Government by Ideology

Social media this week is full of discussion of a letter written by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to the Minister for Women & Equalities, Kemi Badenoch. For those of you unfamiliar with UK politics, one of the things that the current Tory government has done is fill “equalities” posts with people directly opposed to equality. Badenoch is an Evangelical Christian and Climate Change Sceptic. The Board of the EHRC has been filled with people who are openly transphobic. Nonsense is to be expected.

The first thing worth noting is that this letter has no legal force. Neither has there (yet) been any move to act on it. However, both Sunak and Starmer have muttered openly about “safeguarding woman’s rights”, which is a code pharse for removing the rights of trans people. If you feel minded to do so, and are a UK citizen, there is an old petition here that is suddenly getting a lot of traction and is worth signing. Sending a warning shot across the bows of Westminster is often quite effective.

Should they decide to move forward with this, the government will spin it as not removing any trans rights, but rather protecting the rights of women. The effect will be very different. The letter proposes amending the Equality Act to make it “clear” that “sex” means “biological sex” (whatever that means). The stated purpose of this will be to make it possible for any “single-sex” service to exclude anyone not of the correct “biological sex”. However, it has long been a claim of the anti-trans movement that allowing a trans woman into a supposed woman-only space is discrimination on the grounds of sex. If this change is made, we can expect to see a wave of prosecutions under the Equality Act where services have treated a trans woman as a woman, and are being sued for discrimination as a result. This will affect spaces such as toilets, changing rooms and sports clubs as well as rape crisis and domestic violence centres. Bizarrely the letter also references book clubs as an example of the sort of place that needs to be sex segregated.

Note that these new regulations are intended to apply to all trans people, regardless of their medical and current legal status. Somone like myself, who has been through a full surgical gender reassignment process and has a Gender Recognition Certificate, would still be regarded as “biologically male” under these proposals.

To government will claim that trans people can still change their gender using the Gender Recognition Act. However, because sex will have been defined as meaning biological sex, that change of gender will have no effect in law. The government will also claim that trans people are still protected by the Equality Act. They will be correct in saying that a company can still not fire someone for being trans, but that company will be legally obliged to treat trans employees as persons of their “biological sex”. It would not surprise me to see law suits complaining that allowing a trans woman to use female pronouns at work amounted to discrimination against cis women.

The letter talks airily about checks and balances, and about how these changes will be better for some and worse for others. Significantly it talks about trans women losing rights, and trans men gaining rights. But the rights that trans men would gain would be rights to be treated as women, which is the last thing that most trans men I know want. This is entirely in keeping with the anti-trans belief that trans men do not exist, and anyone claiming to be one is an innocent lesbian who has been duped by the Evil Trans Lobby.

Let’s now think about how this would work in practice. The anti-trans movement likes to claim that they can “always tell” who is trans, but they definitely cannot. Neither can anyone who runs a service that includes toilets or changing rooms. The only way that companies will be able to protect themselves is by requiring ID. There will be even more harassment of women whose appearance is not gender-conforming. And the government will have to revoke the existing passports and driving licences of trans people, issuing new ones with the sex marker being that they were assigned at birth. Goodness only knows how they will deal with foreign visitors who are trans.

There’s also this question of “biological sex”. What does it mean? The government probably thinks that’s just the sex you were assigned at birth. But the anti-trans lobby has been insistent that biological checks are necessary. For example, they insist that Caster Semenya is a “man”, despite her having been assigned female at birth and having lived all her life as a woman. Apparently she has higher than average levels of testosterone and that’s sufficient to disqualify her from womanhood.

The trouble is that we don’t routinely test for chromosomes or testosterone levels. No one has any idea how many women out there have a Y chromosome and androgen insensitivity. Given that there has been at least one well-documented case of a woman with a Y chromosome who gave birth to a healthy child, there’s no way we can know without testing. So what happens in the future if a woman has some routine checks by a doctor and it turns out she has a Y chromosome? Will she be legally required to live as a man from then on?

Given that the anti-trans lobby is very keen on genital surgery for intersex children who have ambiguous genitalia, this would not surprise me.

So that’s the world that these proposed changes would usher in. And all on the basis that a small number of fanatics have decided that they don’t want to live in a world that also contains trans people.