Josephine Hemmens is a member of Lambeth Conservatives.
The Government’s consultation on the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) closes tomorrow. Most people have no idea the consultation is in progress, what the GRA process currently is, or what effect any changes to it could have on our communities.
Whilst Ministers should be applauded for looking at ways to assist, protect and recognise the needs of the transgender community, some of these current proposals are ill-advised.
One of the most controversial proposals is to permit self-identification of gender/sex. Gender and sex are two different things: legally, gender is a matter of how you feel; sex is a matter of biological fact.
At present, if a person wants to change gender, there is a process which includes living for two years in their chosen gender, and going before a committee with proofs of any medical treatment that he or she may have had, if they have had any such treatment. The committee will then decide if they can be given a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) in the gender they have chosen. They then have the right to a birth certificate, male or female, which attests to their sex, not their gender.
The Government says that the proposed changes (self-identification) will not affect the rights and protections of women, because there will be no changes to the Equalities Act (EA). The EA allows organisations to provide single-sex services and, in certain circumstances, to exclude trans gender women, whether or not they have a GRC.
Instead of the process outlined above, a key proposal seems to be to allow anyone to go before a lawyer and sign a statutory declaration, self-identifying. They will then be able to obtain a birth certificate in their chosen sex. If the chosen sex is male this presents no problem in relation to the EA. However, if the chosen sex is female, the person will have the right in law of entry into female safe spaces.
This process is clearly open to abuse from violent males, many of whom, as anyone who works in a domestic violence refuge will tell you, will go to any lengths to reach their victims.
Currently, female safe spaces, such as domestic violence refuges, can refuse entry to anyone they deem unsafe even if they have a GRC. However to date there are very few people with a GRC: only 894 were granted in the three years up to November 2017. It has been estimated that up to 20 per cent of the population may be gender-fluid, so if the GRC is made available to anyone who choses to self- declare, these underfunded charities will be forced to defend themselves against legal challenges from a much larger group of people with the apparent right of entry.
The proposals as they stand are already having a deleterious effect on our public spaces. In anticipation of the new legislation, many local authorities are turning their pool changing rooms unisex. The Sunday Times has used the Freedom of Information Act to discover that “almost 90 per cent of reported sexual assaults, harassment and voyeurism in swimming pool and sports-centre changing rooms happen in unisex facilities, which make up less than half the total.”
Furthermore, there have already been cases of trans women featuring on all women short lists. Whatever one thinks of all-women short lists, they are totally undermined by having someone who was brought up as a man included.
Some trans gender activists have been systematically shutting down all debate, aided by a government which is not engaging with the 30 million females in the UK whose rights will be affected. Eventually, ordinary people will realise what is going on and there will be an electoral backlash.
Such women’s groups as Fair Play for Women and A Woman’s Place have been stopped from accessing venues to discuss the proposals, because trans activists have called the venue owners, and accused these groups of hate crime. It has been reported that people in prominent positions are afraid to speak out, since activists call their employers and try to get them sacked. These are the tactics of the hard left, and the Conservative Party should not be cowed by this behavior.
The needs and rights of natal females are not being considered, and most people of my acquaintance have no idea this is about to happen; when I tell them, they are appalled.
Clearly, transgender people need protection from discrimination and violence, but putting female rights and protections at risk will not help. The proposed changes need to be re-examined to look for ways to protect the trans gender, binary and gender-fluid community without a negative impact on females and girls.
Some countries such as India and Pakistan have a third gender that has rights and protections of its own while maintaining female sex based protection. Trans activists point out that other countries such a Denmark have brought in self identification without difficulty. However, laws are enacted within a cultural context. Denmark has a culture in which men and women take naked saunas together in a respectful way. In Britain, we have a locker room lad culture, which is not an appropriate environment for the changes proposed.
We must reconsider before it is too late, open the debate more widely and find another way to protect transgender and gender fluid people that does not put at risk the rights and protections of females.