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'A Long Way to Go': Landmark Report Says We Are Failing Transgender People

We spoke to trans activists about the shocking results of a recent report compiled by the UK's Women and Equalities Committee, which urges the country to give trans people full legal equality.
January 14, 2016, 3:20pm
Photo by Ilya via Stocksy

Transgender people have "a long way to go" until they reach full legal equality in the UK, according to a landmark report from a parliamentary committee inquiry. The Women and Equalities Committee, which evaluates the government's performance on diversity issues, found that trans individuals face "high levels of transphobia…on a daily basis," leading about half of young trans people and a third of trans adults to attempt suicide.

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"What I found shocking was the way that some trans people were treated in Britain today," committee chair Maria Miller told Broadly, "though I think there is clear evidence that public opinion is shifting [and] people understand the importance of having proper protection and proper support for people in place.

"The evidence that we have been given as part of our inquiry shows that laws and public services are failing to effectively support trans people, that the laws and public services are lagging behind public opinion."

The report strongly condemned the National Health Service (NHS) for failing trans patients, who struggle to access crucial healthcare due to "completely unacceptable" waiting times, and in some cases face "out-and-out prejudice" from doctors and other NHS staff.

The prison service was also criticized for placing trans people in prisons that did not align with their gender identity. The committee pointed to a "clear risk of harm" in doing so, such as the threat of "violence, sexual assault, self-harming, and suicide." In 2015, two trans women took their own lives while serving prison sentences in all-male prison and jails.

Read More: Transgender Murders Increased 84% This Year

The UK government has been urged to completely rehaul public services for trans individuals, including modernizing "outdated" equality laws to bring them in line with public opinion.

Under the UK's Gender Recognition Act of 2004, trans people have to apply to a panel for a certificate for legal recognition of their gender, proving that they have a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and submitting evidence that they have "lived fully for the last two years in their acquired gender." Individuals who contributed evidence to the inquiry described the £140 application process as "bureaucratic," "expensive," and "humiliating." (Individuals must also not be married or in a civil partnership, unless their spouse consents to change the marriage designation from "different-sex" to "same-sex," or vice versa.)

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"It's a very medical and quasi-judicial approach which involves submission of medical evidence to a group of people," Miller explained. "I think that there are very strong reasons [to] move towards a system of self declaration, where the individual is actually in control of defining their gender identity—not a panel of strangers."

People marching in support of trans rights at Pride London. Photo via Flickr user Peter O'Connor

The report includes 30 recommendations to the government, which include lowering the age limit for obtaining official recognition of a new gender without parents' consent from 18 to 16; the option for trans or non-binary people to record their gender as "X" on their passport; and mandatory training for police officers on transphobic hate crime.

Trans activists were quick to hail the groundbreaking report, which is the first of its kind to evaluate the country's track record on transgender rights. "[It's] really fantastic that the government has now finally got their act together and accepted that some human beings are transgender and they shouldn't be abused for that institutionally," said Ela Xora, an artist who campaigns for intersex and trans rights.

"That's the first step—we need to have equality in law before society can become equal. If you've got inequality in law, it's very easy for that mentality to saturate people and their prejudices and opinions."

We have called for urgent action from the government on these issues because to do nothing is not an option.

She pointed to the call to reform the Gender Recognition Act as a pivotal part of the committee's recommendations. "This idea of having to audition to be transgender, to be given the right to have that on your legal paperwork—when it's just how you've been born and your instinct from the very beginning—is just completely insane."

Other campaigners pointed out there is still major work to be done for trans rights in the country, despite the sizable number of recommendations made by the inquiry. "If you go back 15 years—even ten years—anytime this issue was debated [in Parliament], you still had a fair few backbenchers who would be stand up and go, 'Ooh, men in skirts,' and make Ricky Gervais–type jokes," said Jane Fae, a trans campaigner and spokesperson for All About Trans. "I think this this inquiry draws a line under that.

"It's almost gone in three stages: The first stage was trans people were weirdos, perverts, and freaks," Fae continued. "Then we started to get acceptance, but those who didn't like us would make fun. Now I think the real work is just beginning. Almost everyone accepts that we should have some [negative] rights: the right not to be beaten up, not to be discriminated against, not to be barred from school for wearing a dress… I think this [report] just begins the process of mapping out the detail. We have agreed that we should have rights now, [but] what do those rights look like in detail?"

While the report is long overdue, Miller pointed to one stumbling block in their inquiry's investigations. "One of the things that we found quite surprising is the lack of data on the number of trans people in the country today," she said. "The estimates are more than 600,000 people have some sort of gender dysphoria [or] some sort of questioning as to how their birth gender fits with them and their own gender identity. I think more basic research needs to be done to make sure that health provision particularly is there for people when they need it.

"We have called for urgent action from the government on these issues because to do nothing is not an option," she added. "Around a third of trans people attempt suicide, we need to make sure that the changes in law and traditional public services happen quickly to get trans people what they need. We don't see that [being] a trans person should be something which is damaging; it should be a positive thing in people's lives."