Dawn Butler MP: 'This Government Is Using Trans People to Sow Division'

The Labour MP explains why delays to Gender Recognition Act reform are creating a hostile environment for the transgender community.
October 25, 2019, 2:14pm

On the 15th of October, the Home Office released figures showing that hate crimes against transgender people had increased by 37 percent between 2018 and 2019. These numbers are deeply worrying. It is worrying because this has been brought about because of the void created by the dithering and delay by this Tory government. The absence of any mention of Gender Recognition Act (GRA) reform in the recent Queen’s Speech has just put more people in the LGBT+ community at risk.


When the Act was passed in 2004, it was a groundbreaking piece of legislation that allowed trans people to obtain legal recognition in the UK. Now, it is no longer fit for purpose and is woefully out of date, lagging behind countries such as Germany, Malta, Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland. Trans people have been self-identifying for years – this reform is just to catch up with what has already been happening.

Currently, individuals must supply a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and two years’ worth of evidence that they have lived as that gender. NHS patients have struggled to gather such proof – the process of obtaining these medical reports can take anywhere between three to four years. Once an application is made, an anonymous legal panel gathers in secret to decide whether to grant the applicant a gender recognition certificate. This dehumanising and overly medicalised procedure costs more than any other administrative application, including obtaining a passport. There is also no provision in the Act to recognise non-binary identities or the gender identity of minors, who must wait till they are 18 to apply.

Former prime minister Theresa May admitted that the process is “overly bureaucratic and invasive”, so much so that most trans people do not even bother applying for one. At a time when 45 percent of trans young people in the UK have attempted suicide, this whole process is simply unnecessarily distressing and adds to the burden that the trans community already faces in society. It doesn’t have to be this way. When a public consultation was launched last year on the Gender Recognition Act, I hoped that this would spur on much-needed reform of a piece of legislation that is long past its sell-by date.


Almost a year on, we are still waiting for the results to be announced. Instead, Boris Johnson’s government has simply kicked the can down the road on reform. In her speech to the Pink News Awards, Baroness Susan Williams, the Minister of State for Equalities, told us that the issue was "contentious". As I pointed out in my speech delivered after the Minister; women at work were once seen as contentious. Being gay was once seen as contentious.

I appreciate that there were some genuine concerns, but instead of the government being clear that reforming the Gender Recognition Act does not affect access to single-sex services and facilities and that it won’t impact provisions under the Equality Act 2010, they decided to dither. It confused people and it has allowed misinformation to spread.

Under the current Act, trans people have the right to access single-sex services in line with their ‘acquired gender’ and don’t have to have a Gender Recognition Certificate or have undergone any medical intervention. In all of these years, there has not been any major problems. Organisation such as women’s shelters have always had the power to accept or turn people away and we should trust the experts in this field to make the right call. I am deeply concerned that this government is using trans people to sow division for electoral gain.

On the 16th of October, I wrote to Liz Truss, the Minister for Women & Equalities, to call on the government to take urgent action to protect the rights of trans people by publishing the results of the consultation and reforming the Act. The government has had more than enough time to review the findings. Every day the government fails to address the issue is another day in which license is given to abuse and harass trans people. Single-sex spaces are still protected and rightly so. The increasing anti-trans rhetoric in the press is also allowing fear and misinformation to spread about the potential outcomes of the consultation.

This is creating a hostile environment for transgender people in this country – a community that must already deal with rising levels of hate crime and marginalisation. We should never increase the risk when almost half of trans people in the UK have attempted suicide at least once and 84 percent have considered it. It is simply irresponsible behaviour on the part of Boris Johnson’s government to delay the results of the consultation any further. This government has missed opportunity after opportunity to act to protect trans rights and reconfirm the situation around single-sex spaces. This government is failing the LGBT+ community in a very big way. They should look to Ireland and other countries and they will confirm that there were no issues when their legislation was reformed and actually goes further than our current Act. The recent hate crime statistics in the UK only serve as further proof that this country needs to act now to ensure the safety of gender non-conforming people. 108,000 people responded to the consultation, thanks in part to the Recognise Me campaign from VICE UK. It is time to publish the findings. Every member of society deserves protection. I am very pro safe single-sex spaces and I would not want anyone to feel unsafe, whether they are trans or not. Being pro-trans or non-binary is not in conflict with being pro-women. I would be grateful if the government could show some leadership so that the wounds created can begin to heal. I want everyone to live their best lives and be their true authentic selves. As someone who has suffered the intersectionality of discrimination, I am reminded of Pastor Martin Niemöller's profound message: First they came for the communists and I did not speak out because I was not a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Finally, they came for me and there was no one left to speak out.