On 4th April 2023 the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) provided advice to the UK Government on “clarifying” the definition of sex in law. Specifically, they recommended the protected characteristic of sex in the Equality Act 2010 be re-defined as “biological sex”. The proposals have been welcomed by the Labour party as well as the Conservatives.
If adopted, the EHRC’s proposals would strip trans people of numerous legal protections currently afforded by the Equality Act as well as the Gender Recognition Act.
This is made extremely clear by the EHRC. Their own examples include the argument that it is a problem that trans women may be protected from sexism under current law, and (as “legal lesbians”) from homophobia if we have female partners. Most worryingly of all, they have doubled down on previous attacks on our right to access gendered spaces. If implemented, the proposals may result in the trans women being barred by law from women’s toilets, changing rooms, hospital wards, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centres, and book clubs (the latter is a genuine example provided by the EHRC).
I am not going to get into the weeds with these proposals. Others will no doubt provide deep legal analyses. I have already seen “gender critical” commentators claiming that this will have no real effect on our lives in practice. To which I say: fuck you.
I am done with being polite, and reasonable, and rational. These proposals represent a blatant attack not just on our civil rights but also on our rights to exist as human beings in public. In practice, banning trans women from women’s toilets means that many if not most of us simply cannot use public toilets.
Trans women use women’s facilities because we are women. And when I say “trans women are women” I am not merely making some kind of abstract metaphysical claim. I am saying that we are structurally disadvantaged under patriarchy, and experience sexist violence every day from men. That is the material reality. Insisting that trans men use women’s toilets is equally stupid, especially if your supposed aim as a “gender critical” campaigner is to produce a space free of beards and penises.
But here I am disappearing once again into details. None of this is about details. It’s about terrorising trans people, and we are terrified.
It’s about making our lives impossible. Ideally, we will disappear; our oppressors don’t really care if we suffer or we die. And we know, trans people know, that people around us are suffering and dying because we are actually a part of that community. I’ve spent the past 13 years producing research that formally documents the oppression we face, because when we simply say what we know is true because we are living that truth every day, nobody in power gives a shit.
In the meantime, people in suits believe there are votes and clicks and money to be won through fighting culture wars, through distracting people from rising poverty and slow-burning climate collapse.
If you are cis, it is up to you, the reader, to do something about this. Over the past five years trans people have been systematically harassed and silenced by a hostile media. We have been pushed out of political parties and campaign groups. Supposed human rights protectors such as the EHRC have been institutionally captured by the far right. Academics happily write abstract theory about what a terrible danger we pose. Fascist groups are rallying against us in the streets, trans healthcare is under attack, and trans children are being told they must be outed to their parents, all with the support of Labour and Tory politicians as well as popular children’s authors.
Obviously we will fight for our own liberation. We have always fought. We are so beautiful and so powerful, especially here and especially now.
But we need you to fight with us.
Here are some things you can do. Write to your MP, and then do it again. Make sure they are sick of hearing from you and then keep going. Go to a protest. Engage in direct action. Maybe sign a petition if you’re into that kind of thing. If you are in a political party, fight like hell to ensure that party is actually on our side. Join a union and fight for us there. Join a human rights group. Join a small trans organisation and offer whatever you can, whether that’s volunteer time, small donations, or signal-boosting.
Think about how you or your organisation might productively break the law to help people. If the EHRC’s proposals actually make it through Parliament, we must make them unworkable. Section 28 was only successful because teachers, administrators, and local authorities collaborated with an openly homophobic government. That doesn’t have to be the case again.
If you need evidence to back you up, it is all over this website. Don’t ask me for advice – I am tired and burned out and have already done the work. Read TERF Wars, read my evidence to Parliament, read the report I wrote with Katharine Jenkins with a feminist perspective on sex, gender, and the Gender Recognition Act.
Finally, it’s important to note this is just the tip of the iceberg. Attacking trans people and defining women by “biological sex” are a part of a wider attempt to remove women’s reproductive rights. Our government is shredding the refugee convention and putting asylum seekers in camps. Our legal rights to protest and strike have been massively curtailed.
If you’ve ever wondered “what would I have done in the face of rising fascism?” then wonder no longer.
Your moment is here. The question is how you act.
edit 9/4/23 – read more here:
A pocket guide to escalation (Beth Gale)
Gender: the EHRC explain (jane fae)
The EHRC wants to redefine sex. Here’s what it means for trans people (Open Democracy)