On numbers and rights

Numbers of people who fall under different definitions of “trans” are variously expressed as percentages, ratios and absolute numbers – this can make them hard to compare.

A small number

In the debates leading up to the Gender Recognition Act in 2003 the government estimated that there were around 5,000 transsexual adults in the country (80% male). This estimate, undertaken in conjunction with the lobby group Press for Change, was based on passport office, tax and driving licence records.  5,000 people is a prevalence rate of around 10 in 100,000 adults, which is consistent with other studies.

It was envisaged by those proposing the bill that most of the people applying for a GRC would be those having genital surgery to overcome deep psychological discomfort with their body. As one of the main backers of the Gender Recognition Bill in parliament, Lord Filkin said:

“Such people who do not have surgery are few.”

Lord Filkin, 2003

It is hard to know how many people have had genital surgery, but reasonable estimates are a few hundred a year, a few thousand overall in the UK. There are only 10 surgeons in the UK who can undertake these procedures. In 2010 it was reported that the number of reassignment surgeries carried out that year by the NHS was 143. In 2007 Stephen Whittle estimated that around 300 surgeries take place in the UK a year. This would be in line with the 5,000 estimate.

A much larger number

Stonewall define “trans” as “An umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth. Trans people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, gender-queer (GQ), gender-fluid, non-binary, gender-variant, crossdresser, genderless, agender, nongender, third gender, bi-gender, trans man, trans woman, trans masculine, trans feminine and neutrois.”

Cross dressing involving fetishistic transvestism (sexual arousal) has long been observed mainly by heterosexual men, it has much wider prevalence, and can involve hormone treatment to develop breasts. The government tried to draw a bright line between cross dressing and transition. In their policy the government stated:

“Transsexualism is not transvestitism or cross dressing for sexual thrill, psychological comfort or compulsion” 

UK Government, 2003

Since the Gender Recognition Act came into force the political conception of what “trans” means has become much wider.

“it is likely that transsexual people represent only a small proportion of those who might be considered trans”

EHRC – Trans Research Review

In 2011 GIRES estimated that in the adult population up to 1% ”may be experiencing some degree of gender variance“. They estimate that at some stage, about 0.2% of the population may ‘undergo transition’. This was based on a 2009 in a study funded by the Home Office.

In the run up to the consultation on self-identification in 2018 the government said

“we tentatively estimate that there are approximately 200,000–500,000 trans people in the UK. “

UK Government, 2018

As they explain in the GRA consultation document this was based on the estimate of ‘gender variance’ from GIRES. Other studies suggest similar prevalence for people self identifying as transgender.

Up to July 2019 a total of 5,623 GRCs were issued.  The number of people who have received a GRC is in line with the original estimate of the prevalence of transsexuals, and the likely number of people having surgery.

Equal Rights

The much larger group of people who may ‘self ID’ as transgender are likely to be covered by the Equality Act protection against discrimination and harassment.

Organisations and employers, anticipating self-ID, misunderstanding the Equality Act and trained by Stonewall and other ‘trans rights’ organisations have interpreted this as meaning self declared gender identity overwrites sex. In some cases (such as the law society) they explicitly state that cross-dressers can use opposite sex facilities. The NHS states that people should be allocated to “single sex” wards based on their mode of dress not their anatomy, and people who identify as ‘non-binary’ should be free to choose.

The debate around the gender self ID consultation exposed the issue of the larger number of people identifying as trans, the weak official guidance on how the rights of different people interact in single and separate sex spaces, and of organisations jumping the gun on self-ID.

Human rights are universal, and everyone has equal rights (including people who engage in cross dressing for sexual thrill, psychological comfort or compulsion). The right to autonomy and privacy in your personal life does not depend on surgery or on getting a gender recognition certificate. But nor does it overrule other people’s rights to privacy, autonomy and safety.

The key question, on which the government needs to ensure there is clear guidance, is whether being covered by the broad protection of Section 7 of the Equality Act gives someone the right to use single sex services provided for the opposite sex.

I think the answer is no – service providers can have unambiguous rules based on sex in order to provide single and separate sex services.

Service providers and employers should take reasonable steps to ensure that people with the broad a protected characteristic of “transsexual” are not discriminated against in general (for example by providing a unisex or ‘gender neutral’ alternatives where possible if facilities are sex segregated).

In most cases a service provider will not know whether someone who wishes to use opposite sex facilities (or at least avoid same-sex facilities) is in the tiny group of people who may have surgery or have obtained a GRC, or the far more numerous group who do not. A few people ‘pass’ as members of the opposite sex, but many don’t (and rarely in adulthood without extensive cosmetic surgery and hormones).

