I am writing on behalf of Norwich Pride, an LGBT+ charity based in Norfolk, run by volunteers who work hard to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people living in South West Norfolk and across the county.
According to a recent article in the Sunday Times, the government is preparing to scrap the review of the Gender Recognition Act, commissioned by Theresa May in 2018. The newspaper report suggests that the government is preparing to set out new proposals to protect female-only spaces including refuges and public lavatories. On Wednesday 22 April 2020, you said that a priority of the Government Equalities Office (GEO) would be to ensure ‘that the under 18s are protected from decisions that they could make, that are irreversible in future’.
We are extremely concerned at these proposals and the implications they have for the wellbeing and safety of trans and gender diverse people living in your constituency. We ask you to please think through the implications of this change.
Bathrooms and other gender-segregated services
Trans people have been using toilets, changing rooms, refuges and other services and facilities that best align to their gender identity for many, many years; a right which is mostly protected by the Equality Act 2010. This is incredibly important for the mental health and wellbeing of trans people, to protect their rights and dignity as human beings, and to not cause distress to people who are simply trying to exist in the world with the same protections and liberties as all of us.
We understand that some lobbyists are promoting concerns that without adequate protections, predators can use the protections offered by the Equality Act to gain access to female-only spaces, such as bathrooms. In 2016, concerns such as these led to the introduction of a law in North Carolina to ensure people only used toilets which corresponded to the gender stated on their birth certificate. In 2019, a Federal Judge reversed this legislation because it was completely unworkable, and led to a rise in transphobia.
A subsequent US review of ‘Evidence Regarding Safety and Privacy in Public Restrooms, Locker Rooms, and Changing Rooms’ stated that people opposed to trans rights:
“…often cite fear of safety and privacy violations in public restrooms if such laws are passed…No empirical evidence has been gathered to test such laws’ effects…This study finds that the passage of such laws is not related to the number or frequency of criminal incidents in these spaces. Additionally, the study finds that reports of privacy and safety violations in public restrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms are exceedingly rare. This study provides evidence that fears of increased safety and privacy violations as a result of nondiscrimination laws are not empirically grounded.”
Finally, countries such as Iceland, Portugal, Malta, Norway, Denmark, Belgium and the Republic of Ireland have all allowed trans people to self-identify and thereby access appropriate gender services. None of these countries have reported a rise in attacks on women in single-sex spaces. None of these countries have reported a trend in men accessing toilets or changing rooms or refuges pretending to be trans.
We have very real concerns about how any such policy would be policed, and we do not wish to see regressive legislation like this introduced to the UK.
Trans young people
Trans and gender diverse young people already face huge waiting times to access support services and the care they need. In some cases, over three years. If the government were to make transgender healthcare inaccessible on the basis of someone’s age, it would cause harm to a very vulnerable group of people. Your comments reflect a lack of understanding around the medical pathway for trans young people.
Please can you represent your LGBT+ constituents and speak to trans healthcare experts and child rights experts before making a decision on these changes. As Norwich Pride we would strongly recommend you engage with Mermaids, a national charity supporting trans and gender-diverse children, young people, and their families since 1995.
An invitation to meet with Norwich Pride
We would like to invite you to meet with us at Norwich Pride, and members of our trans community, so you can better understand the lives and needs of your trans and gender diverse constituents, before you make any further decisions on the matter. We would be able to facilitate this meeting online and at a mutually convenient time.