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New draft policies for the UK’s 500,000 civil servants would block some trans staff from using single-sex spaces such as toilets, and force staff to accept transphobic views in the workplace, VICE News can reveal. Senior civil servants have told VICE News that they are “terrified” by the proposed plans, which were leaked to us.The 39-page document produced by the Cabinet Office and the Government People Group is expected to be published within weeks.
The document outlines proposed changes to the UK Civil Service’s “Gender Identity and Intersex policies”. There are around half a million UK Civil Service employees – they are politically impartial officials who support the functioning of central government departments, such as probation officers, who are a part of the Ministry of Justice, or Jobcentre staff, who work for the Department for Work and Pensions. Do you have a story to share? We'd love to hear from you. You can contact Ben Hunte at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter or Instagram.The new policies state civil servants should equally recognise “gender critical beliefs” and “gender identity beliefs” – meaning that employees can openly share controversial views on trans lives without being penalised. Responding to this policy, a trans civil servant – who did not want to be identified in fear of losing their job – told VICE News: “My existence is not a belief. How can my safety be just as important as someone’s belief that I shouldn’t be safe? This feels like it was written by someone gender critical, just to give transphobes more clout.” The leaked document also proposes “changes on access to toilets'', so that only trans people with a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) can use single-sex facilities.
Last year, VICE News first reported that single-sex spaces could be restricted to those with GRCs – even though they are currently held by as little as 1 percent of trans people in the country. The new leaked document appears to confirm the UK government’s rollout of that plan, and the staff member said this left them “speechless.” The leaked bathroom policy shows a complete switch from previous Civil Service guidance, which said that trans employees could use any toilet that they wanted to. It stated that civil servants are free to have a “flexible” gender expression and to use “any appropriate single sex toilets and other facilities”.
The leaked policies also emphasise that “employees can hold different opinions and beliefs in the workplace” on trans and non-binary lives “as long as they engage in reasoned and rational debate.” The document explains that “gender critical beliefs are protected” under the Equality Act. It continues: “This affords protection from discrimination or harassment suffered as a result of holding that belief. Insulting or offensive comments” about a person who holds these anti-trans views “can amount to harassment of or discrimination against that person.” Another part of the document reinforces this, saying that the government acknowledges that some employees may not believe that a person can actually change sex or gender – and that people who hold that belief “must be treated with respect and dignity and protected from bullying, harassment and discrimination.”
The Civil Service HR Organisational Policy Team last updated its “Gender Identity and Intersex policies” in 2019. Since then, LGBTQ rights have slid backwards in the UK, with trans rights especially coming under attack from politicians and right-wing journalists. The leaked document defines being trans as holding a “gender identity belief”, while a “gender critical belief” is the label for people with anti-trans views. Defining “gender critical belief”, the document states: “A belief that recognises women only as adult human females and men only as adult human males and that it is impossible to change sex which is determined at conception.” In a training session which took place last year, civil servants were told how using the phrase “adult human female” to define a woman could be seen as transphobic. Another civil servant – who is not trans – called the plans “terrifying”, telling VICE News: “I’m shaken by all of this and I know trans civil servants are too. How are transphobic views so mainstream now?”They added that the document will “validate gender critical views” and “push LGBTQ rights back even further”, saying: “I’m a middle aged cisgender gay man who has seen all of this before. It sucked growing up with this level of hate in the 80s and 90s, and it’s scary that the UK is becoming increasingly hostile to queer people.”
Network leaders are currently collecting internal views on the leaked document and its policies, with senior management meetings planned to occur over the next few weeks. VICE News sent a government spokesperson several questions including whether they believe it is right that employees can openly share controversial views on trans lives without being penalised, and we also asked for their reaction to trans civil servants now feeling scared at work. In response, a government spokesperson said: “We don't comment on alleged leaks." They added, "It is a longstanding value of the Civil Service that differing viewpoints are tolerated and respected."Responding to the leaked document, Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, which has advocated for trans rights, said: "These measures are illegal - the Equality Act does not only protect trans people who have a gender recognition certificate - and they’re revolting in equal measure.”Responding to this story, Robbie de Santos, Stonewall’s director of external affairs, said: “The leaked guidance contains many highly exclusionary and reprehensible suggestions that, combined, would effectively make it impossible for trans people to work in the civil service. Not only would this guidance be unworkable in practice, but it would be unlikely to stand up to legal challenge, as it brazenly ignores the long-established rules around single-sex spaces as outlined in the UK's world-class Equality Act. “Everyone should have the same opportunity to thrive in the workplace. But these guidelines would serve only to promote bullying and exclusion of trans people - a group who already experience diminished career prospects.”