Transgender Equality Contents

1Introduction

1.This report, our first, is concerned with equality issues affecting transgender (or “trans”)1 people, an umbrella term describing a diverse minority group whose members often experience very stark inequality.

Terminology

2.Each of us is at birth assigned a sex (male or female), based on our physical characteristics. Most people’s gender identity (the gender with which they associate themselves) and gender presentation (how they outwardly show their gender) will not differ from that typically associated with their assigned sex. Trans people, however, have a gender identity which differs from that of their (assigned) birth sex. Trans identities take a wide diversity of forms.2

3.Trans identity can be “non-binary” in character, located at a (fixed or variable) point along a continuum between male and female; or “non-gendered”, i.e. involving identification as neither male nor female. While issues relating to these particular trans identities do feature in this report, it was not possible within the scope of our inquiry to undertake an in-depth consideration of the position of all non-binary and non-gendered people. However, we note that increasing numbers of trans people do identify as non-binary or non-gendered and many of our recommendations will address some of the problems faced by people with these identities. But there is a need for Government policy to address their specific needs.

4.In addition, we are aware that intersex3 people face a number of difficult equalities issues and that some members of this group identify as trans. However, the issues concerned are very distinctive and we decided it would not be possible to do justice to them in the context of an inquiry focused primarily on trans issues. We are aware that for those intersex people who undergo gender reassignment as adults much of what we comment on will be relevant. However, the Government should also consider how best to address the needs of intersex children and adults, including those who identify as transgender.

5.Many trans people change their gender presentation to bring it into alignment with their gender identity. This process is known as “transition”.4 Transitioning may involve various types of medical treatment,5 to bring a person’s physical characteristics more into conformity with their gender identity and presentation. The NHS uses a (mental-health) diagnosis of “gender dysphoria”, which is defined as the experiencing of discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between one’s biological sex and one’s gender identity. However, transitioning need not involve any form of medical intervention.

6.We are aware that trans people themselves refer to their diverse identities and experiences in many different ways and that use of some terms is contested. We have tried in this report to use terms which are generally accepted and in wide use within the trans community. We ask for understanding if we have not always got this right.

Our inquiry

7.Fairness and equality are basic British values. Parliament established this Committee to provide the opportunity for on-going focused scrutiny of where fairness and equality are not yet a reality of day-to-day life. A litmus test for any society that upholds the principles of fairness and equality is the extent to which it supports and protects the rights and interests of every citizen, even the most marginalised groups. Whilst Britain has been among the countries that have gone furthest in recognising lesbian, gay and bisexual rights, our society is still failing this test in respect of trans people, despite welcome progress in recent years.

8.It is telling that there is a lack of good quality statistical data regarding trans people in the UK. Current estimates indicate that some 650,000 people are “likely to be gender incongruent to some degree”.6

9.Trans people have long endured high levels of prejudice (referred to as “transphobia”) and misunderstanding. This is manifested in numerous forms, including discrimination in a wide range of settings (including public services), hostile portrayal in the media, abuse and violence (including, in some cases, sexual assault and murder). This can undermine trans people’s career opportunities, incomes, living standards, access to social capital, quality of life, and physical and mental health. It is a sobering and distressing fact that in UK surveys of trans people about half of young people7 and a third of adults8 report that they have attempted suicide. During the course of our inquiry, the deaths in custody of two trans women, and the case of a trans woman who was placed in a men’s prison, illustrated with particular starkness the issues we were considering.

10.At the same time, there appears to be gathering momentum for change to bring about greater equality for trans people. Issues affecting the trans community are now more widely debated than in the past; and there are growing voices in support of changing how trans people are viewed, portrayed and treated by society.

11.It was with this background in mind that we decided soon after the election of the Committee to conduct an inquiry into trans equality as our first piece of work. Before commencing the inquiry, we consulted informally with representatives of two key stakeholder organisations, Press for Change and Stonewall.

