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Transgender equality: safeguards needed

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Maria Millar, transgender equality, women's rights, House of Commons, On 1 December 2016, the House of Commons will debate a motion on Transgender Equality.

Hooray, you might say. At long last!

But there is a problem.

The Women and Equalities Committee‘s transgender equality inquiry, headed by Maria Miller, produced a report in January this year that has called for the removal of qualifying requirements for gender change, so that anyone could easily become legally a member of the opposite sex without the need for any form of social or medical transition.

So there is a problem.

If the Equality Committee’s recommendations go forward as planned, the elimination of sex as a protected class will be replaced by an individual’s declaration of their subjective and internal gender-based “feelings”.

This would give men who proclaim such gender feelings the legal right to expose themselves in women’s locker rooms and other single-sex facilities where public nudity occurs and where women and girls are particularly vulnerable.

Convicted male prisoners who proclaim gender feelings will be housed in cells with confined female prisoners who will have no legal grounds to object.

Men will have the right to compete in women’s sports, apply for women’s scholarships, and the right to serve as female proxies by occupying affirmative action slots which formerly served to address sex inequality in women’s representation in public life.

Single-sex rape crisis services, women’s refuges, lesbian public events, will become illegal on the grounds they discriminate against the gender feelings of men.

The policy recommendations made by the Committee regarding transgender rights thus have a potentially adverse effect on women in a number of ways:

The threat to current sex-based rights, which keep males and females segregated in public places where women and girls might be physically vulnerable. These include toilets, changing rooms, rape crisis centres, refuges, hospital wards and prisons;

The inclusion of male-bodied, male-socialised people, into areas of success and achievement where women currently have their own space in order to make competition fair or to level the playing field. These include sports, prizes and awards, shortlists and quotas;

The negative affect on the lesbian community of the pressure on young women to identify as trans rather than as lesbian. There is also pressure to accept male-bodied self-identified ‘lesbians’ as sexual partners;

The pressure on parents to accept a trans diagnosis for a gender non-conforming child, based on gender stereotypes of clothing and toy preferences; or in the case of teenagers, to give in to the social media contagion to which they might be susceptible;

The skewing of national statistics regarding crime, due to the higher rate of offending by male transitioners as opposed to women, with possible knock-on effects on funding for women’s services;

The effect on the ‘trans widows’ of men (and it mostly is men) who transition in middle age. There is nowhere for these women to turn: all the help and support is directed towards the ‘trans’ person; and

The changing of language pertinent to women and girls in order to make it more trans-inclusive, thereby making ‘women’s issues’ impossible to talk about. This includes the use of such terms as ‘pregnant people’ by health providers.

So women now find ourselves having to write to our MPs and ask for these issues to be thought through and to ensure these proposals are changed, solutions found, that mean all parties are safe.

‘Third spaces’ for example.

To ask our MPs to vote against this, as it stands.

And asking everyone worried about the implications of this move to contact their MP.

Fair Play for Women has put together this draft letter, but it should be personalised for your MP.

Maybe you can emphasise the point you feel most strongly about. A lesbian faced with a person with a penis wanting sex with her, for example. Or if you are the mother or sister of a woman or girl who has been raped and will be afraid going to swimming-bath changing rooms.

Dear [MP] …

On Thursday 1st December MPs will take part in a debate in the House of Commons Chamber on a motion on transgender equality.

While I welcome a discussion on the challenges faced by transgender people in today’s society, I am concerned that the interests of women and girls are not being represented in this ongoing debate and I would like you, as my MP to stand up for your female constituents.

In January the Women and Equalities Committee produced a report calling for a self-declaration system for legally changing ones gender.

Currently if a person wishes to change their legal gender they must be over 18, be diagnosed with gender dysphoria and have been living in their desired gender role for at least two years, and intend to do so for the rest of their life.

The Committee’s report called for the removal of all three of these criteria, so that anyone could easily become legally a member of the opposite sex, without the need for any form of social or medical transition.

Effectively, any man could claim transgender status to gain access to sex-specific spaces and services whether he genuinely thinks of himself as a woman or not and no matter how he dresses, and questioning his motives would be classed as a hate crime under the Equalities Act 2010.

In most areas of life, I support transgender people to live as they wish. However, in certain situations we distinguish between biological men and biological women for reasons of safety, dignity, privacy and fairness.

Often this debate is characterised as being about public toilets, but other examples include prisons, communal changing facilities, intimate care of the disabled and the elderly, or hospital wards and competitive sport.

Maria Miller has consistently denied any clash of rights here, but there are already numerous examples of violent males being housed in female prisons (eg Lauren Jeska), males competing against females in sport (eg Fallon Fox) and men taking accolades from women (eg Chloe Allen).

I am also concerned about the effect this push towards the concept of ‘gender identity’ will have on children.

There has been a huge increase in children seeking treatment for gender dysphoria, often based simply on a preference for toys and clothes usually associated with members of the opposite sex.

Studies show, if left to grow up without medical intervention, 80 per cent of gender-questioning children grow into healthy adults content in their bodies.

If children are started on puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, the desistance rate is close to zero, leading to a lifetime of medication and surgery.

I would strongly argue for initiatives within education, social services, health and child development to focus on rejecting harmful gendered norms and stereotypes, and supporting children to understand that a full and diverse range of attributes, interests and behaviours is available to both girls and boys.

I hope you understand that women are not – as Maria Miller has implied – being transphobic when they raise concerns about these changes, but have real and valid concerns.

I would urge you to consider the wider implications of these changes, and look for an alternative solution that meets the needs of the transgender community without having such a massive impact on the safety and well-being of women.

We need safeguards.

Yours etc.

To find your MP’s contact details, click here.

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