Workable rules to protect everybody’s rights cannot depend on the test of ‘passing’. Clear policies and signage about which services and spaces are single sex and which are for either sex can meet the equal rights of everyone, without undermining anyone’s privacy.

[Sources and calculations here]


A good question and a clear answer

This week Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities Marsha de Cordova asked a good question about the single sex exceptions in the Equality Act.

Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch gave a good and clear answer.

Providers have the right to restrict the use of spaces on the basis of sex, and exclude transgender people with or without a GRC if this is justified.

Kemi Badenoch, Equalities Minister, 2020

It is worth reflecting that she talked about “restricting the use of spaces” on the basis of sex.

How do you do this? A service provider sets a rule which applies to the space, based on sex: male or female only. And they communicate it.

Usually they do this with a simple pictogram like this:

This picture is not just a commonly understood cultural image, it is standardised internationally as part of ISO Standard 7001 . It explicitly means female facilities.

What does “if this is justified” mean? The Equality Act 2010 sets out common justifications for providing single sex services, including for reasons of ordinary, everyday bodily privacy and dignity.

Circumstances where a person of one sex might reasonably object to the presence of a person of the opposite sex

Equality Act 2010 – Schedule 3, Paragraph 27 (6)

In order to provide a single-sex service you need to have clear rules. As the Minister’s wording makes clear the rules apply to the space, not to each individual differently.

It is not possible to negotiate on a case-by-case basis to allow some into female only spaces, on the basis of their desire, their self-identification, their clothing and make-up, a diagnosis they might or might not have, hormones they might be taking, surgery they might have now or in the future, or a certificate which allows them to change their birth certificate.

None of that is relevant. A person of the opposite sex may still object.

The law is clear about clear rules

While there is very little case law about single sex services, there are relevant judgements about clear rules which come from cases on age discrimination. In particular Homer v West Yorkshire Police and Seldon v Clarkson Wright and Jakes (both concern whether rules about retirement age can be justified discrimination).

The judgment in Homer confirms that it is the fairness of a rule or policy which must be assessed, not its application to each individual person on a case-by-case basis.

Any exception has to be made for everyone who is adversely affected by the rule.

It considers the question of proportionality:

A measure may be appropriate to achieving the aim but go further than is (reasonably) necessary in order to do so and thus be disproportionate.

Is it disproportionate to have a clear policy that all members of one sex are excluded in order to provide members of the opposite sex with privacy, security and clarity?

Clearly not. A space is either single sex or mixed sex. The need for a clear rules justifies the clarity of the rule.

In the case of Seldon the judges recognised that “the avoidance of unseemly debates about capacity (of individual people at retirement age) is capable of being a legitimate aim.”

Similarly the avoidance of unseemly debates in toilets, changing rooms, showers, dormitories and other places where people undress seems very clearly a legitimate aim.

Kemi Badenoch did not promise any action by the government or the EHRC on clarifying this for service providers. But the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government yesterday announced a Technical review on increasing accessibility and provision of toilets for men and women.

The announcement says:

The review will also look at signage, which should be clearer and use sex-specific language, to avoid confusion.

This is good news (and the consultation is open until January 29th, I am sure lots of women’s groups will provide inputs).


Leading questions from the EHRC

“We need clear conversations and proper debate about what the law and policy actually mean in practice, and what would be the practical effect of any changes – dialogue must be constructive, tolerant and based on the facts. This includes challenging prejudices, calling out abusive behaviour and being open about the rights and needs of everyone involved.”

Rebecca Hillsenrath, CEO, EHRC

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.

Attitudes to “transgender women” using a refuge for women
experiencing domestic violence, 2016-2019

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”.

Leading questions

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 gone
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?

Natcen survey question

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.


Getting to clarity on single sex services

“We think there should be guidance providing more clarity on how single-sex services should work in practice to make sure the law is understood by service users and service providers without ambiguity”

Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive, Equality and Human Rights Commission

Everyone agrees that clear guidance is needed on the law on single and separate sex services. The government is soon to announce what it will do to bring that much needed clarity

Yesterday in the final days before this announcement is expected Rebecca Hilsenrath, CEO of the Equality and Human Rights Commission made a statement, YouGov released polling data and the House of Commons Library published a research briefing.

Do they help us get to clarity?

EHRC: inventing “special circumstances”

Hilsenrath’s statement recognises the need for unambiguous guidance. This is something EHRC could have provided but has refused to.

