WPUK submission to UK Government’s GRA Consultation

This is the text of the response WPUK submitted to the UK Government’s consultation into proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (2004). The consultation closed on 22nd October 2018.

Question 1: If you are a trans person, have you previously applied, or are you currently applying, for a Gender Recognition Certificate?

Given the known statistics for the trans population, we would expect the number of respondents to this question to be small. However, we are concerned at the lack of a clear definition for the term ‘trans’ as we feel this could distort the responses. Given that the term is being widely interpreted to mean anyone who is gender non-conforming we think that the numbers responding to this question may well be disproportionate. We therefore suggest that the number of responses to this question be cross-checked with other available data to ensure that the responses are weighted proportionately to the population.

Question 2: If you are a trans person, please tell us what having Gender Recognition Certificate means, or would mean, to you.

Not applicable.

Question 3: Do you think there should be a requirement in the future for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria?

Yes.

WPUK is clear that it is not possible to literally change sex. Therefore, the law must uphold the continuing single sex exemptions for those who are biologically female.

If a change is made in the law, it should be limited on the basis of absolute need and according to some kind of medical definition.

A replacement of an objective diagnosis with self-identification or self-declaration is open to misunderstanding, misuse and potential abuse.

We would like to know what the legal basis would be for a legal change of sex if the need for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria is removed.

Question 4: Do you also think there should be a requirement for a report detailing treatment received?

Yes.

Such a report is evidence of sincerity and commitment to a permanent change. It ensures that any decision made is done so after profound reflection and with consideration of others and their rights.

Potential applicants should be made aware that treatment is not a prerequisite; that the report is confidential; they should not have to appear in front of a panel.

Clear guidance should be issued on the basis for any decision by the Gender Recognition Panel.

A report also allows for necessary data to be collected on a disaggregated basis to help form policy which will improve the provision of services and to help fight discrimination.

Question 5: Under the current gender recognition system, an applicant has to provide evidence to show that they have lived in their acquired gender for at least two years.

(A) Do you agree that an applicant should have to provide evidence that they have lived in their acquired gender for a period of time before applying? Yes/No Please explain the reasons for your answer.

5 (A) No. WPUK is opposed to this.

We believe it actively inscribes sexism and sexist stereotypes into law and works against the rights of both the applicant and other individuals and groups with protected characteristics. For example, many trans people believe this requirement involves “performing” stereotyped gender norms, such as wearing dresses and make up. This is in itself sexist and at odds with the notion of challenging rigid gender roles.

(B) If you answered yes to (A), do you think the current evidential options are appropriate, or could they be amended?

(C) If you answered yes to (A), what length of time should an applicant have to provide evidence for? Two years or more; Between one year and two years; Between six months and one year; Six months or less.

(D) If you answered no to (A), should there be a period of reflection between making the application and being awarded a Gender Recognition Certificate?

5 (D) Yes.

We believe that a period of reflection of around 1-2 years is essential. It would protect and support the applicant in making the right decision for themselves and for society in general; demonstrate sincerity and commitment to the change; enable the applicant to be confident in their final decision

Question 6: Currently applicants for a gender recognition certificate must make a statutory declaration as part of the process.(A) Do you think this requirement should be retained, regardless of what other changes are made to the gender recognition system?Please explain the reasons for your answer.

6 (A) Yes.

This rightly asserts the seriousness of the proposed legal change. It may also be a deterrent to opportunist claims by sex offenders in prison.

However, a statutory declaration has little legal weight, and is therefore insufficient.

B) If you answered yes to (A), do you think that the statutory declaration should state that the applicant intends to ‘live permanently in the acquired gender until death’?

6 (B) Yes.

However, a growing number of people have de-transitioned and the law must make provision for them to rescind this legal status if they choose.

The GRA should include within it a mechanism for those who wish to de-transition. This should allow for the rescinding of a Gender Recognition Certificate and the reinstatement of an original birth certificate. The process by which this could take place would need to be made clear and easily accessible.

(C) If you answered no to (A), do you think there should be any other type of safeguard to show seriousness of intent?

6 (C) Yes.

