On 1st December 2016 the first debate on transgender equality took place in Parliament. It is a large step forward that this has taken place, and this will hopefully open the door towards increased progress in the future. Statistics brought up during the debate show that trans people in the UK are largely in need of increased protection. The number of hate crimes against transgender individuals has trebled in the past 5 years (and that is only counting those which are reported- the true number is likely even larger. I personally have not reported my own experiences with hate crimes). Other stats mentioned in the debate included the fact that almost half of young trans people have attempted suicide and that ¾ of non-binary university students do not feel they are receiving adequate support.
Some of the proposals brought up in the debate include amendments to both the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010. It was suggested that the protected characteristic “gender reassignment” in the EA 2010 should be changed to “gender identity”. This would have the result of applying protections to groups of trans people who may currently be excluded- such as non-binary people and people who have not yet began or have chosen not to transition. Unfortunately, Caroline Dinenage rejected this, stating “we have not yet heard a convincing case for introducing gender identity as a protected characteristic”, despite the fact that trans people themselves have expressed that we currently do not have adequate protections in place.
It was also suggested that the GRA 2004 should be amended as it currently uses outdated terms such as “transsexual” and requires people to be assessed by a panel in order to receive a gender recognition certificate. It was recommended that this be changed to allow trans people to simply self-define their gender. This would be a fantastic step in the right direction for trans people- it is ridiculous that it is up to a panel to decide what someone’s gender is. Only the individual is able to make that decision.
Current issues with gender identity clinics and the NHS were also brought up during the debate, most notably the long wait times to be seen at a clinic. Speaking from experience again, it took me over a year to be seen for a first appointment, and I am currently waiting for my second- it has been about 5 months so far. This is largely due to the lack of NHS staff who have received proper training on trans issues. Only seven gender identity clinics currently exist in the country, and each has an absurdly high waiting time. Dinenage mentioned that the waiting time for gender alignment surgery has been reduced at one clinic from 94 weeks to 61 weeks, however this is still over a year. It is important that steps be taken to reduce the waiting times and that more staff be trained to handle trans people properly.
Overall, the debate identified a large number of issues and for the most part recommended good steps that can be taken towards improving things. However, Dinenage has made it clear that currently there are no plans to implement some of these recommendations, so it seems there is still more that needs to be done in order to change the governments mind.
Article by BWV Reporter Isabelle Kerwick