But she goes further in the wrong direction introducing the ambiguous idea of “special circumstances” as a requirement for excluding transgender people from services for the opposite sex:

” the special circumstances set out in the 2010 Act, which allow organisations to treat trans people differently, do not hinge on whether the trans person has a GRC or not”

In fact the Equality Act does not mention “special circumstances” for excluding male people from female-only services (and vice versa).

The protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” in the Equality Act 2010 is very broad. It treats someone as trans if they are so much as “proposing to undergo” a process of personal transition. This does not have to involve any medical treatment at all.

As Vera Baird, then Solicitor General, stated in 2009 when the bill that became the Equality Act was being debated.

“There are a lot of ways in which that can be manifested for instance, by making their intention known. Even if they do not take a single further step, they will be protected straight away.”

Vera Baird, Solicitor General

Discrimination protection related to the characteristic “gender reassignment” is not a sliding scale. A person’s transition might involve things such as clothes, makeup and hairstyle, ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ behaviours. It could involve hormones, facial surgery, mastectomy or false breasts, and for a minority, genital surgery, but it does not have to. A person is protected straight away on proposing to transition, and does not get more protection against discrimination by taking more of these steps, or achieving a more convincing likeness with the opposite sex. These are things that they might to do feel ‘right’ in themselves but rights in relation to others cannot be given or taken away based on personal grooming, cosmetic surgery or the performance of sex stereotypes.

Furthermore, as the EHRC highlights in their Code of Practice people who start the gender reassignment process but then decide to stop also have the protected characteristic of gender reassignment.

In this sense, s.7 of the Equality Act operates even more broadly than self-ID – any man who says he intends to live as a woman is covered (and vice versa), and that coverage is forever, whatever they look like and whether they do or don’t consider themselves transitioned. The reason for this is that this protection is intended to be general (you should not lose your job for intending to transition, transitioning or detransitioning for example).

Section 7’s broad definition of ‘gender reassignment’ is not an access pass for spaces provided for the privacy or needs of members of the opposite sex.

It should be obvious that no “special circumstances” are needed to exclude a man who says he intends to “live as a woman” from communal services provided for the privacy, dignity or particular needs of women. If on Tuesday Colin declares Colin’s intention to transition it is as inappropriate to be in the women’s showers as it was on Monday. If Colin’s changes name to Cilla and pronouns to she/her and declares this a complete transition, this is fully valid on Cilla’s part. But still it does not confer the right to share intimate spaces with members of the opposite sex without their consent, and no “special circumstances” need be invoked to ask Cilla to respect other people’s privacy.

This is not a question of treating someone with the protected characteristic “gender reassignment” differently, but treating them the same as others (who also do not have the right to access services provided for members of the opposite sex).

Providing unisex options in addition to single/separate sex meets the needs of anyone at any stage of a personal transition who may not wish to share with members of their own sex.

The survey says: less than 50% of people agree that transgender people should be able to use services for the opposite sex, and even fewer if it is understood this is without surgery

The YouGov poll found that fewer than 50% of people in the UK think that trans people should be able to use changing rooms of the opposite sex. This number drops, and is overtaken by people who say absolutely not, when the question specifies that the person has not had genital surgery.

Coloured ticks are nice YouGov, but the data would be better – NB: pale coloured green ticks mean “fewer than 50%” agree with this.

Legally, whether someone has had genital surgery or not does not determine their transgender status (either under the Equality Act or the Gender Recognition Act) . And in practice it would be inappropriate to ask. In a situation (such as a hospital or a workplace) where the organisation is in a position to know whether a person has had surgery it would be inappropriate for them to share this information with other users of a single sex space.

Clear and unambiguous guidance cannot tell service providers or users that access is offered on the basis of gender reassignment surgery, clothing or appearance.

House of Commons research: Skipping over the single sex exceptions altogether

It is late in the day of this debate for the House of Commons Library to be publishing basic research. And stunningly its new research briefing on Gender recognition and the rights of transgender people. gets the Equality Act wrong.

In setting out the legal basis for single sex services it skips straight over the single and separate sex exceptions themselves (Schedule 3 paragraphs 26 and 27 of the Equality Act 2010) and goes straight to paragraph 28 which focuses on “gender reassignment discrimination” in services.

It is paragraphs 26 and 27 of Schedule 3 the Equality Act which set out reasons why it may be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim to provide single and separate sex services (including for everyday bodily privacy: in circumstances where it is reasonable for one person to object to the presence of a person of the opposite sex).

As explained above (and by discrimination lawyer Audrey Ludwig ) having the protected characteristic “gender reassignment” does not mean that a person loses the protected characteristic of sex. And if someone does not have a Gender Recognition Certificate, then unambiguously their legal sex is the same as it was the day they were born.

