provide for exceptions to this access, but that is precisely what they are: exceptions. This despite the government stating clearly that they “are not proposing any amendments to the Equality Act 2010’ when they launched their consultation into the Gender Recognition Act”.
If you mandate that people with “male genitalia” are not allowed in women’s spaces, you set an incredibly dangerous precedent for state-sponsored violence on trans women, and trans people more widely. You tell the general public in no uncertain terms that it is their legal right to act as judge, jury and executioner when it comes to trans people.
And I don’t use the word executioner lightly: society is quite literally killing us. Trans women, and, in particular, black trans women and trans women of colour, are being attacked and murdered for being trans. And that’s not all: 48 per cent of trans people have attempted suicide, and 84 per cent have thought about it. We are being killed, and killing ourselves, and our blood is on the government’s hands.
We are already being attacked for using public toilets. Every trans woman I know has been assaulted in women’s facilities. It also affects those of us who aren’t women, but who use women’s toilets because we have no other option. As a non-binary person who is often read as a man, and a survivor of sexual assault by men, I have nowhere to go: I am not safe in men’s toilets, and I have been physically attacked in women’s toilets. Under the proposed plans, trans people of all genders will be exposed to yet more violence.
But this is not just about toilets: it’s about life-saving services such as shelters and rape crisis centres. Transgender people are twice as likely as cisgender people to experience domestic violence and abuse. Eighty per cent of trans people in Scotland have been subject to emotional, physical or sexual abuse by a current or former partner. To deny us access to domestic abuse support such as refuges is nothing short of inhumane.
The government knows that it is sanctioning violence against us. It knows that to go back on its commitment to protecting trans people, and to simplifying the process of getting legal recognition, is to sign so many of our death certificates. That’s why they’ve repeatedly stalled on releasing these plans, and why they are apparently going to do so just before MPs leave for the summer break.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the woman behind these plans, Liz Truss, has a long record of bowing to pressure from reactionary lobbies in order to further her political agenda. She lied about financial support for Scotland, and cuts for councils. She broke the law by awarding arms licenses to Saudi Arabia. She caved to farming lobbies and exposed thousands of people to flood risk. As far as I’m concerned, she cannot be trusted, on this or anything else.
Perhaps more damning, insiders say that 70 per cent of people who filled in the consultation were in favour of trans people being able to self-declare their gender. The government has apparently dismissed this figure as “an avalanche of responses generated by trans rights groups”, rather than take it for what it is: vocal support, largely from people who aren’t trans, for trans rights.
This is disgraceful, and fundamentally anti-democratic. It ignores that numerous anti-trans groups – who masquerade as women’s rights groups – were actively and doggedly pushing for people to fill in the consultation to prevent reform of the Gender Recognition Act. It also begs the question: what more could we have done to convince the government of the dire need for change?
In a week when the government has dismissed the concerns of Black Lives Matter and anti-racist activists, these plans confirm what many of us already knew: that the people in power do not care about marginalised communities. They do not care about black lives, and they do not care about trans lives. And they most certainly don’t care about the lives of black trans people and trans people of colour, who these plans will affect more than any other group.
Since the mid-seventies, anti-trans campaigners have argued that trans identity should be “morally [mandated] out of existence”. This is precisely what so-called women’s groups are lobbying for, and what the government has tacitly endorsed with these plans. They want to mandate us out of existence, or at the very least, provide a legal framework that will allow others to do so. They want to erase us, and we cannot let them.
With thanks to Logan Joan Hamilton and Iris Tomé Valencia for their contributions to this piece
Aaron Hughes is a lecturer in French at the University of Oxford’s Balliol College
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