Safe spaces?

Photo by Sanmeet Chahil on Unsplash

Another day in the toxic debate over proposals to liberalise the Gender Recognition Act 2004. Yesterday’s blog entry (Hate crime?) addressed the issue of limits on freedom of speech and expression in relation to extending transgender rights.

Today, the UK media is focusing on remarks made by Labour leadership contender, Rebecca Long-Bailey MP. In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr, Ms Long-Bailey expressed her support for changes to the current Gender Recognition Act which would permit transgender women to gain access to institutions such as refuges for women who have experienced domestic violence at the hands of men.

As Mr Justice Knowles acknowledged in Miller v (1) The College of Policing (2) Chief Constable of Humberside [2020] EWHC 225 (Admin), the debate over transgender rights can be summarised as follows:

On one side of the debate there are those who are concerned that such an approach will carry risks for women because, for instance, it might make it easier for trans women (ie, those born biologically male but who identify as female) to use single-sex spaces such as women’s prisons, women’s changing rooms and women’s refuges. On the other side, there are those who consider it of paramount importance for trans individuals to be able more easily to obtain formal legal recognition of the gender with which they identify.

Knowles J went on to remark:

I should make two things clear at the outset. Firstly, I am not concerned with the merits of the transgender debate. The issues are obviously complex. As I observed during the hearing, the legal status and rights of transgender people are a matter for Parliament and not the courts. Second, the nature of the debate is such that even the use of words such as ‘men’ and ‘women’ is difficult. Where those words, or related words, are used in this judgment, I am referring to individuals whose biological sex is as determined by their chromosomes, irrespective of the gender with which they identify. This use of language is not intended in any way to diminish the views and experience of those who identify as female notwithstanding that their biological sex is male (and vice versa), or to call their rights into question.

A group within the British Labour Party, Labour Campaign for Trans Rights, has published a 12 point charter to push through changes to UK equality laws. Other women’s groups, such Women’s Place UK and the LGB Alliance, are bitterly opposed to this campaign.

Long-Bailey admitted that her position could set her at odds with many female members of the Labour Party who are deeply resistant to such developments. Many feminist opponents of reform to the current gender recognition rules have been given the acronym, TERF, or Trans- exclusionary radical feminists.

Gender reassignment is a protected characteristic in terms of the Equality Act 2010, but the legislation exempts women only refuges which currently exclude transgender women (i.e. those who were born male, but have undergone gender reassignment to become female). Although excluding transgender women would normally be regarded as an example of direct discrimination in terms of Section 13 of the Act, Parliament has provided the defence of objective justification. This means that permitting women only spaces in this instance – caring for the female victims of male domestic violence – is an example of a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Conclusion

Much of the opposition to reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 appears to centre around proposals, in both England and Scotland, to permit individuals to self-identify in terms of their chosen gender without the need to go through physical changes. At the moment, anyone wishing to change gender must obtain a gender recognition certificate which will only be granted after the conclusion of the appropriate medical procedures.

It will, therefore, be for legislators in the UK and Scottish Parliaments to determine how far reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and, by extension the Equality Act 2010, will go. In the months to come, expect plenty of passionate arguments on both sides of the debate to be aired publicly.

A link to an article in The Independent discussing Ms Long-Bailey’s interview with Andrew Marr can be found below:

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.170220/data/9338316/index.html

Related Blog Article:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/02/16/say-what-you-want-continued/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 17 February 2020

Published by

sjcrossan1

A legal blog by the author of Introductory Scots Law: Theory & Practice (3rd Edition: 2017; Hodder Gibson) Sean J. Crossan BA (Hons), LLB (Hons), MSc, TQFE I have been teaching law in Higher and Further Education for nearly 25 years. I also worked as an employment law consultant in a Glasgow law firm for over a decade. I am also a trade union representative and continue to make full use of my legal background. I am a graduate and postgraduate of the Universities of Dundee, London and Strathclyde. Please note that this Blog provides a general commentary about issues in Scots Law. It is not intended as a substitute for in-depth legal advice. If you have a specific legal problem, you should always consult a suitably qualified Scottish solicitor who will be able to provide you with the support that you require.

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