On Tuesday, the UK Government (finally!) launched a long-awaited consultation on reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA). This has been timed to coincide with several other events, including the publication of initial data from the Government Equality Office LGBT Survey, the launch of the Government’s new LGBT “Action Plan”, and the formal launch of the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy.
While it makes sense – politically speaking – for all of these things to happen at once, it can be pretty confusing. The sheer amount of information to process alone is monumental. Part of my job is to engage with these events, and since yesterday morning my head has been spinning! So in this post I aim to briefly summarise what has happened, why it happened, and what this might mean for the future – especially with regards to trans rights.
Planned reforms to the GRA was announced in the wake of the 2017. The Government promised a consultation, which has taken a year to materialise.
Nevertheless, it’s now open and anyone can respond to it. The consultation outlines a number of issues that civil servants have identified with the GRA as it stands, and asks for your views on these.
There are a couple of issues with the GRA which trans rights advocates have highlighted as notably absent from the consulation, which you may wish to invite the Government to also address. These are:
- The lack of provision for gender recognition for trans people under the age of 18.
- No mention of the Gender Recognition Register, which currently lists all people who have successfully applied for gender recognition. This may prove a danger to trans people if a more authoritarian government were to come to power, as in the US.
In the past year there has been a moral panic in the UK media in response to proposals for GRA reform. You can find out more about this (and my thoughts on why the consultation is happening now) in my earlier post on the topic.
In 2017 the Government Equality Office launched the National LGBT Survey. This was the largest survey of LGBT (in)equalities ever conducted – not just in the UK, but the world. A total of 108,100 valid responses were recieved, of whom approximately 14,000 were trans (which also makes it the largest ever survey of trans people in the UK by an astonishing margin). Credit for this is due to the civil servants who quietly pushed through its implementation at a time of political turmoil and reshuffles in the wake of the general election, as well as the LGBTQIA+ organisations who promoted it extensively.
An initial research summary report was published on Tuesday. This provides a basic account of the research findings. The full research report was released late on Wednesday. This huge document provides a far deeper and more extensive look at the survey results. However, there is such an enormous amount of data available that researchers will probably be analysing the findings for years to come.
The timing of these publications is not a coincidence. The research included questions about gender recognition; the findings demonstrated a strong demand for reform from the trans population, with negligible opposition to proposals from cis respondents. The Government will therefore use this to back their attempt to reform the GRA.
You can read the reports of the LGBT Survey here (along with various data annexes).
LGBT Action Plan
In response to the findings of the LGBT Survey, the UK Government has produced a 75-point Action Plan. This describes the actions they propose to take to promote LGBT equality, which include drafting new laws, producing new policy and guidance, and ringfencing money from the Government Equality Office budget for carrying out equalities work.
It’s very easy to be cynical about “action plans” such as these, but they can actually have a real impact. For example, the Coalition Government’s 2011 Transgender Action Plan was widely regarded as useless by trans activists in following years, but (as I show in my research) its requirement for the implementation of new gender identity service protocols by April 2013 helped bring about important improvements in NHS England gender clinics. This included an end to the requirement for a local mental health assessment prior to a gender clinic referral, which reduced the number of waiting lists that transitioning patients have to endure.
The legislative centrepieces of the Action Plan are the proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act, and a proposed ban on conversion therapy. Both potentially represent important steps forward for the law, but would also require relatively minimal action from the Government to tackle pressing issues highlighted elsewhere in the survey data (such as the enormous economic inequality experienced by LGBTQIA+ people). There are, of course, matters which weren’t asked about in the survey either, such as the UK’s treatment of LGBTQIA+ migrants and asylum seekers.
Therefore, in addition to holding the Government to account for implementing the LGBT Action Plan, we need to continue campaigning on matters such as austerity, immigration rights and the provision of public services.
You can read the LGBT Action Plan here.
Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy
On Wednesday afternoon I attended the formal launch of an effective ban on conversion or reparative therapy that has been agreed upon by the UK’s major professional bodies for therapists, counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists. This is a really big deal because it represents an attempt to stamp out practices that aim to “cure” or “convert” a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
The Memorandum of Understanding was originally agreed upon in 2016. This document only addressed LGB conversion therapy. but (following a series of careful meetings and difficult negotiations) an updated version was published in 2017, which explicitly addressed conversion therapy targeting people on the grounds of gender identity. This was effectively a “soft launch”, ensuring that the document was made available to those who needed it.
Today “officially” launched the document in the House of Commons, with numerous MPs and representatives of religious and therapeutic organisations present. The idea was to promote the Memorandum of Understanding more actively, and draw attention to the issue of conversion therapy among all of these groups.
I was not very much involved in the drafting of the Memorandum of Understanding, but did attend one of the early meetings that discussed how it might be extended to ensure asexual and trans inclusion. At this meeting we struggled with the lack of formal evidence that trans people in particular were undergoing conversion therapy, although I supported others in arguing that the prevalence of deeply concerning anecdotal accounts alone necessitated action.
By coincidence(?) today’s formal launch event coincided with yesterday’s publication of the first ever statistics on LGBTQIA+ conversion therapy in the UK, as part of the LGBT Survey summary report. These figures are stark: 5% of respondents reported being offered conversion therapy, and 2% underwent it. That might sound like a small figure, but given the enormous response to the survey, what it means is that thousands of vulnerable LGBTQIA+ people have experienced these damaging practices in the UK. Worryingly, the survey also shows that young people continue to experience conversion therapy, and that the situation is more severe for trans people. Around 10% of trans respondents reported having been offered conversion therapy, and 4% stated that the had been subject to it.
Dr Igi/Lyndsey Moon from the Coalition Against Conversion Therapy, who played a key role in ensuring that the document was updated to include trans people, spoke passionately at the event. In addition to talking through some of the above figures, they also argued that simply attempting to “ban” conversion therapy may not result in the change we need to see. What needs to happen now is the long, hard work of cultural change – both within religious organisations, and within healthcare services.
You can read the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy here.
Edit: I updated this post on the morning of Thursday 5th July to include a link to the full research report, which is now also available.