The Sunday Times reports today that upcoming equality reforms will include provisions for adults to be able “to change their gender legally without a doctor’s diagnosis”. The article goes on to explain that, “in future, people are expected to be required only to make a statutory declaration that they intend to live in the acquired gender until death”.
In the current climate, this controversial announcement seems reasonably unsurprising. Anger over the rates of BBC pay continues to centre on the seeming disparity between its male and female stars’ remuneration. The transgender bathroom has become a mainstay of American politics. Universities here and abroad are increasingly categorised as the home of heated debate — and non-debate — on gender politics. And the recent general election result has forced the Conservative Party to recognise an urgent need to attract the support of younger voters, who are generally taken to be more socially liberal.
It is clear, therefore, why the government might be keen to be seen to be addressing transgender rights. The issue is not simple, however, and today’s announcement will not be the end of it — in terms of the potential legal and practical repercussions of such a reform, the deeper questions in need of discussion, and the government’s engagement with this area. Indeed, a closer reading of this morning’s reportage reveals that the headline does not relate to new legislation, but rather discloses proposals from “a consultation on the Gender Recognition Bill, to be published in the autumn”.
It is unlikely that such proposals will be embraced by the socially conservative wing of the Conservative Party, and it is worth remembering that when David Cameron pushed for Equal Marriage, it was from a considerably stronger political position. Perhaps, therefore, it would be sensible to view this morning’s news more as a poll-boosting sweetener than a settled promise. Questions will continue to arise from the increasing demand for focus on such topics, however.
What are the best ways to help those struggling with identity issues? To what extent are LGTB people unfairly treated in this country? When is such treatment a question of rights? How do we answer those feminists and others claiming that to treat gender as a personal choice is to detract from the equality progress of the twentieth century? Is the halfway house of the transgender lavatory offensive in its refusal to recognise a person’s gender identity as male or female? How should prisons, hospitals, and schools address such issues? Is it right to treat women — 50 per cent of the population — as a “demographic group”? In times of legal parity, is there ever a place for positive discrimination?
Equality reformers face these questions, and more.