“It is really worrying that the Minister of Equalities could be taking away the rights of a vulnerable minority” – Suzie Green, CEO of the leading charity Mermaids, that supports gender-diverse children and young people.
On 3rd July 2018, the UK government asked the public how they think the 2004 Gender Recognition Act (GRA) should be reformed. In brief, the 2004 act enables people with gender dysphoria to legally change their gender and receive a gender recognition certificate.
Rumours arose over the past two years, before finally, on 22nd April 2020, Women and Equalities Minister Liz Truss’, revealed a worrying picture for the future of trans rights.
The change in principles to the GRA
“Three very important principles” will be put in place, stated Truss. However, the reality of these suggestions concerned many. Stonewall, a leading LGBTQ inclusive organization rapidly responded, making a statement expressing their worries towards the reforms.
The first principle from Truss represented hope for the trans community by “making sure that transgender adults are free to live their lives as they wish without fear of persecution”. A statement that makes the two-year wait seem worthwhile.
But underneath this sweet surface, lay a bitter truth. Truss mentions that trans adults are free to live their lives whilst “maintaining the proper checks and balances of the system”. This ambiguous remark caused speculation around the capability for every trans person to attain their gender recognition certificate. What is the system? What are the checks and balances? This is a worrying blur of words.
In episode 48 of Michelle O’Toole and Ashleigh Talbot’s podcast, What the Trans!?: The Transgender News Pod, Suzie Green the MermaidsCEO, and Ruth Pierce author of Understanding Trans Health unveiled deep concern around the reforms. Both Pierce and Green drew worrying parallels between Truss’ reference of “checks and balances” to Thatcher’s Local Government Act 1988. Section 28 of the act legislated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”. This association incited fear for the trans community.
Green noted that “It took me back to the sort of language that was being used around Section 28 against checks and balances, as if there are checks and balances needed with transgender people”. This roused concern suggesting that “trans people are a threat”.
O’Toole and Talbot’s interviews with Green and Pierce clarified the fear that has borne a heavy weight on the trans community. Talbot stated that “it didn’t really sound like we were going to a get much of a say”. This is unacceptable when considering it was the public who were asked how they would like to reform the act, many moons ago.
Truss’ second principle was in terms of the “protection of single-sex spaces” e.g. changing rooms, toilets, and domestic violence refuge centers. Stonewall expressed concern and confusion and replied, “For many years, trans people have been using services that match their gender without issue and this should not change”.
Why fix something that is not broken? Talbot demonstrates uncertainty and ambiguity around Truss’ principles, communicating that “It is very difficult to know what is actually going on, on top of the fact we are in a global pandemic”. What changes are going to be made to a system that works? This seems to suggest a movement backwards in time, not a progression forward.
Her final statement was to “make sure that the under 18s are protected from decisions that they could make, that are irreversible in the future,” yet this “is not a direct issue concerning the Gender Recognition Act”. Stonewall announced that “This is concerning because it sounds similar to how young lesbian, gay and bi people were spoken about in the 1980s”.
Pierce expressed similar fear during interview stating, “if you think about Section 28 which was passed in the late 1980s, the whole idea of that was to prevent young LGBT people from finding out about the existence of LGBT people”. By illegalising the teaching of LGBT to use Piece’s words, “just made us hate ourselves”.
A step back in time…
Let us go back. It is 1988 and Thatcher’s voice can be heard. Loud, clear, ringing. “Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay”. This statement led to Section 28, and it caused the isolation of the gay community, having a knock-on effect on mental health and wellbeing as gay people are condemned from society.
The parallels between Section 28 that Green and Pierce highlight possess a glaring concern regarding a potential silencing of trans young people in the UK. A silencing that could have drastic impacts on individuals. Impacts that may already be taking place, taking hold, and swallowing people up because of Truss’ vague words.
As Stonewall states, “trans people exist and they should have the same rights to live their life without discrimination and abuse as everyone else. Trans young people should not be an exception to this”. Pierce reiterated that “Most people who transition are happier, most people who transition are healthier”. Repressing this is not an option.
Whilst Green and Pierce make suggestions to what Truss is trying to say by drawing parallels with Section 28, Truss has still placed a veil over the GRA. The mist has taken over and if we’re not careful, young trans people may get lost in it.
Making vague statements during a global pandemic
These vague statements were all made within the period of forced UK government isolation due to COVID-19. A double whammy. Statements about potential changes to the GRA during a pandemic should be handled with care. Vague is not an option when the world is in chaos.
Whilst it is uncertain what concrete changes will be made in terms of single sex areas and the protection of young people, her ambiguity lets the imagination run wild. Especially when locked up in your house. Fears are heightened, confusion is imminent, but the reform does not seem to possess promise, a step backwards or a pathetic limp forward.
Truss reiterated her principles in a letter to Baroness Winterbourne on May the 18th. Truss made her “commitment to single sex spaces clear”. No elaborations given; more confusion added to the pool of worry.
During a time of extreme uncertainty, Truss widened the cracks and revealed a slither of what the government intends on adjusting. The reform of the GRA is looming and this summer, but the reveal is anticipated to be ugly. A return to the 1980’s.
Graphic courtesy of Isabel Armitage