On Friday 26th June, Norwich Pride representatives and members of the local trans community met with Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North. Earlier this month, we wrote to all Norfolk MPs to outline our concerns about reports in the media that the government are looking to make significant changes to trans rights – you can read our letter here.
In the meeting, we discussed the very real distress and difficulty for trans people that the proposed changes would cause, and our strong objections to any roll back of trans rights. Chloe Smith wanted to understand the technical issues that changes to the Gender Recognition Act would present, and to understand the issues.
Jen Alexander attended the meeting on behalf of Norwich Pride and in her role as Gender Identity Practitioner at MAP (Mancroft Advice Project), where she also facilitates ‘Evolve’ a gender identity support group for young people. In the meeting, Jen shared her experience of working with young gender diverse people, and her concerns that restrictions may be placed on access to treatment for trans people under 18, making it clear that for many trans young people, access to this support and treatment is life saving. She also read a letter from a parent of a trans child who is experiencing difficulty with the way her school have supported her access to gendered spaces and facilities. Nick O’Brien, Trustee and Education Lead at Norwich Pride made it clear that these issues are not isolated to one school, but that the experience of trans young people in education is varied and without the right support, attitudes, and provision, this environment can often be extremely damaging to their mental health.
We made it clear that so many countries have taken steps forward in gender recognition and self-identification, and that for the UK to remove the right to self-ID for access to gendered spaces would be hugely regressive. We also discussed that non-binary identities are simply not recognised in the law, and so protections and support for this group of people is non-existent. We want to see changes to the Gender Recognition Act that move us forward, not amendments that strip back existing trans rights and do not extend any rights to non binary people.
LGBT+ activists Andrew Copeman and Charlie Caine (Charlie is also the coordinator of Norwich Pride’s Trans Advisory Group) spoke about the changes they would like to see to the Gender Recognition Act, specifically that trans people without a Gender Recognition Certificate are only able to be married according to the sex assigned at birth and indicated on their birth certificate. Obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate is a long, difficult process, requiring the applicant to be formally diagnosed with gender dysphoria, to undergo intrusive medical and psychological examinations, and ends with a panel of medical professionals deciding upon the applicant’s case without ever meeting them. It is also expensive and takes at least two years to complete. Many trans people have never obtained a Gender Recognition Certificate because the process is so arduous and costly in both time and money. At Norwich Pride we would like to see changes made to the process of obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate, to make it less expensive, medicalised and intrusive for trans people, and we put these points across to Chloe Smith.
Jo Caulfield, Chair of Norwich Pride, discussed the issue of ‘protecting single sex spaces’, and refuted the idea that cis women need to be protected from trans women, as offensive and baseless. We discussed that trans people have been accessing and using the facilities that best suit them for many, many years and there is no evidence that this has ever resulted in a trans person assaulting a non-trans person. We discussed that evidence shows that trans people are more likely to be the victim of an assault than the instigator of one, and that the climate of transphobia around this issue is fear mongering with no evidence to support it, and is creating a hostile environment for trans people who are simply trying to live their lives.
Chloe Smith listened to our concerns and asked what, in our view, would be the main problems if no action were taken to improve the Gender Recognition Act. We listed the following:
- The continuation of the right to spousal veto on a Gender Recognition Certificate application
- The process is expensive and costly
- No recognition of for non binary people
- Continuation of the long, medicalised process, where panel that makes decision does not meet the applicant
- Problems with access to marriage equality for trans people without a Gender Recognition Certificate
Chloe Smith suggested that the government response to the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act would be published by the end of July (we have since had confirmation that Liz Truss plans to publish before the recess on 21st July). We hope to arrange a meeting between Chloe Smith and members of the Evolve trans youth group to understand the experience of young trans people. She also expressed a desire to meet with more members of the trans community, and we agreed we could facilitate this.
Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South, has also been in touch with Norwich Pride to arrange a meeting to discuss this issue, and we are in the process of finding a mutually agreeable time.
This meeting is one of many actions that Norwich Pride will take to resist and oppose any changes to the Gender Recognition Act or the Equality Act that seeks to restrict the rights of trans people. We will be asking all of our LGBT+ community and allies to help us to do this. It is a difficult and worrying time for trans people across the UK, and we know our role at Norwich Pride is to use our platform and our resources to support our trans community, tackle transphobia, and protect trans rights. Look out for our social media and website updates for ways that you can help us to do this in the future.