Tory attacks on trans rights must be stopped

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Without awaiting the findings of a public consultation on the issue, the Tories have rejected self-identification for trans people. Laura Miles argues we need bold action to reverse the decision

Amid rising transphobic hate crimes and toxic transphobia elsewhere, such as Donald Trump’s exclusion of trans people from medical support and Hungary’s restrictions on trans people’s ID documents to their birth sex, the Tories’ blatant transphobia has been starkly revealed. In mid-June, the Tories signalled their intention to reject updating the 2004 Gender Recognition Act. Self-identification to obtain a gender recognition certificate, a key reform to allow trans people to change their birth certificate more easily, is now off the cards.
This and other trans-supportive proposals originally came from the parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee in 2017 after a survey of trans lives revealed shocking levels of oppression. Self-ID would replace the current medicalised process with a legal declaration – after a period of time living ‘in role’ – to live in the acquired gender for life, made before a registrar specially trained to detect fraud.
Similar changes have already happened in Ireland and elsewhere without reported problems.
A public consultation on the proposals still has not reported 18 months after it closed.
Yet the Tories have caved in to gender reactionaries and will ignore the 70 percent positive responses for self-ID from 100,000 respondents. Claiming the results were ‘skewed’, they’ve ignored the fact that transphobic groups such as Women’s Place UK and Mumsnet, openly organised negative responses. The Tories will offer the sop that conversion therapies will be outlawed, something that should have happened decades ago anyway. The Tories’ lurch into the transphobes’ camp coincided with JK Rowling doubling down on her transphobic views in an essay full of confused and erroneous claims. Not the least of these is that trans rights threaten women’s rights, for which there is no evidence at all.
While socialists have sympathy and solidarity with Rowling for suffering domestic violence, and don’t endorse the abuse she has suffered since, that cannot justify her dangerous transphobia. It’s great that so many, including several Harry Potter stars, immediately repudiated her, but she’s undoubtedly fed an increasingly hostile environment that directly threatens the lives and well-being of trans and NB (non binary) people.
The writing was on the wall some weeks earlier when Women and Equalities minister Liz Truss indicated the government was considering, in addition to blocking self-ID, making it more difficult for trans women to access single sex spaces by strengthening the exception clauses in the 2010 Equality Act.
These allow trans exclusion from services and employment in certain circumstances. If Truss gets her way this would constitute a UK ‘bathroom bill’ reprising US Republican attempts to block access to toilets, changing rooms and refuges depending on genitalia, not gender.
Quite how this would be policed boggles the mind. Truss also proposes making it harder for young trans and NB people to access medical support and intervention. This is on the unsubstantiated and scaremongering basis that they are being ‘groomed’ by a ‘transgender lobby’ fast-tracking them into “irreversible life-changing measures”.
Any notion of agency by young people, or recognition of their often years-long struggles to access help and support via GPs, gender identity clinics and support groups such as the children’s charity Mermaids, are simply dismissed. In slurs reminiscent of the vile homophobia of two or three decades ago, the transphobes claim young people need to be safeguarded from ‘trans groomers’.
One tactic the transphobes currently favour involves attacking the Gillick Competency guidelines for determining informed consent by under-16s.
They want to make it illegal for doctors to treat under-16 trans people unless they make individual court applications. Gillick Competency was established, following the Victoria Gillick test case, in 1985, to allow under-16s to make independent decisions about contraception. Those proposing to implement restrictions or exceptions for trans young people perhaps ought to consider that if Gillick Competency is undermined it will open the door for sex puritans and anti-abortionists to challenge under-16 access as well.
No wonder trans and NB people are feeling deeply threatened and discussing whether the situation now heralds for them a ‘Section 28 2.0’, a reference to the Tory attack on gay rights in 1988. Transphobic groups, including some feminists and socialists, are cheering on the Tories, but trans and NB people’s rights to respect, wellbeing and life are being directly threatened.
Trans people will be more likely to face increased hostility, physical and sexual assault, murder and suicide if these measures are implemented. We need a fightback. Trans and LGBT+ people in general have a proud history of resistance. Organisations such as Stand Up To LGBTQ+ Hate Crime, Mermaids and some unions like UCU and NEU, have issued excellent statements following the recent attacks.
We know protests work, from Stonewall to the recent Black Lives Matter uprising.
Many trans people carried Black Trans Lives Matter placards on protests, mindful of two Black trans women recently murdered in the US, Riah Milton and Dominique Rem’mie Fells. Now is the time for trans and NB people to organise collectively and demand active solidarity from unions, communities and political organisations.
Sadly, Labour’s leadership and most union leaders have been sitting on the fence — that needs to end. Protests have been organised in various cities — we need more of them.