Steps towards Transgender Equality

20th November was Transgender Day of Remembrance, which marked the lives tragically lost to transphobic acts of violence. Every year, dozens of trans people are murdered because of who they are, and in the UK, 22 transgender lives have been lost since the beginning of 2018 and 45% of young trans people have attempted suicide.

Last month, the government concluded its consultation on the Gender Recognition Act, an historic moment to improve trans rights in the UK. But the fight for trans rights has been long and hard, and much remains to be done.

The Gender Recognition Act 2004 was an important piece of LGBTQ+ legislation. However, groups like Stonewall and Unison, as well as the Women and Equalities Committee in their January 2016 report on Transgender Equality, have since called for an update to the Act in line with the 2006 Yogyakarta Principals – a set of international principles relating to sexual orientation and gender identity. The Yogyakarta principles set out trans equality in law, based on the principle of a universal right for individuals to determine their own gender identity and to have this respected and recognised. By contrast, the Gender Recognition Act 2010 requires a psychiatric diagnosis, and has other limitations such as its failure to recognise the existence of non-binary people.

Principle 31 of the 2006 Yogyakarta Principals states that:

“Everyone has the right to legal recognition without reference to, or requiring assignment or disclosure of, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics. Everyone has the right to obtain identity documents, including birth certificates, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics. Everyone has the right to change gendered information in such documents while gendered information is included in them.”

This means that there should be a quick, transparent and accessible mechanism for recognising people’s gender identity and no prerequisite eligibility criteria – such as medical or psychological interventions, a psycho-medical diagnosis or age – in order to change one’s name, legal sex or gender.

This is the crux of the ongoing debate: the right to self-determine one’s own gender and sex identities, rather than having them determined by a psychiatric process. This principle of self-determination is in the statute book of countries including Argentina, Sweden, Portugal Norway, Denmark, Malta, Colombia, and Ireland. Campaign groups suggest that proper reform to the Gender Recognition Act along this principle would help bring the UK up to speed in terms of equality legislation.

The Minister for Women and Equalities, Penny Mordaunt’s recently announced that the Government and Equalities Office will “shift” and broaden its focus. Campaigners are hopeful that this could include the rights, treatment and experience of trans people, intersex people, non-binary people and gender-diverse people. Indeed, Minister for Women, Victoria Atkins has confirmed that the government will “shortly” open a consultation on intersex and non-binary people.

The UK has a long way to go before trans and gender diverse people receive equal treatment and feel fully safe in society. The outcome of the Gender Recognition Act consultation should be appropriate, modern policy making which helps to make this a reality, and the UK has a real opportunity now to lead the way in LGBTQ+ legislation.

Isabella Hunter-Fajardo by:
Isabella Hunter-Fajardo