We believe that further safeguarding measures need to be in place that would allow withdrawal or withholding of a Gender Recognition Certificate on the grounds of improper purposes and for those convicted of violent or sexual offences.

This would be in addition to the current provision to rescind a GRC on the grounds of fraud.

Question 7: The Government is keen to understand more about the spousal consent provisions for married persons in the Gender Recognition Act. Do you agree with the current provisions?

Yes. The current provisions are very important and provide a degree of protection to the spouse.

This situation largely affects the female spouse of late transitioning males. If spousal consent is removed they will be trapped in marriages utterly changed from that which they entered. For some, divorce may be a straightforward situation to this solution but laws must take account of the needs of everyone, including those from religious communities where divorce may not be an acceptable or desirable option and could lead to being outcast from a community. For some women it simply may not be financially viable to seek a divorce. Therefore, a veto must always be an option for the non-transitioning spouse.

Question 8: Currently applicants must pay £140 to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate.

(A) Do you think the fee should be removed from the process of applying for legal gender recognition?

No.

(B) If you answered no to (A), do you think the fee should be reduced?

It is reasonable to charge a fee to cover the reasonable cost of administration of the process. Reasonable comparators would be the cost of a driving licence, passport, citizenship.

A fee waiver already exists, and the process to apply for this has recently been simplified. This should be better publicised.

The Government is keen to understand more about the financial cost of achieving legal gender recognition, beyond the £140 application fee.

(C) What other financial costs do trans individuals face when applying for a gender recognition certificate and what is the impact of these costs?

Consideration of such costs should be compared objectively to those encountered by other individuals applying for government funds or recognition such as those required of disabled people or those applying for the NHS surcharge as non-EEA migrants (£200 per year) or citizenship (£1,206).

Question 9: Do you think the privacy and disclosure of information provisions in section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act are adequate?

No. The provisions are inadequate.

Religion has privacy exemptions and so should women’s organisations and other bodies operating single sex spaces.

These provisions should also apply to parties that wish to apply exceptions, exemptions or data monitoring/gathering for equalities purposes.

Question 10: If you are someone who either has, or would want to undergo legal gender transition, and you have or more of the protected characteristics, which protected characteristics apply to you?

This question is aimed solely at trans people.

Question 11: Is there anything you want to tell us about how the current process of applying for a GRC affects those who have a protected characteristic?

Examples of how changes in the GRA might affect those with other protected characteristics include:

Age
  • Children and the elderly have particular needs around intimate care, due to dependency

 Disability

  • Disabled people may require same-sex intimate care again due to dependence;
  • People with learning disabilities may struggle to cope with rapidly changing social conventions such as ‘misgendering’;
  • People with PTSD including women survivors in relation to male violence and their right to a single sex recovery space or counsellor.

Race

  • How will the rights of cultural groups, for whom single-sex spaces are particularly important, be upheld?
Religion and belief
  • The implementation of a process of self-declaration of legal sex will disproportionately affect people from religious backgrounds for whom single-sex spaces are particularly important
  • There are people who believe that gender is a social construct and that gender identity is not innate or real. How will their rights to assert this be upheld? For example, feminist academics such as Kathleen Stock have come under attack for making this argument.

Sex

  • Sexism and sexist discrimination is a huge problem in the UK.
  • A recent report into the status of women’s equality in the UK by the EHRC found:
    • A significant pay gap of over 18%;
    • Underrepresentation in political and economic positions;
    • High levels of violence and sexual abuse.
  • Sex based rights exist to address some of these problems. Any change to the law that effectively changes the definition of who pertains to which sex group, has the potential to undermine efforts to advance women’s equality.

Another concern is the failure to seek the views of women survivors of sexual violence or assault.

We are astonished that there is no place in the consultation document to ask natal women who are survivors of domestic or sexual violence whether single sex spaces were/are important to them; whether they were/are able to access such spaces; whether the present of biological males in such spaces would have an impact on the likelihood that they would/did access support.

This consultation cannot expect to get a full picture of how a change in the law will impact on wider society and the rights of individuals without considering a full range of perspectives and experiences. A failure to do this risks the creation of a bad law that will either fail or work against the rights of other citizens in society.

