Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The semi-Equality Bill: lobbying for improvement

Two amendments to improve the Equality Bill for trans people have been put forward. Please encourage your MP to support them. A description of the issue, and model letters, via Bird of Paradox. You can write to your own MP using WriteToThem, though only if you're using your own letter rather than one of the model letters - please contact if you do so that they can keep track of the number of people lobbying.

The narrow definition of 'trans' as people who are, have, or will undergo gender reassignment is seemingly a habit of this government, so the more people saying it's wrong the better.

The explicit omission of sexual orientation and gender identity from the reasons schools are not allowed to discriminate or harass is unbelievable. I could understand - though not accept - if anti-discrimination legislation forgot to include those as reasons. In this case, it includes language specifically to exclude those as protections. This is not a case of "not having thought about it" but of "having thought about it and decided to do it anyway".

The letter I sent to my MP follows. They're not the promptest to reply to these, so I expect I'll have to check the voting records for an answer, but I hope their office is organised enough to at least get it to them before the 3rd reading debate:

Dear [MP]

The Equality Bill currently in the Commons may well be the last opportunity for several years to strengthen the protections available for groups who are currently the subject of severe discrimination.

There are two amendments to this bill which significantly strengthen the protection it provides to trans people (transgender, transsexual, and other gender variant people), that I would appreciate your support for in Commons votes.

Firstly, for Clause 7:

Currently, in Clause 7, "gender reassignment" is a protected characteristic. A significant proportion of trans people, perhaps the majority, would not be covered by this, as they are not intending to go through the medical process of gender reassignment. Additionally, people who do not identify as either male or female (regardless of the gender assigned at birth) are not covered by this terminology, for example, some intersex people.

The Scottish Parliament passed anti-harassment legislation earlier this year which was much more broadly defined with respect to trans people than the Equality Bill's Clause 7. Having particular forms of harassment legal in England and Wales which Scotland has rightly outlawed is an inconsistency likely to cause significant problems for many people.

The recent Joint Committee on Human Rights report recommends widening this definition on pages 25 to 26 of the report, available from, by using the term "gender identity" instead. Amendments NC12(3) to (5) make this change, and I ask you to please support these amendments and encourage your colleagues to do likewise.

Secondly, in the section on education, Clause 82(10) excludes "gender reassignment" and "sexual orientation" from the scope of Clause 82, which requires that the responsible body of a school not:

  • discriminate or victimise in admissions
  • discriminate or victimise in provision of education
  • harass the pupil

Homophobic and transphobic harassment and bullying is a severe problem within schools, with the majority of LGB and gender variant pupils reporting experience of homophobic and/or transphobic bullying and harassment, in some cases from the school staff as well as from other pupils. In many of these cases, the school has failed to respond adequately to the problem.

This harassment and bullying can cause severe problems, including truancy and academic failure, low self-esteem and mental health problems, and even self-mutilation and suicide. The suicide rate for LGB and gender variant children is significantly higher than that for children in general, and this is a major cause of that.

Page 44 of the Joint Committee report states:

We therefore recommend that protection from harassment be available on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools using the narrower conjunctive definition as there is a "captive population" and vulnerable population at risk and there is an established problem of bullying and harassment in this area. We also recommend that protection from harassment be available on the grounds of sexual orientation using the narrower conjunctive definition in the provision of public services as those who use public services may also be "captive populations" and vulnerable.

Please support any amendments that would remove these exemptions, to give LGB and gender variant pupils the same protections that BAME pupils, female pupils and disabled pupils have already been granted.

The Equality Bill is a generally strong piece of legislation, that I am pleased to have seen the government introduce and I hope that it will become law before the next general election. As the most important piece of equality legislation in recent years, it needs to provide comprehensive protections as the next opportunity to improve them may be some time away.

Trans people have long had little protection in law, something which the government has recently begun to rectify with legislation such as the Gender Recognition Act. Please take the opportunity to make significant further progress now.