Transgender; it’s not just a label
Over the last few months there have been a number of stories in the press in relation to transgender issues;
– Playboy featured its first transgender playmate, a successful model who has appeared in Italia Vogue and catwalk shows;
– The Methodist Church appointed its first transgender minister;
– A teacher was suspended for referring to a transgender boy as a girl;
– A transgender female prisoner with male genitals wanted to be moved to a female prison. This led to stories that ‘predatory inmates are ‘falsely’ defining their gender to target vulnerable women, charity warns’. Campaigners say putting trans people in male prisons puts them at risk; indeed 5 trans inmates have committed suicide in the last 2 years;
– At the weekend Labour appointed a trans teenager into the role of women’s officer, resulting in very mixed views on social media in relation to this appointment.
How do we weigh up the rights of one person over another? This question is not new as we have seen in cases such as the bakers who refused to make a gay wedding cake. There is no simple answer, as with all rights it is a complex issue but understanding what transgender is and the rights trans people have could help prevent conflict.
What is transgender?
The NHS website states:
Biological sex is assigned at birth, depending on the appearance of the genitals. Gender identity is the gender that a person “identifies” with or feels themselves to be…For example, some people may have the anatomy of a man, but identify themselves as a woman, while others may not feel they’re definitively either male or female.
There is a wide range of trans people including those who identify as transsexual, transgender, a cross-dresser (transvestite), non-binary and anyone else who may not conform to traditional gender roles.
How can someone change their gender?
In 2004 the Gender Recognition Act was introduced to allow trans people 18 years old or above to obtain recognition for their preferred gender.
In order to be successful in an application a trans person must:
1. Have been living permanently in their preferred gender role for at least 2 years;
2. Have been under medical supervision and assessed as having gender dysphoria, now or in the past; and
3. Be able to declare that they intend to live permanently in their new gender role for the remainder of their life.
Prior to November 2017, the law also required the trans person to be unmarried. However, with the introduction of same sex marriage this requirement has been removed. Instead, if the applicant is in England and is married they need to provide a declaration that their partner consents to the marriage continuing.
What rights do trans people have?
– Service Providers.
The government has produced this guidance for those who provide services to the public. It recommends not assuming someone’s gender and treating those who are trans with respect whilst considering the additional sensitivities they may face. Also you must assume that a person selects facilities appropriate to their gender, for example when using changing rooms or toilets. In addition the Equality Act means you must not discriminate, victimise or harass someone on the grounds of gender reassignment. There are some exceptions to this in relation to some competitive sport, the provision of separate or single sex services, religious marriage services, insurance contracts and communal accommodation.
An employer also has a duty not to discriminate, victimise or harass its employees or job applicants on the grounds of gender reassignment. If a trans person is transitioning, an employer will need to be sensitive to their needs and discuss with them how they wish for the transitioning period to be handled in the workplace. Remember employers are responsible for the actions of their employees.
Again schools have a duty to eliminate discrimination and cannot victimise or harass teachers or students due to gender reassignment. If a student wishes to reassign their gender, then the school must process this, change records to the new gender and allow that student access to facilities accordingly to their new gender.
Laura Pearce, Senior Solicitor
Please note that the information contained in this article was correct at the time of writing. There may have been updates to the law since the article was written, which may affect the information and advice given therein.