It is paragraphs 26 and 27 and their exceptions to the rules on sex discrimination which enables single and separate sex services (i.e. sex based rules) where they are justified.

The House of Commons briefing seems to be searching for the “special circumstances” argument and it zeroes in on the explanatory notes to paragraph 28 which state that:

In a group counselling session is provided for female victims of sexual assault. The organisers do not allow transsexual people to attend as they judge that the clients who attend the group session are unlikely to do so if a male-to-female transsexual person was also there. This would be lawful.

Presumably this example in the guidance relates to a male-to-female transsexual person with a GRC (i.e. legally female), since a transsexual person without a GRC would be excluded on the basis of their sex (i.e. under paragraph 26, not 28).

Having skipped over what the actual law says about single and separate sex services, the House of Commons briefing further muddies the waters by saying that unnamed ‘legal commentators’ have “expressed concern” that this portion of the explanatory notes “overstates the exception” and argue “that the proportionality test imposes stricter requirements”:

It would be inadequate for a provider of services to assume female victims of sexual assault would necessarily object to a trans-woman attending group counselling sessions. A degree of canvassing of opinion would surely be required

This is an argument that has been advanced by legal commentator Alex Sharpe (who also ignores paragraphs 26 and 27).

The inappropriateness (and inhumanity) of the idea that women who have been raped should first have to answer questions about whether they are willing to to welcome a male person into a women-only counselling session (and potentially be shamed and called a bigot if they don’t), before they themselves can access help themselves should be obvious.

Furthermore there are no details about any individual male person who identifies as a woman which could be shared in this “canvasing” process; they may or may not have had surgery, they may appear unambiguously male, they may have been living ‘as a man’ until the day before. All of these details would be inappropriate to disclose, and none of them affect the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment”.

The clear and unambiguous guidance which the government and the EHRC recognises is needed has two options: either it must state that all males with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment have the right to use women-only services (as Stonewall, Gendered Intelligence, Mermaids and legal commentators urge them to do) or none of them do.

There is no other clear and unambiguous guidance on rights that is possible.

Males who wish to use share intimate spaces with women without their consent may prefer ambiguity and reference to unworkable “special circumstances”. But women and girl’s ability to wash, undress (and yes, use the toilet) in privacy, as well as to access specialist women-only services including refuges, hostels and prisons must mean the ability of institutions to unambiguously and clearly say “no” to males, including those that are members of other vulnerable and minority groups.

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A mum’s story about single sex spaces in school

This guest post is by @SistaRealista on twitter (it was originally a twitter thread and is reposted here with her permission).

This is a story from personal experience about the need for single-sex exemptions under law for certain spaces, and why Self-ID trans ideology can be problematic.

It’s about ‘Colin’, a 16 year old boy, my 15 year old daughter J, and the girls’ changing room at their school.

Locker room | School lockers, High school lockers, Locker room
A school gym changing room

Colin joined J’s school last year to redo year 10 (ages 14-15). He left his last school for mental health reasons & had time out. Being 16 he was year older than rest of class. He made friends but would get upset & say no one liked him (untrue) He still struggled with his mental health. One day Colin (16) wore a skirt to school. He told J & classmates he wasn’t trans, he wore it simply because he wanted to. J told him she was proud of him. He got a few looks that first day but everyone let him be. Him wearing a skirt became a regular occurrence. All good.

A few weeks later, Colin told school & classmates that on the days he wore a skirt, he would be ‘Chloe’ and everyone was to call them that and use she/her. But on days when he wore trousers, everyone should call him Colin and he/him. All at school agreed.

Then Colin came out as both trans AND non-binary (on Instagram first, obviously, with his pronouns, which were… all of them). He said he had appointment with a clinic, wanted hormones & would have gender reassignment surgery when 18. He said even when transitioned he’d still be Colin some days.

J (15) is a lesbian and very accepting of trans people. But even she was confused as to how Colin could be both trans AND non-binary. She told me it didn’t make logical and that “I think it’s all gone too far now”. I impressed myself with great restraint by simply saying “hmm”.

So far since saying he was trans, Colin/Chloe been allowed to change for PE in the staff toilets as C wasn’t comfortable doing so in boys’. A good compromise. He started doing PE with the girls. Then he told J and some other girls that he wanted to start changing with them.

Girls told Colin they’d be uncomfortable having him in their changing room. He was attracted to girls & had recently asked a few out (all said no). Colin: but you have bisexual & lesbian girls in the changing room. Girls: That’s completely different. Colin: no it’s not.

