January 14th, 2016

(no subject)

Fighting for legal and social recognition outside the gendered societal structure


The Women and Equalities Select Committee report subsequent to last year’s trans* equality inquiry is published and can be found here http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmwomeq/390/390.pdf.

More than 200 written submissions were received and a series of five oral evidence sessions were held before the Committee. I was invited to sit on the panel for the third oral evidence session held in October.

There was speculation that recommendations made in the report would be to propose to improve the process of legal recognition for gendered trans* people in the United Kingdom in response to criticism that the UK is lagging far behind other countries in a progressive move towards self-determination that has already taken place in Argentina, Malta, Denmark and Ireland.

The report does indeed recommend that “within the current Parliament” the Government must bring forward proposals to update the Gender Recognition Act 2004, to move towards a model focused upon self-determination in place of a current model focused upon state interference and pathologisation “as such, it runs contrary to the dignity and personal autonomy of applicants.”

For non-gendered trans* people the picture remains, predictably, not straightforward. The Committee has admitted that the former coalition government’s trans* equality action plan remains “largely unimplemented” and says that Government must agree a new strategy within the next six months that includes tackling areas of the old action plan that were not addressed before (which, from my recollection, is pretty much all of it). The Committee recommends a “wholesale review” of issues facing non-gendered people.

As a reminder, I ‘engaged’ with the previous Government and made a number of recommendations most of which I was told at the time were “not going to happen” by civil servants who were more sympathetic than those who replaced them at the GEO after Government reshuffle in 2012.

I made a video after accidentally stumbling on the fact that YouTube had removed an unnecessary requirement that users should be gendered in order to use its services. I explained the issue and the need for change. I also outlined my recommendations and what I had hoped to achieve from the trans* equality action plan https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJ3I5XiwDd8

At one time I was going to delete the video because when it was made I had reached a point of complete physical and psychological exhaustion that really hit me a few months later when I became so fucking ill I was seriously concerned that when I went to sleep I might not wake up again. In the event I kept the video because it serves as a poignant reminder for me just how bad things were and how hard I had to fight through the political process, pushing for EDMs, countless meetings, endless correspondence and ongoing research over several years just to get this far.

The trans* equality action plan did incorporate an announcement of a policy “review” on ‘X’ Passports and that healthcare services should engage on the issue. There was subsequent engagement with the Department of Health but this was really not my area and I stepped back once it was apparent there were others involved with more direct knowledge and expertise in the procurement and delivery of healthcare services. I was more concerned with ‘X’ Passports as the gateway to legitimise non-gendered identity in the eyes of the law and in the public perception.

Back to the present, I had anticipated the Committee would recommend the trialling of ‘X’ Passports with cautions and caveats. What is recommended here is that “The UK must follow Australia’s lead in introducing an option to record gender (sic) as “X” on a passport……… In the longer term, consideration should be given for the removal of gender (sic) from passports.”

With this recommendation the Committee has gone further than I had expected and making HM Passport Office’s refusal to permit the issuing of ‘X’ Passports appear even more untenable. That the UK Government is being strongly encouraged by the Committee to accommodate the needs of individuals whose identities cannot be defined as either male or female is very welcome but nonetheless a token recommendation that in isolation does not go anything like far enough to address the wider issues surrounding non-gendered identity.

And, critically, the Committee recommends that “The Government must look into the need” effectively to create a third legal category, however that the Government must also look into “the full implications of this”. On surface value the Committee has recommended the creation of a recognised third category in order to embrace and accommodate members of society who do not define as either male or female. But I am getting an uncomfortable sense that what is being said is something else entirely. Government has already made clear its perception of the issue and those who are affected by it “it is not Government policy to identify such people for the purpose of issuing non-gender-specific official documents”. And one must ask what chance is there that Government will acknowledge “the need” when the needs of a socially invisible minority are weighted against “the full implications of this”.

A “wholesale review” but without further specification. The “review” announced four years ago as part of the trans* equality action plan over proposals in favour of the issuing of ‘X’ Passports amounted to nothing more than a means by which Government believed it could kick ‘X’ Passports into the long grass after HM Passport Office’s unequivocal rejection of the proposals. There was no proper review and I was fobbed off time and again by civil servants over an extended period. I anticipate that in due course another ‘review’ will be announced by the GEO and I fear the end result probably will be the same.

There is the specific issue of marriage where one (or both) partner/s does not identify as either male or female. That non-gendered people are forced to register under an inappropriate gendered role in order to be able to marry was not addressed at all in this report and possibly this is one of those areas the Committee had in mind where it urges Government to consider “the full implications of this”.

It was noted that advice was similarly vague on the repugnant “spousal veto” where the recommendation to Government was to be “informed” and then to find “ways of addressing the problem” rather than outright recommendation that the veto is scrapped.

The Committee recommends that Government should be moving towards “non-gendering” official records as a “general principle”. While I would always advocate for non-gendering as a general principle, I suspect this particular “non-gendering” would not significantly increase the visibility of non-gendered people who want to be recognised as non-gendered. The “non-gendering” would apply to everyone and therefore gender would be assumed even if not directly asked on a form. I would favour a third option, preferably ‘X’ on identification documentation and records held by government departments. It is within the commercial sector that blanket “non-gendering” should be applied as the rule but the commercial sector was not covered by the Committee’s inquiry.

The Committee did refer to the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law adopted by the International Commission of Jurists in 2007 and to Resolution 2048 adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in April 2015. In the latter it was recommended that national governments should “consider including a third gender option in identity documents for those who seek it”.

The UK has an appalling record on trans* issues and is shown again to be dragging its feet as other countries have moved ahead with self-determinism in recognition of changing times. Some of the Committee’s recommendations would, if acted upon, bring the UK broadly into line with what is happening elsewhere. While gendered trans* people would benefit from these changes, as I’ve said before, the picture for non-gendered people is not straightforward. The Committee has made some welcome recommendations however this report needs to be read very carefully indeed.

It should be remembered that the Committee can make recommendations but the Committee does not have the power to change the law.

It should also be pointed out (see Para. 285 in the report) that the law does not need to be changed in order for ‘X’ Passports to be issued. All that is required is an administrative change along with a willingness to improve the lives of non-gendered people.

My Submissions to the Inquiry

Oral evidence session 13/10/15: http://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/4e7f52c6-1357-43f8-98c0-af160b156b40
Written evidence (submitted by K&L Gates LLP on my behalf): http://data.parliament.uk/WrittenEvidence/CommitteeEvidence.svc/EvidenceDocument/Women%20and%20Equalities/Transgender%20Equality/written/19430.html

Early Day Motion (EDM) 660

EDM 660 now has support from more than 50 sitting MPs. With the recommendation of the Committee that the UK Government should introduce ‘X’ Passports there is no better time to contact your local MP and elicit their support http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2015-16/660.

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NON-GENDERED – Fighting for Legal Recognition

No Specific Detriment?

The denial of existence is the worst act of discrimination by the gendered majority against the non-gendered