A report published on the 15th of December 2021 by Parliament’s Women and Equalities Select Committee paints a picture of the government administration effectively abandoning any responsibility to be held accountable over trans rights reforms. The report discusses the ways that refusal to be held accountable through normal channels combined with a consultation with extremely high levels of public engagement (over one hundred thousand written submissions) contributed to harm to the trans community.
Adding to the refusal to engage with the committee, the government appointed well known anti-LGBT MP Jackie Doyle-Price to the committee, only a month ahead of publication. Doyle-Price is not alone as an anti-equality MP on the committee, joining anti-feminist, anti-LGBT Shipley MP Phillip Davies who has held an appointment to the committee since 2016.
The role of the Women and Equalities Select Committee is to act as an oversight board for the Government Equality Office. Select Committee chairs are elected by secret ballot among MPs, and then members of each committee are elected by a similar process to fill a representative share of seats. The purpose is that between general elections, the Committee can conduct inquiries, gather evidence and hold the government minister for equality to account.
The report, titled “Reform of the Gender Recognition Act” describes the results of an inquiry the Committee held into the government decisions to undertake no structural or legal reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (which allows trans people to formally register a change of legal sex).
Mass support for reforms
The report details several areas for reform supported by a majority of the over one hundred thousand submissions. It calls out three particular pain points in the existing legislation as having very widespread support for reform(p19) but which were ignored:
- “Spousal Consent” - the provision meaning that married trans people applying for gender recognition must obtain written consent from their spouse as part of the application process.
- Requirement to “live in the acquired gender” - a duty which some respondents said is difficult to meaningfully evidence(CP294 p54), and is “dehumanising”.
- Diagnostic requirements - requiring that the applicant must get written confirmation of their diagnosis of gender dysphoria and/or of surgical treatment by two doctors, one of them specialising in gender medicine.
Government delays and stonewalling the Equality Committee over harmful approach to public consultation and accountability
The report shows that the Goverment equality office delayed responding to the GRA reform consultation, and also failed to be accountable for its reasons for these delays or to meet the government’s own guidelines on handling consultations even in cases where it is not possible to respond within the time line, and discuss evidence that this caused harm and distress to the trans community. Alarmingly, the Equality Committee report that the government has been further blocking attempts to ask important questions.
First a little about the impact of the consultation on the trans community. The report said:
We were told that the delay left a gap in which the spreading of misinformation about both the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act 2010 contributed to divisions and led to public confusion. ... We were repeatedly told about the negative impact of the Government’s delayed response on many transgender people. Lui Asquith told us that, during this period, there was a “dangerous move to questioning the existence of trans people within this country”, and that there was “no unequivocal message from the Government to say, ‘This is where we stand. We include trans people and we will not tolerate intolerance’” —para 48, page 18
The Equality Committee report summarises:
Not only did this delay exacerbate tensions between an already polarised group of stakeholders, but it also caused real distress to many within the transgender community.
To expand on this for readers who are not familiar with the history, the public debate around GRA reform (which started its first round in 2016 and a follow up consultation in 2018) has been the focal cause which mobilised a large and strident anti-trans political movement in the UK in its wake. With mainstream feminist organisations in the UK that existed before the consultation having offered a degree of support for GRA reform, or remained broadly neutral towards it, the most well known players in the field of British anti-trans activism largely present themselves as cisgender feminists and LGB people concerned that trans rights conflict with their status as a protected characteristic.
That is to say the GRA reform has been a focal point for initiating and spreading organised efforts to attack the trans community. All currently significant campaigning organisations focused primarily on fighting against trans rights formed following the announcement of the consultation. These include LGB Alliance (2019), Woman’s Place UK (2018), Fair Play for Women (2017), WHRC (now known as Women’s Declaration International) (2019). Several of these groups have been described as hate groups, or have been caught mobilising disinformation campaigns, with thinly veiled disinterest in the stakeholders they supposedly represent.
Describing the government’s response to attempts to hold them accountable and ask them about shortcomings in the results of the consultation process the Equality Committee describe extensive buck-passing from the Women and Equalities Minister Liz Truss, to the Minister of State (Women and Equalities) Kemi Badenoch, who also refused to meet with the Equality Committee, forwarding them on to the Jo Churchill from the Department for Health and Social Care. When questioned in oral evidence sessions, both Jo Churchill as well as the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggested that the Equality Committee should rightly be asking the Government Equality Office who had at that point repeatedly refused to show up (p22).
The Equality Committee report that following the Minister for Equalities dismissed growing concerns, saying “enquiring into her absence from our session, the Minister for Equalities suggested we should focus our work elsewhere.”
They add in summary:
Ministers are fundamentally accountable to Parliament and have a duty to make themselves available for scrutiny by the House and its committees. The same applies, with certain qualifications, to other public servants and public officeholders. We are deeply disappointed by the approach taken by both the Government Equalities Office and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. ... It is a matter of deep regret that the Government and its public bodies have chosen to evade Parliamentary scrutiny on this contentious subject.
As an organisation that monitors organised harms targetting the trans community Trans Safety Network find this pattern of disengagement, the vacuum in pro-active engagement with concerns from community members, advocacy groups and even government accountability bodies extremely alarming. This pattern has spanned multiple years now, and with the recent appointments to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, indicates a strong level of government disdain for the welfare of the trans community.
Trans people do not have meaningful representation in government. There has never been an out trans MP, and even those people within government who do want answers about what is being done are brushed aside.