Statement: Reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004

The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) is an organisation of sex workers, working both on the streets and in premises. Since 1975 we have been campaigning for the decriminalisation of prostitution, for sex workers’ rights and safety and for resources to enable people to get out of prostitution if they want to.

Many trans people go into the sex industry because of transphobic discrimination in other jobs as well as in housing and the provision of services. Figures from the US show that a significant percentage of trans people (19%) have worked in the sex industry.[i]

Both trans people and sex workers face severe discrimination in many areas of public life. This discrimination is compounded for those of us who are trans sex workers. We face offensive stereotyping and systematic institutionalised prejudice from the authorities. And we are targeted for criminalisation and police abuse, especially if we are working on the street and/or are people of colour or migrant.

The opposition to trans rights is being spearheaded by many of the same cis women who call themselves feminists who have voraciously campaigned to increase the criminalisation of sex work and whom form unholy alliances with religious fundamentalists in the process.

The ECP welcomes the reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004. The complexity, restrictions and expense of the current process particularly discriminates against trans people who are disabled, sex workers, migrant, unemployed, homeless, fleeing domestic violence, young, intersex or non-binary.

We support a reformed Gender Recognition Act (GRA) that –

  1. Is based on a self-determination model which requires no medical diagnosis or presentation of evidence for trans people to legally change their gender. This would be in line with international human rights best practice (such as in Ireland, Malta, Argentina and Norway).
  2. Recognizes non-binary people
  3. Gives legal recognition to under 18-year-olds

In addition, we urge the government to strengthen protections against the widespread transphobic discrimination and abuse faced by trans people in all aspects of public life. This was documented in the 2016 UK parliamentary inquiry[ii], and more recently in a report from Stonewall[iii] which found that two in five trans people (41 per cent) and three in ten non-binary people (31 per cent) have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months, one in four trans people (25 per cent) have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives and one in eight trans employees (12 per cent) have been physically attacked by colleagues or customers in the last year.

This is especially urgent considering that the proposal to reform the GRA has led to an escalation of the witch-hunt and vicious hate campaigns against trans people. The Government must acknowledge and take a stand against this. It’s no coincidence that reports of anti-transgender hate crimes have surged by more than a third in the past 12 months[iv]. The organisation Gendered Intelligence commented: “We feel that over the past year the mainstream media has contributed to a hostile environment for trans people, and trans women in particular, that may have emboldened those who have committed these crimes”.

We comment on some of these issues in more detail below.

Our Right to Self-Determination

We state unequivocally that people have the right to determine their own gender: trans women are women, trans men are men and non-binary people are valid.

The current Gender Recognition Act imposes a process that is complicated, intrusive, humiliating, expensive and medicalized.

The state cannot and should not have the power to determine and control how people identify. Recent increases in state powers of surveillance (the Snoopers’ Charter and the proposed police super database[v]) shows the determination of the state to invade every aspect of our lives with little or no respect for our privacy. This must be resisted in relation to trans people’s rights as it is in every other area.

The involvement of medical institutions perpetuates the harmful perception that being trans is an illness and should therefore ‘be cured’.

Trans people should not have to get consent from their spouse in order to change their gender. Consideration should be given to the fact that more than a quarter of trans people (28 per cent) in a relationship in the last year have faced domestic abuse[vi] from a partner.

There is no justification for charging fees to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate, especially as trans people are likely to be impoverished and on low incomes because of discrimination in employment, housing, welfare benefits and other resources.

We urge the Government to eliminate barriers to gender recognition, and to institute transparent, affordable and otherwise accessible administrative procedures affirming self-determination (as long as gender markers on identity documents are considered necessary). This would be in line with the Yogyakarta Principles.[vii] Principle 31 calls for all States to adopt a “quick, transparent and accessible mechanism” for recognising people’s gender identity. It also states that “no eligibility criteria, such as medical or psychological interventions, a psycho-medical diagnosis, minimum or maximum age, economic status, health, marital or parental status, or any other third party opinion, shall be a prerequisite to change one’s name, legal sex or gender.”

Examples from other countries.

The Republic of Ireland put a self-identification policy in place two years ago[viii], and has not received any reports that the system had been abused.

Good implementation of non-medicalized gender recognition can also be found in Malta’s Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act 2015 which states that “people have a right to bodily integrity and physical autonomy”. In this jurisdiction, the gender recognition procedure is quick, transparent and accessible and the requirement of psychological or medical proof is forbidden.

Malta, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Argentina, have no lower age limit for applying for legal gender recognition.

