Australian blogger A. E. Brain has caused a stir by digging up a clause within the new UK Equality Act that effectively gives organisations which offer gendered services the opportunity to legally discriminate against trans people. The offending clause reads as follows:
Equality Act 2010 (c. 15)
Schedule 3 — Services and public functions: exceptions
Part 7 — Separate and single services
(1) A person does not contravene section 29, so far as relating to gender reassignment discrimination, only because of anything done in relation to a matter within sub-paragraph (2) if the conduct in question is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
(2) The matters are—
(a) the provision of separate services for persons of each sex;
(b) the provision of separate services differently for persons of each sex;
(c) the provision of a service only to persons of one sex.
Equality Act 2010 (c. 15)
Schedule 9 — Work: exceptions
Part 1 — Occupational requirements
(3) The references in sub-paragraph (1) to a requirement to have a protected
characteristic are to be read—
(a) in the case of gender reassignment, as references to a requirement not to be a transsexual person (and section 7(3) is accordingly to be ignored);
A helpful example is given in in the Act’s notes:
Gender reassignment: paragraph 28
749. This paragraph replaces a similar provision in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.
A group counselling session is provided for female victims of sexual assault. The organisers do not allow transsexual people to attend as they judge that the clients who attend the group session are unlikely to do so if a male-to-female transsexual person was also there. This would be lawful.
Schedule 9: Work: exceptions
Part 1: Occupational requirements
A counsellor working with victims of rape might have to be a woman and not a transsexual person, even if she has a gender recognition certificate, in order to avoid causing them further distress.
I was aware some time ago that this clause might exist since I campaigned heavily on issues relating to the Equality Bill prior to it’s passage. Due to other demands on my time however I didn’t managed to keep track of this clause. I’m extremely disappointed but not surprised to see that its still present in the final text of the Act.
As the analysis from Questioning Transphobia makes clear, this is actually a backward step: it effectively overrides the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), which previously allowed trans people who had a Gender Recognition Certificate to “count” as appropriately female or male for all legal purposes. Now we have a situation whereby an organisation with the right excuses (e.g. a rape crisis centre) can potentially get away with keeping out trans people (and kicking out anyone they discover to be trans).
Without another change in the law through legislative means (and I don’t imagine this is going to happen any time soon), any trans person who wishes to challenge this situation legally will probably have to bring a challenge through the European courts, which will be incredibly messy. It’ll cost huge amounts of time and money (for the individual concerned, any organisations supporting them, and the rape crisis centre itself) and it’ll be politically disasterous for pretty much everyone. It’ll probably be an even more fucked-up re-run of what happened in Canada a few years back.
This is particularly sad because much of the Equality Bill represents a step forwards. For example, trans childen have gained extra protections to deal with discrimination in schools, many individuals with non-binary identities are now legally protected from discrimination in the workplace and the provision of goods and services if they can demonstrate that they’re living in a “new” gender role (with no medical intervention necessary, huzzah!) and there’s now a positive duty for various bodies to work towards trans inclusion. Why, then, is there this gigantic screw-up?
It’s not the fault of any of the trans rights organisations (e.g. Press For Change, GIRES) who were campaigning on the Equality Bill. They were furious at the time, and I figure they still are now. They, along with other groups and individuals campaigning on the Bill, lobbied the Government Equality Office (GEO) to no avail, and also lobbied the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to lobby the GEO, but the EHRC didn’t have a lot of luck either.
It’s not the fault of the NHS or private medical organisations, who might conceivably take advantage of this loophole to deny trans women access to particular “women’s” services. They didn’t push for this clause, and apparently no other groups did either…apart from a number of rape crisis centres.
This is the most sickening aspect of the whole affair: I’m aware from my involvement in the Equality Bill campaign that rape crisis centres, which exist to help some of the most vulnerable and damaged individuals in society, pushed for the inclusion of this clause: a clause which doesn’t merely allow them to deny access to trans people, but also sets a disturbing legal precedent by rolling back the GRA and offers the opportunity for others to legally deny services to trans people.
Now it’s important that I clarify at this point that not all rape crisis centres are transphobic. I know that some in particular work extremely hard towards ensuring they offer a trans-friendly environment. I also honestly have no idea which centres in particular were pushing for this clause, and it would be dangerous (and hence deeply inappropriate) to guess. I cannot stress how incredibly important and vital the services offered by rape crisis centres are.
The argument offered by certain women’s rights activists will be that trans women may threaten or disturb some survivors because they look like men. This argument is a variation on the idea of universal womanhood, and as black feminists demonstrated long ago, it simply doesn’t hold up. There will be those black or asian survivors who feel threatened by white people because they have been victims of racist violence, and others who feel threatened by some other women because they were sexually assaulted or raped by another woman. As far as I’m aware, no woman is rejected from rape crisis centres in the UK because of her sexuality or the colour of her skin, and for good reason. Kicking out trans people is transphobic, plain and simple. This situation has come about because of the vile dogma of a certain brand of radical feminism, and quite frankly I’m horrified.
Because of the doctrine that trans women aren’t real women, that trans women don’t suffer sexual violence (in the face of huge amounts of evidence to the contrary), a certain school of feminism has been responsible for pushing back our rights. As a trans woman, I’m pretty upset. As a feminist, I’m furious.
The idealogical “trans wars” within feminism deal with real lives and result in real hurt, real pain. With various services given legal recourse to deny services to all trans people, those women who have argued for this change in the law on supposedly feminist grounds will have blood on their hands. Shame on them.