During this time, Colin said something ‘jokingly’ to J about them liking each other. J (15) is a lesbian & autistic. J: but I only like girls. Colin: but I am a girl. J told me she thought “but you’re not”. She didn’t want to hurt C’s feelings so said she liked someone else.

J told me “the thing is, Colin/Chloe is quite masculine looking” & she had “no interest in being with anyone who has a penis”. But she felt bad. Bless her little woke heart, she was conflicted ‘cos she thought of herself as a trans ally but wasn’t buying what C was saying.

Days after Colin first asked girls if they’d mind him changing with them, he pressed the issue.

He waved the Equality Act in their faces (literally), saying the law said he could use girls changing room as was trans girl, so school was letting him & girls had to accept it.

The girls tried reasoning with Colin. They told him he already had his own space to change for PE, away from boys. He said he “felt left out” changing by himself. J said the Equality Act must make some allowances for situations like theirs. C said it didn’t. (Incorrectly.)

J said to Colin/Chloe: but as you’re still attracted to girls, what happens if you get aroused when you see us undressed and get an erection? Colin: don’t worry, I’m very good at hiding it. Which, as I later told the headteacher, was really reassuring to hear

Face with raised eyebrow

The girls came home from school v anxious & distressed. My daughter J & few other girls have ASD and/or anxiety. Colin was a year older than them all. He said he knew the law and his dad’s a lawyer so the girls believed him. They wanted to support C and felt bad saying no.

This is where I & few other mothers stepped in.

We reassured our daughters that no, The Equality Act didn’t give Colin legal right to use the girls changing room after 2 weeks of being trans. We spoke to school who held special meeting to tell girls no way was it happening.

School spoke firmly to Colin and his parents and he addressed it with therapist. To his credit he sent J a sincere apology. He said he’d got carried away, had thought his problems would disappear if he became Chloe, & very wrongly hadn’t taken girls’ feelings into account.

Two weeks later, Colin was back to being Colin full-time. Still wore the odd skirt but had decided he was not trans but non gender conforming. I’m cross he bullied the girls but he was picked up on that and stopped. He was confused & unhappy kid trying to find himself. Most teens are at times.

I’m telling this to show, contrary to what many say, the single-sex exemptions are necessary to protect the privacy of girls let alone women. The ‘click & collect trans kit’ as advertised on social media can be harmful for young vulnerable minds seeking easy answer to the question “who am I”. One of the important things here I think is that NO ONE had a problem with Colin being trans. He was supported by school, friends and home & accommodated – until he wanted to prioritise his need to ‘be in the room’ over others’ legal rights & comfort.


The incoherence of government guidance

The core question that this website is concerned with is whether, and on what basis, male adults have the right to use “female-only” single sex services, include those services provided for everyday bodily privacy (under Schedule 3, paragraph 27 (6) of the Equality Act 2010 in the UK):

Whatever your instinct on the question it is clear that policies must be clear and workable: everyone – female, male, those who identify as transgender, and the duty staff managing facilities need clarity. Everyone needs to know what to expect: who is allowed where, and what questions they are allowed to ask.

The need for clarity is a very basic requirement in situations where people are undressing and vulnerable. Without this, everyone’s privacy and dignity is at risk.

So people turn to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for guidance, or to the Government Equalities Office.

The EHRC Code of Practice (2011) for services, public functions and associations says this:

If a service provider provides single- or separate sex services for women and men, or provides services differently to women and men, they should treat transsexual people according to the gender role in which they present.

EHRC Code of Practice, 2011

“Transsexual people” is a term that is defined in the Equality Act more broadly than in everyday speech as someone “proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.” (Equality Act 2010 s. 7) It does not require any medical procedure (and it does not mean that a person’s sex has changed).

There is no definition of “gender role” in the Equality Act.

The EHRC’s online guidance says this:

If you are accessing a service provided for men-only or women-only, the organisation providing it should treat you according to your acquired gender.

EHRC online guidance, 2019

“Acquired gender” is language from the Gender Recognition Act (which also does not require surgical changes). It is not used in the Equality Act.

In their most recent guidance “What equality law means for your business” (2018) they have changed the wording again.

Generally, a business which is providing separate services or single-sex services should treat a transsexual person according to the sex in which the transsexual person presents.

EHRC Guidance, 2018

The EHRC never set out clearly what any of these different formulations mean (and the fact that they keep changing the words suggests they haven’t thought it through themselves). None of it addresses the practical question of what a service provider should do in the situation where a person has a “gender role” (for example clothing) or an expressed gender identity which is different from the recognisable fact of their sex?

How are service providers supposed to train their staff to recognise these gender roles — if women can wear short hair, jeans and no make up, what is the “gender role” that transwomen must play?

