As the UK’s public consultation into reforming the Gender Recognition Act closed this week, trans communities across the world were reminded how fragile our progress towards equality can be with some disturbing news from the USA.
On Sunday it was alleged that Donald Trump, Mike Pence and their administration have been working to strip trans people of official recognition.
According to a New York Times report, the administration is trying to change federal civil rights law so that whether you are recognised as male or female can only be determined at birth and never changed.
Trans people’s rights would be removed wholesale
If they succeed, trans people’s rights would be removed wholesale – they will be erased from the statute books of the United States.
The implications of this are huge. Human rights defenders and marginalised groups are always – rightly - concerned about moves towards defining humanity through the narrow lens of an individual’s biological traits.
This is because narrow definitions lead to a narrow concept of equality.
America’s current civil rights laws do not explicitly protect LGBT people. But an increasing number of federal courts throughout the US have ruled that sexual orientation and gender identity are covered by them.
If the Trump-Pence administration is successful, they will undermine that progress by ensuring trans people are not covered or protected by any civil rights law at all. It’s a move that not only directly attacks the already marginalised trans minority, but one that actually threatens the whole LGBT community.
If the genitals you were born with become the only allowable indicator of your gender identity, it isn’t hard to imagine the route that could quite easily lead the Trump-Pence administration to suggest that lesbian, gay and bi people are not following their own ‘biologically determined path’ and should also be precluded from protection.
As Chad Griffin, President of the US LGBTQ civil rights organisation Human Rights Campaign, says: “Defining ‘sex’ in this narrow language tailored to the talking points of anti-equality extremists is part of a deliberate strategy to eliminate federal protections for LGBTQ people. This is a direct attack on the fundamental equality of LGBTQ people...”
Over the last two years the Trump-Pence administration has repeatedly attempted to undermine the civil rights protections of millions of LGBT Americans. The administration has attempted to stop trans people serving their country in the military.
Senior members of the administration have spoken at anti-LGBT conferences and several government agencies have withdrawn policies that recognise gender identity in schools, prisons and homeless shelters.
Thousands have been rallying under the hashtag #WontBeErased.
This latest attack has sparked protests by LGBT Americans and their allies. Thousands have been rallying under the hashtag #WontBeErased.
The Human Rights Campaign is calling on the Trump-Pence administration to reverse course and for Congress to take action by extending civil rights laws to explicitly cover LGBT people.
In the UK, news from the US sent a shockwave through the LGBT community, coming as it did at the end of a fractious and often ugly public debate about trans people in the media and on social media, that accompanied the consultation on reform of the Gender Recognition Act.
Here trans people are protected by the Equality Act 2010. This law means that trans people can access toilets, changing rooms, and all other services that match their gender, and they can’t be refused goods and services or otherwise discriminated against because they are trans. Trans people have this protection irrespective of whether or not they have had medical interventions to support their transition or changed their birth certificate to their true gender. This has been the case for the past eight years.
What has been most troubling is that the proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, have been used by some to question these rights, even though they won’t be affected by any reform of the Gender Recognition Act. Some have argued that protecting trans people from discrimination undermines the rights of others, while some people simply don’t believe trans people exist.
We need to stand up for trans people right now.
The attempt by these campaigners to roll-back trans rights in the UK and the alarming news from across the Atlantic are potent reminders that the progress we’ve made towards equality is fragile. If we care about the right of everyone to be accepted for who they are, and expect every individual to have the same opportunities and right to protection from discrimination as everyone else, we need to stand up for trans people right now.
We know from history that as soon as a country decides one group do not deserve the same rights as another, it becomes much easier for people to argue that others should also be excluded. We want a different future, and it’s one we must fight for together.