12.In our terms of reference (see Annex), agreed in July 2015, we decided to look at how far, and in what ways, trans people still have yet to achieve full equality; and how the outstanding issues can most effectively be addressed.

13.Our inquiry covered a wide range of policy areas, which are affected in different ways by the current devolution arrangements. We looked at health services, schools and social care in relation only to England, since these are devolved matters in the other countries of the UK. Our comments on the criminal justice system (courts, prisons and probation) relate to England and Wales only, these being devolved matters in Scotland and Northern Ireland. As we note in our chapter on gender recognition, this is affected by the different equal-marriage law which obtains in Scotland.

14.We received over 250 written evidence submissions. Many of these came from individual trans people who wanted to tell us about their own experiences; to them, we are especially grateful. Much of this information was highly personal and sensitive; in making decisions about the publication of evidence, we have been mindful of our duty of care towards people who have entrusted us with such information. We sought to ascertain in all cases the wishes of those who made submissions and we have tried to respect scrupulously all requests for confidentiality or the redaction of information.

15.During the course of the inquiry, we held five oral evidence sessions. Witnesses included: a panel of trans people speaking frankly about their own experiences (whom we thank particularly); organisations conducting representative and advocacy work within and for the trans community; service-providers, of various kinds; academic experts; and six ministers, from a range of government departments, including the Minister for Women and Equalities, Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP.

16.We have also sought to engage with the wider trans community during the inquiry, through organisations representing trans people, the LGBT press and social media. Where members of the trans community brought issues to our attention during the course of the inquiry, we sought to take account of these in our deliberations.

17.It became apparent during the inquiry that there is a complex and extensive hierarchy of issues that need to be addressed. We have attempted to reflect in this report the relative urgency and importance of these issues, as articulated by the trans community. Of necessity, that has meant that some of the issues raised in the course of this inquiry have not been directly addressed (as well as some topics referred to in our terms of reference).9 The Government will need, in its response, to demonstrate how it will ensure that a comprehensive plan is put in place to address all the issues raised.

18.We are very grateful to our Specialist Advisor, Stephen Whittle OBE, Professor of Equalities Law at Manchester Metropolitan University, for his help and guidance throughout the inquiry. We are also grateful to Claire McCann, of Cloisters Chambers, for giving us her expert legal opinion.

1 The term “gender variance” is also used (often in respect of children or adolescents) to refer to behaviour and interests that are outside what is considered “normal” for a person’s assigned (biological) sex. The abbreviation “trans*” is sometimes adopted, to emphasise that the full spectrum of gender variant, gender non-conforming, gender diverse or gender atypical identities is being referred to.

2 A person who is assigned male at birth but identifies as female may be described as a “trans woman”, while someone who is assigned female at birth but identifies as male may be described as a “trans man”. The term “cisgender”—abbreviated as “cis”—is used in the trans community to refer to people who are not transgender.

3 Intersex people are born with ambiguous primary physical sexual characteristics. Until recently they would usually undergo genital surgery at a young age to given them characteristics which are clearly either male or female. Medical professionals are now more likely to advise waiting until the child is older and able to provide informed consent to surgery, because of the implications surgery can have on future health and function.

4 A trans person’s gender after transitioning is often referred to as their “acquired gender”, but the term “affirmed gender” is now preferred by many people.

5 This is usually referred to as “gender reassignment”, although trans people increasingly prefer the term “gender confirmation”.

6 Terry Reed (TRA 019); Gender Identity Research and Education Service (TRA 058). In May 2009 the Office for National Statistics published a Trans Data Position Paper which noted the lack of robust data, methodological issues associated with seeking such data and the need for “those more closely associated with the trans community” to explore “alternative measures” of the number of trans people.

8 Gender Identity Research and Education Service, Trans Mental Health Study 2012 (September 2012)

9 For instance, although we called for submissions on trans people in the Armed Forces, we only received two relevant submissions: Sarah Cooper (TRA 037); Caroline Paige (TRA 151).




© Parliamentary copyright 2015

Prepared 8 January 2016