The Equality Act 2010 provides protection against discrimination for people who have the protected characteristic “gender reassignment” (broadly: being transgender), such as in the workplace, in housing, transport and other services.
It was never intended that this general protection should mean people gain the right to access to single sex services for the opposite sex, such as males having access to specialist services for women, and their children, who have been the victim of sexual and domestic violence.
The need for women’s refuges, rape crisis centres and counselling services to be female-only is not only so that women can be safe, but so that they can feel safe, and be centred and supported in their own recovery.
As Karen Ingala Smith, Director of the charity nia writes, part of the role of these services is to help women to learn to trust themselves again:
“Women are gas-lighted (manipulated to question their own judgement or even sanity) by their abusive male partners all the time. It is a cornerstone of coercive control. As a service provider you are in a position of power, no matter how you try to balance this out, and of course we do as much as possible to balance this out, but ultimately it is inescapable. You are not offering a trauma informed environment if you, in your position of power, gaslight traumatised women and pretend that someone that you both really know is a man, is actually a woman. It is furthering the abuse to then expect women to share what you say is women-only space with males who say that they are women, because you and they know are not.”Karen Ingala-Smith, Director, nia
The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s role is to promote the implementation of the Equality Act 2010. They are in a position of power and responsiblity. They should be standing behind service providers explaining that the law allows for single sex services, which means that males, whatever they wear, and however they identify, can be told politely and clearly “no” (and may need to be able to access alternative provision).
If they wanted to know what female victim-survivors think why not instead ask service users themselves ?
Instead EHRC commissioned general population survey research from the National Centre for Social Research which they published a report on yesterday.
The survey showed that most people in the UK say they are not prejudiced against transgender people and they think prejudice is wrong.
This would seem like good news.
But the EHRC is concerned that fewer, and falling numbers of people think that this means that males who identify as women should be allowed into women’s refuges.
The EHRC’s think it is not positive, inclusive, or supportive. It is possibly even transphobic:
“Although it is clear that we are progressing towards being a more inclusive and understanding society, these findings show that when probed, people were found to be less supportive of trans people in specific situations….The vast majority of British people believe transphobia is wrong. We need to understand some of the shifts, though, such as the slight reduction in support for access by trans people to some services.”Rebecca Hilsenrath, CEO, Equality and Human Rights Commission
Nancy Kelley of Stonewall (who lead the research for this study in her previous role at the National Centre for Social Research) is clear that people who say no to males in women’s refuges are wrong. She calls the survey results “a worrying downward trend” driven by “extreme anti-trans view”.
It is very clear what the EHRC, NatCen and Stonewall thought should be the right answer in this survey. The survey design guides people towards it.
Lets walk through the survey.
First it asks people to agree to a very broad definition of transgender:
“People who are transgender have gone through all or part of a process (including thoughts or actions) to change the sex they were described as at birth to the gender they identify with, or intend to. This might include by changing their name, wearing different clothes, taking hormones or having gender reassignment surgery.”Natcen/EHRC definition of transgender, as used in the survey
Those who have been paying attention to the sex-and-gender debates will recognise this as an articulation of the broad definition of the protected characteristic gender reassignment from the Equality Act 2010 s.7. People who meet this definition should not be discriminated against or harassed because of it, but it does not mean that someone has changed sex.
Those who haven’t been paying attention (i.e. most people answering the survey) will find this definition completely incomprehensible — how can you change a sex to a gender? What kind of surgery are they talking about? Are they really saying “wearing different clothes” changes something fundamental about a person?
These are all perplexing and embarrassing questions, and the interviewer doesn’t have the answer. Just click ‘1’ and move on.
Next the interviewer asks them:
Thinking about the reasons why transgender people have goneNatcen survey question
through this process, please tell me whether you agree or disagree
with the following statement “Most people who are transgender have gone through this process because of a very superficial and temporary need?
How on earth can this question be answered meaningfully? “This process” as previously defined can range from thinking about changing clothing style to having surgery. Surely the motivations across such a wide range of people will differ? And anyway on what basis can the person on the doorstep know about the psychological state of strangers?
Still it has to be answered (only 24% of people declined to), and people have probably half forgotten the broad criteria they’ve just agreed to, so the person constructs their own ad-hoc idea of a meaningful transition and gives an answer.
Next they are asked would you describe yourself as as very prejudiced against people who are transgender, a little prejudiced, or, not prejudiced at all? Of course, most people answer not prejudiced.
Then a question on toilets and then the question on women’s refuges. Both these questions define a “transgender woman” like this:
“A transgender woman: A man who has gone through all or part of a process to become a woman.”Definition of “transgender woman” used by Natcen/EHRC in their survey.
This definition says that a man “becomes a woman” as soon as they undertake any part of the vaguely defined process of thinking about or actually “changing their name, wearing different clothes, taking hormones or having reassignment surgery.”
The person-on-the-doorstep may not spot this.
They are being asked about a “transgender woman”; so they think about someone who is, in some sense, a woman. Perhaps they imagine that there is some official criteria involved. It surely can’t mean a man who has decided to wear different clothes?
But they have already probably agreed that the process (whatever it is) does not reflect “a very superficial and temporary need” and declared themself not to be prejudiced, so it would be rude to ask questions at this point in answering what is anyway only a hypothetical question in an hour long survey.
So 51% of them say yes they feel comfortable that a “woman” who is transgender (under the very broad definition which includes someone who looks absolutely like any other man) should be allowed into a woman’s refuge.
EHRC commissioned these questions.
EHRC know that sex is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act.
EHRC knows that a man who goes through all or part of the process which is defined under the protected characteristic gender reassignment does not become a woman. Legally they remain a man.
EHRC’s whose one job is to promote the Equality Act 2010, to protect everyone’s rights has used their power, resources and legitimacy to try to manipulate public opinion to pressure and label victims of male violence who want a female-only environment as transphobic. This is not the basis for a constructive, tolerant, pragmatic discussions. This is abuse.