OPINION: Boris Johnson’s failure on transgender rights is morally untenable

by Crispin Blunt | UK Member of Parliament
Friday, 2 October 2020 08:28 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, September 22, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Britain purports to be a global leader on LGBT+ rights, but now trails 25 countries on gender recognition

Crispin Blunt is member of parliament for Reigate and chairman of Britain’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT+ Rights

The British government has relied on misinformation and populism over evidence and reason in their response to the consultation on reforming the 2004 Gender Recognition Act. This is an unhappy and unsustainable approach to policy-making that directly harms trans people and should concern us all.

In parliament, the minister for women and equalities, Liz Truss, stated: “There needs to be a medical element to the gender recognition process so there are proper checks and balances in the system.”

“The specific diagnosis is a matter for clinicians,” she then confirmed.

The British Medical Association has said it supports allowing trans people to gain legal recognition of their gender without medical elements and instead by witnessed, sworn statement alone.

Just as we no longer diagnose gay people as suffering a psychiatric condition, nor should trans people any longer have to medically justify themselves to others in order to be legally recognised in their gender.

Moreover, the Equality Act 2010 protected characteristic of gender reassignment does not require any medical diagnosis, so maintaining medicalisation within the Gender Recognition Act 2004 makes no sense. 

The minister claimed to have taken into consideration the largest consultation ever carried out on the issue. However, this ignored the 80.3% of respondents who were in favour of removing the requirement for a medical report.

The consultation analysis captured the dehumanising impacts on trans people of the onerous GRA evidence requirements. The minister’s wholesale rejection of the consultation findings brings public consultations into disrepute.  

It seems the government is blind to the global context in which it decided not to update a process that 16 years ago might have been progressive but is now distinctly dated.

Until now, we have been able to pride ourselves that Britain was a leader on LGBT+ rights globally. Countries such as Argentina, Belgium, Malta, Norway, Portugal and indeed our neighbour, the Republic of Ireland, have already successfully moved to a more humane process of obtaining legal gender recognition without any harmful consequences.

There is nothing unique about British people around identity or propensity to violence that can justify ignoring the progress in our partner liberal democracies who aspire to the same values as we do. We are now outside the top 25 nations respecting trans rights – hardly the position of a global leader.

The grim conclusion is that the government’s policy is void of evidence, except groundless fear. This kind of baseless populism is morally wrong and untenable in the long term, when it will also be seen to be thoroughly shameful. In the short term it continues to directly harm trans people.

Until now I believed we had a prime minister equipped to inspire and lead a government, to unite the country together around a new vision of a Global Britain and values that would make us proud of what we stood for in the world.

Instead, it seems he is in thrall to a policy team that secured Brexit by crystallising division and thinks it appropriate to continue on this track, issue by issue, consuming his liberal humanity in the process.

I remain a supporter, but now one with doubts where they did not exist before.

Having spent much of the summer working my way through the issues engaged in this complex human and policy area, I can understand his reluctance to engage in the detail and hope that it might all go away. I’m afraid it won’t and until it is grasped it will disfigure his reputation. 

We must not allow this debate to be pitched as one group against another, as women against trans people. Social attitudes research shows greater support of trans inclusion and equality among women than among men. Single-sex services have been sensitively and appropriately including trans people without detriment to others for many years and GRA reform will not undermine that. 

The polarisation of Twitter has fostered fear and anger, but it is not representative of wider society. Politicians must find the calm space where we can uphold and progress equality, dignity and safety for all. This issue is not going away, and neither will I abandon it. 


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