Alternatively if they interpret “sex in which they present” to mean imperceptibly passing; how are they supposed to convey this policy respectfully to customers who would like to believe that they pass but in fact do not?

Guidance from the Government Equalities Office “Providing services for transgender customers” (published with the transgender lobby group Gendered Intelligence in 2015) says that instead service providers should accept that gender is not something they can ascertain:

Try not to assume you can always tell someone’s gender by looking at them or hearing their voice.

GEO Guidance 2015

The GEO guidance says that the deciding factor is the transgender person’s own choice:

A trans person should be free to select the facilities (such as toilets or changing rooms) appropriate to the gender in which they present.

GEO Guidance 2015

They define trans people to include part-time cross-dressers and those who consider themselves non-binary.

Trans people come from all walks of life and include those who may describe themselves as transsexual, transgender, a cross-dresser (transvestite), non-binary and anyone else who may not conform to traditional gender roles.

GEO Guidance, 2015

It gives as an example of unacceptable direct discrimination:

Refusing to allow a [trans] woman to use female facilities because staff perceive her to be male.

GEO Guidance, 2015

How did they get it so wrong?

All of this guidance put service providers in a position of humiliating either female customers or transgender customers and having angry stand-offs and upsets. All of it ignores the point of separate sex facilities in the first place: people of one sex can reasonably object to sharing intimate spaces with members of the opposite sex.

Allowing male adults to undress with women and girls is “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic” which has the effect of creating an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” – in other words, the definition of harassment in the Equality Act (s.26)

The guidance goes wrong from the outset in assuming that the Equality Act gives some transgender people the the right to share facilities intended for the privacy of members of the opposite sex. In fact it does not. It states that it is unlawful to discriminate against or harass a transsexual person in general.

Transsexual people (like everyone) have a right not to have their reasonable privacy interfered with. People should not have to talk about their mental health diagnosis, medical treatment or surgery.

But it is legitimate to have unambiguous policies about who can use a single sex service, which requires people to honestly declare their sex.

Separate sex facilities are therefore not suitable for everyone.

All of the official guidance make the mistake of encouraging trans people to break the rules and telling service providers they must make individual “case by case” determinations of whether an individual can be allowed into a particular service intended for the opposite sex.

All of this requires asking intrusive questions or judging the stage, validity or completeness of a person’s gender reassignment process. For example the GEO guidance from 2010 tells service providers to take into account:

This is an impossible ask – since questions about the “stage of gender reassignment” are intrusive.

A workable approach is for service providers to offer unisex alternatives to accommodate people for whom the rules governing separate sex services don’t work so that no intrusive questions need be asked and everyone has a space to undress with ordinary privacy and dignity.

The confusing mess of current guidance does not protect the rights of either women and girls or transgender people.

The Government Equalities Office and the EHRC should review its guidance to protect everyone’s rights.


“The transman gotcha”

Single and separate sex services are provided to meet the needs of people of one sex or the other. Often this need is simply for a place to undress, wash, and undertake bodily functions with privacy and dignity, in order to take part in public life such as at the gym, pub, clothing shops, school, university, train station or at work.

In the UK this basic privacy is provided for under the Equality Act – Schedule 3 Paragraph 27 (6)

This section of the law reflects some facts of life that were until quite recently taken for granted – people come in two sexes, people can usually recognise the sex of other adults, and there are circumstances (especially involving undressing and being vulnerable) where it is reasonable to object to having to share a space with a member of the opposite sex.

Single sex spaces are created by institutions setting rules: for example “women only: no males in here”, and people complying with the rule.

Most people follow the rules, not because they are necessarily strongly policed (there is no one checking IDs at the door), but because they understand that transgressing other people’s boundaries is inappropriate. The formal rules, and any enforcement of them is a backstop to this social norm.

There are many arguments mustered by people who want to erode this social norm, to tell women and girls that their boundaries are bigotry, to say that is fine for males who want to access spaces where women are undressing to break these rules and to make it impossible to enforce them.

The “trans man gotcha” is one of those.


CPS Guidance undermining consent withdrawn

The Crown Prosecution Service has withdrawn an anti-bullying guidance pack for schools developed with Stonewall and Gendered Intelligence, after a 14-year-old girl brought a legal action.

The pack, which has been withdrawn for review, encouraged schools to tell girls to ignore their discomfort and not object to males entering single sex spaces such as toilets and changing rooms.

One of its teaching exercises features a video scenario where an adult male presenting in a feminine style enters the women’s toilets. Two young women at the sinks whisper their discomfort: “What’s he doing in here? This is the Ladies”. The next time the person uses the Gents’ where two middle-aged men shout abuse and bang on the door.