Sexual Orientation

We believe that there will be an impact on one’s right to express one’s sexuality as same sex. In particular we are concerned by:

  • The attacks on lesbians who are asserting their rights as protected group to be same-sex attracted;
  • The ostracization of lesbians from the LGBT community and their demonisation;
  • The erasure of their sexual identity and nomenclature;
  • The demand on lesbians to consider male-bodied people as sexual partners (‘the cotton ceiling’);
  • The substitution of ‘gender’ for ‘sex’ which we think directly impacts on the protected characteristic of lesbian and gay men and their right to same sex relationships.

Question 12: Do you think that the participation of trans people in sport, as governed by the Equality Act 2010, will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?

Yes.

We want, a robust and independent review of how exemptions in the Equality Act relating to sport are currently being applied in practice.

Fairness to women and girls must be upheld and not compromised. We know that 1.5 million more men than women play sport each week so women are already at a disadvantage. This is at a time when government and other public bodies are running campaigns to help women and girls become more active.

The government must have due regard to promoting opportunity as part of its Public Sector Equality Duty and we do not think that the rights of women and girls are currently being properly considered or provided for. We expect this to get worse if self-ID becomes law as the numbers of people identifying as trans increase. Already, advice being issued to schools and by bodies such as Sports England expect women’s sports to make space for trans women. Trans woman, Rachel McKinnon, recently won the Women’s World Cycling title. This raises serious questions about the viability of women’s sport both at elite and amateur level.

This review must cover all levels and domains of sport – from amateur to professional, and include university and schools where advice from some NGOs is putting the onus of girls to change sport or be prepared to compete against male bodied individuals without any consideration of risk of injury. We also feel girls are likely to opt out of sporting activity and that this has serious implications for their health, fitness and body image.

Particular consideration should be given to amateur sport where testing regimes required in professional sports are not available and decisions are more likely to be made subjectively. This, again, will inevitably impact on the take-up of sport by women and girls with far-reaching implications for their health and well-being.

Robust enforcement of Equality Impact assessments must be implemented with quality research & data published to ensure that women’s rights and needs are being met.

Attention must be given to the effect on girls of role models being lost in professional sports, if males are given unfair advantage.

Sporting bodies (professional and amateur) must be able to demand disclosure of trans status as part of the legitimate pursuit of their remit to ensure fairness.

Question 13 (A): Do you think that the operation of the single-sex and separate- sex service exceptions in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?

Yes. We note that several leading organisations made submissions to the Women & Equalities Select Committee Transgender Inquiry calling for amendments to the Equality Act and the removal of single sex exemptions. We are absolutely opposed to these calls.

We are glad that despite these calls, and the recommendation of the Select Committee, that ministers have clearly stated that the intention is not to alter the Equality Act or to undermine single sex exemptions.

The law needs to be absolutely clear on this.

There is confusion on the status of sex as a protected characteristic and that conflation with gender already blurs and undermines the rights of women as a sex. Changes to the GRA are likely to exacerbate this confusion.

We also think that the current trend to only fund generalised services (which has already seen a reduction in single sex provision) will grow if the distinctions between sex and gender are further blurred. This will be of detriment to everyone and will result in specialist services not being provided nor those needs being met – for women or for trans people.

The importance of sex-based data collection must be emphasised. It will be impossible to provide for the needs of women and girls or to challenge discrimination and oppression unless sex based data is collected, analysed and the findings acted upon.

We want:

  • A robust and independent review of how exemptions in the Equality Act relating to single-sex and separate-sex services are currently being applied in practice;
  • Acknowledgement that there are considerable obstacles in applying the exemptions that currently exist.

The ‘case by case’ approach is predicated on a small trans population. A larger trans population seeking to access single-sex services will place a much greater administrative burden and legal risk on organisation seeking to invoke exemptions.

If the trans population is to increase and the definition of trans to become ever broader, then the use of single-sex exemptions must be expanded correspondingly.

The Government needs to include an explicit reference to the Equality Act exemptions in a reformed GRA so that the clause which says that someone’s legal sex becomes that of a woman or man should make it clear that there are exceptions to this; what they are; and where they apply.

