Addressing transgender rights in the UK

The UK parliament's Committee on Women and Equality has released the first report from its parliamentary inquiry into discrimination against transgender people in education, health and criminal justice.

The inquiry was tasked with assessing levels of transphobia, access to NHS services and issues faced by transgender youth.

The NHS was found to be particularly lacking.

GPs too often lack understanding and in some cases this leads to appropriate care not being provided.

--the report

The Committee is calling for a wholesale review of the NHS's treatment of transgender people by summer.

The report concluded there was overwhelming evidence of serious deficiencies in the quality and capacity of NHS gender identity services, particularly in waiting times for first appointments and surgery – with recent reports indicating waiting times of between two and three years for access to some of the adult clinics.

We do see a lot of trans people being denied treatment. You find a lot of trans people are passed from pillar to post.

A lot of GPs deny healthcare to trans people illegally, based on the fact that they do not agree with the choices that they [trans patients] have made.

--Jess Bradley, Action for Trans Health

The casual, sometimes unthinking transphobia of primary care, accident and emergency services and inpatient surgical admissions continue[s] to be striking.

--James Barrett, British Association of Gender Identity Specialists

After receiving 250 witness statements and five oral sessions, the report listed 30 recommendations for change to improve services for trans people, in a wide range of policy areas.

As many as 650,000 people in the UK are “gender incongruent to some degree”, and the report stated the transphobia experienced by some of these individuals had serious results. The report said it is believed that around one third of transgender adults and half of young people attempt suicide.

The report called on the government to produce a new strategy for full transgender equality within six months, warning that an existing plan issued in 2011 remains “largely unimplemented”.

Transgender issues should never be treated as a mental health problem, according to a radical parliamentary report published on Thursday which demands, a complete overhaul of the legal protections for transgender individuals in the UK.

--the report

The House of Commons women and equalities committee said the government should introduce a non-binary gender option on passports, require all police officers to undergo transphobic hate crime training, and ensure transgender individuals cannot be excluded from single-sex institutions such as women’s refuges.

The report also insists transgender prisoners should be allowed to serve their sentence in a prison that is appropriate to their gender, says 16- and 17-year olds should be allowed to switch their legal gender, and calls for an explicit ban on anti-transgender hate speech.

I can think of no group that suffers more discrimination than trans people. We must think about the human rights of every single person who lives in our country and at the moment the human rights of trans people are not fully protected.

--Maria Miller, committee chair and former Conservative equalities minister

Miller, a former Conservative equalities minister, said it was also time to move away from an arrangement where individuals are only allowed to legally switch gender if they gain a legal certificate through the approval of a “quasi-judicial system” where “a panel of doctors and lawyers decide on your gender for you”.

The committee recommends that the government should instead move towards a system of gender self-declaration, following the trail blazed by Argentina, Malta, and Ireland.

Having support for trans people located in mental health services is a relic of the past. In many ways it has been treated in a similar way to other LGB issues decades ago: we shouldn’t be treating trans people as if they have a mental health problem or as if they have a disease.

There is clear evidence that public attitude is well ahead of the law. Almost half the population accept that gender is fluid and is not as simple as male or female. There will be a minority of people who might be uncomfortable about that but parliament is there to represent the way that society is today.

--Miller

Among the committee’s many recommendations is a call for greater funding for transgender treatment from the health service, including ensuring more staff are made available to help transgender people who want to have gender confirmation surgery and ensuring patients have their first assessment within 18 weeks.

Official forms should no longer ask for an individual’s gender unless necessary and that information should not be stored as standard, according to the committee. Instead they say the UK must “follow Australia’s lead in introducing an option to record gender as ‘X’ on a passport”, although this would require fresh legislation.

Noting the recent death's of multiple women in men's prisons, the report avers that transgender prisoners should not be placed in solitary confinement simply because of their gender.

There is a clear risk of harm (including violence, sexual assault, self-harming and suicide) where trans prisoners are not located in a prison or other setting appropriate to their acquired / affirmed gender.

--the report

The committee also calls on the government to investigate why there have been no prosecutions of individuals who abused confidential information about a transgender individual’s gender and said courts should ensure individuals are not inadvertently identified as transgender against their wishes.

We should always legislate on the basis of good evidence and there simply is no evidence of this mythical beast of trans people abusing other women. Quite the reverse. The vulnerable people tend to be the trans people getting abused by all and sundry so there’s a real need for trans people having access to shelters.

--Christine Burns on access for trans women to same-sex institutions like rape crisis centres

It’s a profoundly conservative proposal, doing away with red tape. One of the things that has concerned me is that probably only half the people who are eligible for gender recognition certificates have actually applied for them because of the perception of how intrusive the process is.

--Burns

Because the sector has been starved for generations you also have to build up the capacity of specialists to provide treatment. The GIC [gender identity clinic] in Charing Cross has about 3,000 people at any one time. That’s gone up in leaps and bounds in the last ten years. They’re running to keep up.

--Burns, on the shortage of NHS funding and staff for treatment of transgender patients

Transgender equality is now a regular topic of public debate.

I am determined to tackle discrimination against transgender people wherever it exists so that all members of our society can live their lives free from persecution, and able to fulfill their potential.

--Education and equalities minister Nicky Morgan

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