The class discussion guidance says

“Ask the students what happened in the clip. Thinking about how the girl in the clip was treated, can the class understand why she might have felt hesitant about going into the toilets?”

CPS Pack

(by ‘girl’ here they mean the adult male)

As the legal letter to the CPS points out it is not safe for girls to learn that they should consider an adult male using a facility intended for their bodily privacy as a ‘girl’.

The activity sheet asks:

Can you say why the person went into the ladies’ toilets and not the mens’ toilets? How did the women behave towards her? How did that make her feel?

As the legal letter say these questions suggests that it was the young woman’s fault that the men harassed the feminine presenting male.

The guidance tells pupils that transgender people must be supported to use all the facilities “appropriate for the gender with which they identify themselves”. It goes on to suggest that a school offering the unisex, accessible toilets is not an acceptable solution for a male who does not feel comfortable using the mens.

The guidance completely fails to consider the feelings of women who may feel genuinely threatened.

Letter from Sinclairs Law to the CPS

Girls are taught that they should not make a male entering the women’s toilet feel ‘unwanted’, indeed the pack suggests that this might be a police incident or a hate crime.

Following the lawyer’s letter-before-action (supported by The Safe Schools Alliance and Faircop) the CPS has withdrew the guidance for review.

Certainly the CPS and the Police who produced the pack will have to consider whether the guidance is worth defending in court. But hopefully it has reached the attention of someone within the hierarchy with the sense and decency to be appalled that some corner of their organisation has have been issuing guidance that undermines girls’ consent in name of inclusion.

Hopefully, more organisations are remembering that girls and women have rights to bodily privacy. In a rush to support transgender peoples’ human rights and get gold stars from Stonewall they may have forgotten why single sex spaces exist in the first place.

The teenager who brought the legal action, with the Safe Schools Alliance said:

“I’m happy that I’ve been able to have helped girls all over the country keep their right to say no and not get accused of bullying.”

Teenage girl who brought the case

Baroness Nicholson writes to the Minister

Baroness Nicholson has written to Liz Truss highlighting that the Equality Act is misrepresenting in official guidance.

I see the wording of the Equality Act 2010 has been distorted which results in departmental and institutional guidelines which differ significantly from the Act; and have been wrongly laid down as correct.

Leading to….

extraordinary results for the professionals required to implement the guidance and for the population, especially girls and women whose traditional rights to privacy, dignity, personal identity, and honour have been bent outside of all recognition of normal behaviour patterns.


Edward Lord Responds on Single Sex Spaces – and that survey

Edward Lord, Deputy of the City of London wrote to Liz Truss saying that based on a City of London survey “the findings are clear” single sex spaces should be open to people of the opposite sex based on gender identity.

“Shortly after taking up my current role in the City of London, the Corporation launched its own consultation in respect of transgender inclusion to inform our policy on gender identity in our service delivery and employment practices. This was in response to concerns expressed by some anti-trans campaigners who challenged the Corporation’s interpretation of the Equality Act to permit trans women to use the Highgate Women’s Pond on Hampstead Heath.

As part of the policy formulation exercise, we put out an open access online opinion survey asking a range of questions about attitudes towards trans people and their access to public services. The findings were very clear. Of the 21,191 respondents who completed our survey (of whom 53% were women):

68% agreed that ‘a person who consistently identifies with a gender (being different from the gender assigned to them at birth) should be able to access services commonly provided to that gender’; and

Women were in a majority of all of those positive responses.

Edward Lord, Letter to Liz Truss

The findings are clear?

You may remember that survey. Here is the report from it.

The survey process was overseen by Edward Lord, Chairman of the Establishment Committee of the City of London Corporation who has strong views on this topic. As Lord says in their letter to Liz Truss they view they view people who raised concerns at the loss of single sex spaces as “anti-trans campaigners”. Those who agreed with Lord’s view they call “positive responses”.

Edward Lord who identifies as neither wholly male or female

The headline finding is that 68% of respondents agree that a person who “consistently identifies with a gender which is different from the one they were assigned at birth should be able to access services commonly provided to the gender with which they now identify”

Around a quarter disagree. One of the members of the “Establishment Committee” commented that those who disagree need to have their attitudes changed, and asked for details of the answers from city workers.

A Member commented that he would encourage officers to question the responses which were least in agreement with the questions posed in the survey, particularly if those were City of London workers. The Member added that in order to change attitudes, it is necessary to understand why people hold certain views, and asked officers to look at getting those answers.

