Article by Nicholas Hellen & Caroline Wheeler in The Times 24.6.18

The original article  is here.

Ministers put curbs on trans rights

Ministers have vowed to defend women’s rights to exclude transgender people from female-only spaces such as changing rooms, lavatories and swimming sessions.

In a significant victory for campaigners, the government has promised not to put the rights of those who identify as women ahead of those who are biologically female. Its intervention comes in the wake of a series of clashes that have come to light in the year since the government floated proposals to allow adults to change their gender legally without a doctor’s diagnosis.

Men identifying as women were permitted to swim in the ladies’ pond on Hampstead Heath in north London; a woman who requested a female nurse to perform her cervical smear was called in by a person with stubble; and a woman with a fear of men was locked in an NHS women’s psychiatric ward with a burly 6ft transgender patient.

Now the government has faced down pressure from Labour and influential backbenchers to tilt the balance further in the direction of transgender rights, as it prepares to announce a consultation on the Gender Recognition Act. This is expected to coincide with the Pride in London parade on July 7.

A statement from the Government Equalities Office, overseen by Penny Mordaunt, the women and equalities minister, promises that “advancing the rights of trans people does not have to compromise women’s rights”.

It said: “We are clear we have no intention of amending the Equality Act 2010, the legislation that allows for single-sex spaces. Any Gender Recognition Act reform will not change the protected characteristics in the Equality Act nor the exemptions under the Equality Act that allow for single and separate-sex spaces.”

It pledges: “Providers of women-only services [can choose not to] provide services to trans individuals, provided it is objectively justified on a case-by-case basis. The same can be said about toilets, changing rooms or single-sex activities. Providers may exclude trans people from facilities of the sex they identify with, provided it is a proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim.”

The government statement came in response to a petition launched by Amy Desir of Man Friday, a feminist group that seeks to ridicule the notion that people should be allowed to self-identify with a particular gender.

They “identify” as men on Fridays by indulging in behaviour such as mansplaining (explaining something to a woman in a condescending or patronising manner), manspreading (sitting with legs wide apart) on public transport and using the men’s changing rooms at shops that allow self-identification. A group of women, assured they were welcome to swim in Hampstead men’s pond as self-identifying men, arrived in mankinis but were escorted away by the police.

Mordaunt has signalled she is not yet persuaded that people should be allowed to select their gender without requiring a formal medical diagnosis of “gender dysphoria,” in a big shift from the language of Justine Greening, who trailed the proposals a year ago when she was women and equalities minister.

The statement says the current process for gaining a gender recognition certificate “is not working well for the people it is designed for”, with only 4,850 certificates issued since the Gender Recognition Act came into force in 2004. But the statement adds: “That does not necessarily mean we are proposing self-declaration of gender.”

It also emphasised that the July consultation will not change the age from which trans people can receive cross-sex hormones — currently 16 — nor the minimum age for surgery, which is 18.

The group Man Friday welcomed the commitment to defend single-sex spaces, but cautioned that it would be unworkable if people were allowed to change their gender without a formal diagnosis.

Desir said: “Handing out gender recognition certificates on demand removes safeguarding checks. You can’t tell the difference between someone with a need to live in their preferred gender and someone who’s there to prey on women.”

Stonewall, which campaigns for gay and trans rights, said: “Trans people are subject to appalling levels of abuse in daily life and dehumanised by the way the current debate questions their very right to exist. This is unacceptable in Britain in 2018 and it demonstrates just why the Gender Recognition Act needs urgent reform.”

A government source said: “An exemption clause on a case-by-case basis is a commonsense solution to some of the objections raised to the government’s plans to make it easier for adults to change their gender legally without a doctor’s certificate.”