Times article 31.7.18: Labour councillor quits in row over facilities for trans people

The original article is here.

A Labour councillor has resigned over a policy to allow transgender people access to women’s facilities.

Ann Sinnott stood down from Cambridge council claiming that the authority was treating women with contempt and was acting in “dereliction of the law”. She said a policy that resulted in single-sex facilities, such as toilets or changing rooms, being “abolished at a stroke” was undermining women’s rights and was a breach of the equality act.

The policy, which applies only to council property, states that “transgender people will not be excluded from gender-appropriate sex/single-sex segregated facilities”.

Sarah Brown, a transgender Lib Dem councillor who lost her seat to Ms Sinnott, put forward the policy. She is in a so-called polyamorous relationship with another Cambridge councillor, Zoe O’Connell.

Although the policy came into force in 2010, concerns were only raised in June that its wording may be unlawful. In a letter to Antoinette Jackson, the council chief executive, Ms Sinnott said that based on national figures there were between four and 37 transgender people in the city.

However, she said that “transgender” was an umbrella term that opened up female-only facilities to “infinitely higher numbers” than using the term “gender reassignment” — a protected characteristic in equality law that refers only to those undergoing or intending to undergo a process to reassign the person’s sex.

Cambridge is one of several councils that campaigners claim is in breach of the equality act by stating that gender is a protected characteristic instead of sex. Dozens of councils were found to be using the terms in this way including Nottinghamshire, Stockport, West Oxfordshire, Wigan, Luton, and Salford. They have changed their guidance.

Ms Sinnott, 68, gave examples that she said supported her case. “Women are socialised to put others first, to be nice, to not make a fuss, and women also fear for their safety,” she wrote. “In central Cambridge public toilets, a recognisable male in women’s clothing entered, the women present experienced varying degrees of emotional agitation. None objected. Another day, a man in male clothing aggressively asserted his right to be there to shocked women, who all turned silently away. I was present and did not make a complaint on either occasion.”

She added: “Cambridge city council knowingly stands in dereliction of the law. I have no wish to be party to unlawfulness, nor will I collude in keeping this matter from Cambridge women, and other residents — they have the right to know. I do not want to be a member of a council that fails to recognise that female-only facilities are needed by women as a generality. Nor do I wish to be associated with a council that effectively treated Cambridge women with contempt, while it insidiously dismantled their rights.”

Last night Ms Jackson said that the council was reviewing the policy and was saddened by the councillor’s resignation. “The policy has been in place for eight years and no one had queried the wording in that period and in June it was drawn to our attention that the wording wasn’t consistent with legislation,” she said.

“We are actively reviewing the policy but weren’t ready to take something to the June scrutiny meeting so will be discussing it at the next meeting in October to make sure any amendments we make are in line with legislation. I’m very sorry to see Ann resign as a councillor. It’s always sad to see a councillor leave.”