A number of countries, including Argentina, Australia, Denmark, India, Malta, Nepal, New Zealand and Pakistan already allow people gender neutral birth certificates, passports and other official documentation. We call on the UK to reform the GRA to allow people to opt out of being legally gendered as a man or a woman.

Fearmongering and Misinformation

Trans people are being terrorised by the transphobic witch-hunt surrounding the debate on GRA reform which is often initiated by the media and then promoted by prominent people. Recent articles include: ‘The transgender zealots are destroying truth itself’[ix], ‘Children sacrificed to appease trans lobby’[x], We must halt this transgender madness– it is hurting woman and girls’[xi].

This can have deadly results. We note that the coroner at the inquest[xii] into the death of transgender school teacher Lucy Meadows in 2013 singled out the adverse media attention as a contributory factor to the intolerable pressures she experienced which lead to her suicide. Over half of trans school children have attempted suicide.[xiii]

The campaign against the reform of the GRA has been characterised by misinformation[xiv], fearmongering and lies. For example, some claim that men will falsely declare themselves as women to invade women’s spaces. As noted above, in countries that have adopted this system, such as Argentina, Denmark, Malta and Ireland, there is absolutely no evidence[xv] that the system has been abused. Men do not need to use trans legal protections to facilitate crimes against women. The abusive behaviour of predatory, manipulative cisgender men must not be used to undermine trans rights.

Opposition to trans people having the right to self-determination intentionally misrepresents the impact GRA reform will have on other areas of law[xvi], such as the Equality Act 2010. Exemptions within the Equality Act currently include permitting service providers to deny ‘transsexual’ people access to separate or single-sex spaces (with or without a GRC) and for employers to discriminate against trans people. Giving service providers and employers the discretion to exclude trans people is an invitation to discrimination and abuse, especially in the context of a hostile environment generally towards trans people and can lead to trans people being denied vital services.[xvii] These exemptions in the Equality Act should also be abolished. Any individual who disrupts, abuses and threatens etc. in a single sex space should be dealt with by existing complaints and disciplinary procedures or – if needed – by the criminal law.

We strongly object to trans women being characterised and targeted as a threat to cis women’s safety – often premised on the view that trans women are not “real women”. This is a dangerous distraction from the real threat to (cis and trans) women’s safety.[xviii]  That threat is for example: how rape and other sexual violence is systematically downgraded and dismissed (illustrated by the appalling low conviction rate of 6% for reported rape); the decimation of services for women survivors;[xix] how benefits[xx], wages, and every available resource have been cut, which has left women poorer[xxi] and consequently more vulnerable to exploitation and violence.

Trans women are already – and have been – accessing women’s spaces (irrespective of their medical status or possession of a GRC). Research interviews conducted by Stonewall[xxii] with 15 single sex service providers has shown that domestic and sexual violence services in England and Wales have been supporting trans women in their single-sex women-only services for some time with many taking proactive steps to ensure their services are trans-inclusive.

Claims that up to half of UK trans prisoners are sex offenders[xxiii] have also been discredited[xxiv]. Cases such as the one of Karen White, who was jailed in a female ward and sexually abused two cis-female inmates, are often used to undermine trans rights generally and justify sending trans women prisoners to a male prison. The problem in the Karen White case was that the authorities did not ensure that women prisoners were protected against a violent and dangerous prisoner – of any gender.

As a recent article points out: “Male guards are the most common perpetrators of sexual assaults in female prisons . . .  If you really want women to be safe in prison, it’s not transgender prisoners you need to be wary of.”[xxv].

The current debate surrounding trans prisoners is another dangerous distraction from the real threat to women in prison. Almost half of female prisoners in England and Wales have attempted suicide.[xxvi]  Figures show 98 women have died in prison since 2007, with almost a quarter of these occurring in 2016 – the deadliest year on record. Of the total, 35 (38 per cent) were self-inflicted.[xxvii]

We remember Vikki Thompson[xxviii] who took her own life after being placed in a male prison where she had previously been sexually assaulted, and where she was a victim of transphobic abuse and harassment. Ms Thompson had warned that she would kill herself if sent to a men’s prison. Campaigners said her death was “waiting to happen” and her treatment was “at best incompetent and at worst inhumane”.[xxix]

Finally, we object strongly to the fact that the attack on trans people has in many cases been led by women who call themselves feminist. Women are the last people who should be telling others how to live their lives; the women’s liberation movement began with the refusal of the lives that are imposed on us.

[xvii] Research by Survivors’ Network with trans survivors of sexual violence found 78% of respondents did not access support, including statutory (e.g. police, healthcare) or specialist (e. g. Rape Crisis Centre) services for survivors of sexual violence. Of those, 40% did not access services for fear of being discriminated against because of their gender identity.