Government should also issue clear guidance to commissioners and charitable funders on their duties in relation to the Equality Act and the PSED in relation to funding and commissioning services for women and girls.

Ignorance of the Equality Act means that service providers are not invoking single sex exemptions when they are required for fear of attack or loss of funding.

Service providers must be better informed about the provisions of the Equality Act and how they can be usefully and properly applied to meet the needs of their service users. Commissioners must not be able to stipulate in service specifications for VAWG survivor tendered service contracts that the service must provide services for males who identify as having transitioned.

The government needs to confirm that sex based data will still be collected and used to plan, develop and provide services specifically for women and girls.

The fluid definition of ‘trans’ as referred to in our response to Q1 also challenges the concept of exemptions and women’s ability to police exemptions and women only spaces.

Potential areas of impact

  • Single sex prisons, schools and high-security hospital;
  • Sex-specific awards and bursaries;
  • Women’s services;
  • Faith buildings or organisations;
  • Single sex gym, sports and swimming sessions;
  • The commissioning of sexual and domestic violence support services, including those for prostituted women;
  • Sex specific medical screening service;
  • Toilets and changing rooms;
  • Different benefit, pension and leave (maternity/paternity) entitlements for men and women in law;
  • Child protection and safeguarding;
  • Data collection

There are huge potential impacts for all society for the sex that is the majority group and there may be unforeseen and unintended consequences.

Question 13 (B): If you provide a single or separate sex service, do you feel confident in interpreting the Equality Act 2010 with regard to these exemptions?

Question 13 (B): If you provide a single or separate sex service, do you feel confident in interpreting the Equality Act 2010 with regard to these exemptions?

We are a grassroots campaign group which organises women to make their voices heard. We know that there are times when women want to meet and talk in the absence of men and we are concerned that our right to invoke single-sex exemptions for this purpose will become impossible if there is not clear guidance on who is included in single-sex exemptions. If women cannot organise on single sex lines then they cannot campaign to improve or defend their rights under the law. This would be discriminatory.

Some of our members work in the women’s sector and report real difficulty and obstruction in providing single-sex services for traumatised women when they need them.

Question 13 (C): If you are a trans person who has experienced domestic abuse or sexual assault, were you able to access support?

We acknowledge that this is aimed solely at trans people. However, we repeat our concern that there is no place in the consultation document to ask natal women who are survivors of domestic or sexual violence whether single sex spaces were/are important to them; whether they were/are able to access such spaces; and whether the presence of biological males in such spaces would/did have an impact on the likelihood that they would access support.

Question 14: Do you think that the operation of the occupational requirement exception in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?

Yes.

We want a robust and independent review of how the exemptions in the Equality Act relating to occupational requirements are currently being applied in practice.

Women must be asked about the circumstances in which they feel occupational requirements based on sex are needed. They must also be informed about when they have a right to expect a role to be filled by someone of the same sex.

Employers must have legitimate access to disclosure of trans status in order to utilise occupational requirements as needed.

Whilst recognising the rights of individuals with a GRC to privacy, we are concerned that protections for such individuals in vetting and barring mean that a person’s sex can be withheld. We feel this has serious implications for an organisation looking to employ somebody using the GOR and that it could put women and girls at risk of psychological and/or physical harm.

Question 15: Do you think that the operation of the communal accommodation exception in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?

Yes. We want a robust and independent review of how this exemption is currently used.

We want survey data on women’s views about the application of exemptions as we are aware that they are already underutilised (e.g. YHA, Caledonian Sleeper, NHS, Prisons, Bail Hostels, and Homeless Hostels are already effectively operating a self-identification policy in relation to single sex accommodation).

We are concerned at the current approach of the transfer of trans identifying male prisoners to the female estate which we believe is leaving women vulnerable. Decisions are being made based on individual risk assessment instead of invoking single sex exemptions.

We note that in Ireland, trans women serve their sentences in the prison relating to their sex, not their gender identity.

Should self-ID become law we would expect single sex exemptions to be invoked as a policy by the prison service and all necessary adjustments to be made within the male estate to properly support and care for trans prisoners or for the provision of separate prison facilities for trans prisoners who would be unsafe in the male estate but who may pose a threat to the safety of women prisoners in the female estate.

