Michael Gove is apparently not a wholly bad man. Oh, I know that the teaching profession is overjoyed to be rid of him, but the legal profession is leaping up and down with glee to have a nice, reasonable chap like Gove in charge of them rather than a grasping, amoral monster like Chris Grayling. That’s because Gove is rolling back some of the worst excesses of the Grayling regime at the Ministry of Justice. You know, things like the UK government setting up in business to advise repressive regimes around the world on how best to control their citizens. (Though apparently we will be fulfilling our contract with the Saudis because it would cost too much money to walk away.)
On the other hand, Gove is still Gove. That much is fairly obvious from the UK Government’s response to the recent petition on trans rights.
Just to be clear on this, the petition is not exactly asking for the moon. It is asking for UK trans people to have the same right of self-determination that has just been granted to Irish citizens. It is also asking for legal recognition for non-binary people, something that has already been granted by governments in places such as India, Pakistan and Australia. Sadly the response from the MoJ is not exactly encouraging.
Actually it is interesting that the response comes from the MoJ and not the Equalities Department within the Home Office, because they are the people responsible for trans rights. It is possibly also significant that the response comes a few days after the public evidence hearings for the current Transgender Equality Inquiry, because if any of the witnesses at that event had wanted to point out the desperate state of trans equality in the UK all they would have had to do was quote from the MoJ’s statement.
But wait, there’s another public evidence hearing this coming Tuesday. Get out the popcorn, folks, this could be a cracker.
So what did the MoJ actually say? Well you can read the whole thing here, but as you might have guessed I’m going to comment on the salient points. Let’s start with the outright lie. The MoJ says:
The gender recognition process in the Gender Recognition Act 2004 was developed as a result of the Government’s commitment to allowing trans people to gain legal recognition in their acquired gender.
Well, no. The UK government fought tooth and nail to prevent trans people getting any legal rights at all. The GRA was only introduced following a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (Christine Goodwin v The United Kingdom, Case No 28957/1995 for any legal wonks out there) which found the UK government guilty of discrimination.
Now let’s move on to the willfully naive. As I noted above, part of the petition calls for legal recognition for non-binary people. The MoJ’s argument against providing this is:
Non-binary gender is not recognised in UK law. Under the law of the United Kingdom, individuals are considered by the state to be of the gender that is registered on their birth certificate, either male or female.
It goes on to note specifically that the Equality Act provides no protection for non-binary people, but only for people who are male or female. I’d like to see that tested in court.
Actually, thinking about it, what the MoJ is saying here is that it is OK under the Equality Act to discriminate against someone if they look neither male nor female. That clearly affects trans people, because you can claim that you are perfectly OK about them being trans, but not about them not looking like a member of their preferred gender. In addition it affects LGB people, because you can claim that you are not prejudiced on the grounds of sexuality, but rather on the grounds of gender performance. So the MoJ thinks it is OK to discriminate against a gay man if he looks effeminate, or against a lesbian if she looks butch. This is an issue that affects the whole LGBT community.
Finally they note:
We recognise that a very small number of people consider themselves to be of neither gender. We are not aware that that results in any specific detriment
If ever I saw a call for a social media campaign, that was it. CN Lester noted:
4. …I've been denied schooling, work and adequate healthcare because of being neither male nor female. @MoJGovUK
— CN Lester (@cnlester) September 12, 2015
And went on to say:
— CN Lester (@cnlester) September 12, 2015
That hashtag is filling up nicely.
Having read a number of government responses to online petitions, it does seem that it is a standard tactic to quote existing law as an argument for not changing it. The MoJ statement has taken this to heart and goes into great detail about all of the hoops that trans people are forced to jump through in order to achieve legal recognition of their gender. As Maria Miller perceptively noted at the Transgender Equality Inquiry on Tuesday, those requirements are now far more stringent than those recommended by the medical profession when approving patients for surgery.
The key sentence in the MoJ response is this one:
A person’s gender has important legal and social consequences.
Basically what that is saying is that differences between men and women are enshrined in UK law, and if we allow trans people to unilaterally switch between genders then the whole fabric of Patriarchy will crumble.
Remind me again how it is that trans people are agents of the Patriarchy who reinforce the gender binary.
By the way, the petition currently has just over 30,000 signatures. If it gets over 100,000 that will force a debate in Parliament. You can sign it here.