Establishment Committee Meeting Minutes, December 2018

Lord blocks anyone who so much as follows accounts that disagree with their view that single sex spaces are exclusionary.

As last count at least 1,821 people that had been blocked by Edward Lord, of which 83% were women, only 5% had ever interacted with the elected politician.

An oddly discrete survey

The survey was mainly promoted by being tweeted from Edward Lord’s twitter account. As University College London social sciences professor Alice Sullivan, pointed out at the time, the consultation was been handled in an “oddly discreet way”.

“Apparently it was first tweeted in early July but I did not find out about it until early August,” she added. “They only informed the Parliament Hill running track users group about the consultation after I prompted them to do so, yet it affects the track changing rooms. As a survey researcher, I know a good survey asks specific questions in clear English. This consultation does not do that. It asks vague questions which many people won’t understand.”

Alice Sullivan, UCL Professor

Confusing language

The survey does not explain which services the city of London manages and therefore what kinds of services and situations the questions cover in practice. 

A sign at one of Hampstead Heath’s previously single sex ponds

The survey conflated sex and gender and uses confusing language such as “gender assigned at birth”. Most ordinary people would have no idea what this relates to: is it intersex people? People who have had ‘sex change operations’? Few would have an inkling that it could just mean people who have changed their pronouns.

This was raised before the survey closed by several respondents . Marcus Roberts of the City of London told them:  

“Regarding the survey, we need to review our use of the terms “sex” and “gender” to ensure we are getting this right going forward. However with the survey now live, I am confident that it allows respondents to make the points that you make in your e-mail – including raising concerns about the language of the survey (using the free text boxes). We will then reflect on these responses as part of  our review of how we should take policy forward.”

Marcus Roberts Head of Strategy and Performance, Department of Community and Children’s Service, City of London

Nothing was ever heard again about clarifying this.

So who answered the survey?

Since the survey mainly went out though Edward Lord’ networks the survey responses are severely skewed. Young people were overrepresented with 12 responses from 18 to 35  year olds for every one from over 45 year olds. Nearly a quarter of the respondents said they are bisexual (23%), a very high proportion compared to the general population. Replies from people not living anywhere near the City of London swamped those that came from residents of the City of London’s housing estates or users of services such as the atheletics changing rooms and ponds on Hampstead Heath .

While the survey was self selecting rather than a representative survey, it would at least be possible to break down the results by different demographic groups – in practice the independent consultants only report the headline that twice as many respondents agree with the proposal “that where facilities are restricted by gender, those restriction should relate to the gender with which the service user consistently identifies now”. Given the clear a lack of representativeness the survey respondents there is no validity to this finding. 

The Equality Act?

The survey was analysed by a firm called “Smart Consult” who operate out of a mailbox in East London. They said “Comments that are abusive, discriminatory and/or contrary to the Equality Act 2010 have not been used in this report.”

Smart Consult’s address

How did they know which comments were “contrary to the Equality Act?” It seems they asked the City Corporation.

Some felt that the consultation was inconsistent with the Equality Act 2010 in the way it used the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’” a claim that was considered and rejected by the City Corporation. 

Smart Consult survey report

Who was that then?

That would be Edward Lord, as October 2018 minutes of the committee meeting showed:

“The Chair explained that access to the Corporation’s services and facilities is not an area where the Corporation would have much discretion, and nor should it. It was explained that the Equality Act 2010, ensures that trans people, or those with the protected characteristic of ‘gender reassignment’ should not be discriminated against in any service or facility and public authorities like the City of London Corporation have a legal duty to ensure trans people are included through all of its services. The Chair further advised that this is what the policy refresh is about: giving all of the City of London Corporation’s services and facilities a policy framework together with support and guidance to ensure that trans and non-binary people have equal access.”

Establishment Committee, October 2018

The ‘independent consultant’s report states that restricting access to services depending on ‘biological sex’ “would be inconsistent with the Equality Act 2010, other than in exceptional circumstances”. They do not reference this statement and it seems likely that they are simply repeating back what they have been told by their client. 

So in summary:

  • The survey was massively skewed towards Edward Lord’s personal networks and away from the many women they have blocked on social media.
  • Older people were particularly underrepresented.
  • The survey’s language was incomprehensible most people would not understand what was being proposed.
  • The interpretation of the Equality Act in the independent consultants report is not referenced to any lawyers, and seems to be Edward Lord’s view.
  • Comments which disagreed with this interpretation of the Equality Act were not included in the report.
  • Still over a quarter of respondents disagreed with the proposition that access to single sex services should be based on gender identity. Their responses were not deemed to matter. The Establishment Committee instead discussed how to change their attitudes.