Question 16: Do you think that the operation of the armed forces exception as it relates to trans people in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?

We did not answer this question.

Question 17: Do you think that the operation of the marriage exception as it relates to trans people in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?

A change to the law is likely to see an increase in numbers with a Gender Recognition Certificate and therefore a corresponding increase in the use of this exception.

The concept of this exception of ‘reasonable belief’ should be extended to service providers too to enable them to make the necessary policy decisions to meet the needs of their users.

There is a strong justification to extend this automatic exemption for women’s organisations who are providing services to meet the needs of women as a result of the discrimination they face.

Question 18: Do you think that the operation of the insurance exception as it relates to trans people in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?

It depends. This is because insurers are not allowed by the EU directive to discriminate on the grounds of sex. Insurers make policy decisions based on individual applications and adjust policies accordingly.

This could change after Brexit and there could be implications for liability insurance for potential consequences of self-ID.

We are also concerned that the impact on sex-based data-collection may skew insurance statistics.

Question 19: Do you think that changes to the Gender Recognition Act will impact on areas of law and public services other than the Equality Act 2010?

We would need to see the full proposals to be able to assess likely impact on other areas. Any such proposals would need to have a full impact assessment to make sure the rights of others weren’t undermined by change.

We are concerned that there may be unintended consequences, for example,

  • Health & Safety Executive regulations on sanitary facilities
  • NHS policies for the elimination of mixed sex accommodation
  • Risk associated with lack of safeguards resulting from self-declaration of legal sex

Question 20: Currently UK law does not recognise any gender other than male and female. Do you think that there need to be changes to the Gender Recognition Act to accommodate individuals who identify as non-binary?

No. The primary marker should be sex.

Sex data must continue to be collected to enable the proper provision of adequately funded services to meet the material needs of the population; to monitor sex discrimination and to enable the development of policy to address inequality.

Any question on identifying as non-binary must exist as an additional question to the one about sex. To do otherwise would seriously inhibit the government in its executive obligations and duties.

Question 21: (A) Do you have a variation in your sex characteristics?

As outlined in question 3, the Government wants to understand whether there should be any requirement in the future for a report detailing a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and any requirement for a report detailing treatment received.

(B) Would removing these requirements be beneficial to you?

(C) What other changes do you think are necessary to the GRA in order to benefit intersex people?

This question is aimed solely at people with variation of sexual characteristics (intersex).

Question 22: Do you have any further comments about the Gender Recognition Act 2004?

We are deeply troubled by the way in which this consultation has taken place. The consultation form posits the questions around the law in such a way as to privilege the rights and concerns of one group without properly enabling responses from other protected groups. Many of the respondents who have contacted us have commented on how badly framed, how confusing and how obstructive the form was. This does not create confidence in the consultation process as a whole.

We think this consultation has been flawed from the start with no real effort to seek the voices of other affected groups or the wider population. Government has attempted to push it through fast without acknowledging or understanding the very real, practical issues that the proposed changes may bring.

The failure to properly facilitate a respectful and evidence based approach has created a toxic debate which has left people on all sides feeling victimised. It has meant that women and others wishing to discuss the issues have been left to organise themselves in what have been threatening and dangerous circumstances. This is completely unacceptable and government needs to reflect seriously on the way it has managed this consultation and take steps to improve the way future consultations are carried out.

Woman’s Place UK was created to step into the chasm left by government and other publicly funded organisations and to ensure that women had a place where their voices would be heard. There are several other such campaigns and initiatives. In the face of real hostility, threat, intimidation, harassment, abuse and violence, women have organised to meet and discuss issues of material concern to them.

WPUK has had 17 meetings over 12 months but could have doubled that number if our capacity had been able to meet demand. We will continue to organise meetings in the coming months.The response to our campaign on social media and real life shows that there is huge concern about these proposals and anger at the way women’s voices have been side- lined and vilified.

All political parties have a big job to rebuild the respect and engagement of women voters in our democracy.

Woman’s Place UK

October 2018