Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
Statement following recent commentary on our advice regarding the definition of 'sex' in the Equality Act
A spokesperson for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:
“We strongly reject these claims. It is our legal duty to uphold the equality and the human rights of everyone in Britain, including trans people, and this is core to everything we do.
“As recently as October 2022, we were again graded ‘A status’ as a National Human Rights Institution, indicating our full compliance with international recommendations. This is clear recognition of our independence and our compliance with the Paris Principles (the international standard for human rights organisations).
“As part of the re-accreditation process, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) routinely make recommendations to all organisations. We were pleased that GANHRI invited us to continue our core work, strengthen our powers and keep on making a difference to the lives of everybody across Britain.
“Our job is also to explain the law, which, in relation to sex and gender issues, can be complex. Where people’s rights may compete, we have a duty to advise on how best to strike an appropriate balance. In some cases we do so in difficult, technical areas of law that can attract strong views and disagreement.
“We provide this advice impartially, even when matters might be contentious. We will continue to listen to the views of all groups, including the LGBT community, as we have done regularly throughout.
“In April we advised the Minister for Women and Equalities that clarifying the definition of sex in the Equality Act 2010 merits further consideration. We suggested that the UK government carefully identify and consider the potential implications of this change, if it is taken forward. The Equality Act already allows the provision of separate or single-sex services, and we have sought to clarify what the existing law permits.
“In providing our advice we took into account a concern that the law as it stands does not reflect the reality of modern life for trans people. For example, today many trans people do not identify themselves as transitioning from one gender to another but may identify with a more fluid gender identity or without reference to a binary gender at all. For this and other reasons, the vast majority of trans people do not have a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), yet there is a disparity between the rights of trans people with GRCs and those without under the Equality Act.
“We advised the UK government that this disparity in treatment makes it difficult for individuals to understand their rights under equality law. It also may cause confusion and difficulty for employers, service providers and others, especially because in many situations they cannot know who has a GRC and who does not. We think that the UK government should consider simplifying the legislation so that all trans people have the same rights under the Equality Act. We think that this simplification could result in clarification for all trans people, including those who identify as non-binary.
“This change would not mean that service providers would have to stop providing trans inclusive services. Furthermore, it is categorically not true that the change would mean that trans people would no longer be protected from unlawful discrimination. The change, if taken forward by the UK government, would not remove the protected characteristic of gender reassignment from the Act. This would continue to guarantee the rights of trans people to live their day to day lives free of discrimination.
“We also refute any claim our work promotes the exclusion of trans people or that it would ‘effectively force trans people to detransition’. This is simply not the case.
“It is disappointing that trans people are being given the message that the potential change would make it impossible for them to live their day to day lives safely and with dignity. Such unfounded remarks simply generate more fear and concern among a community that already experiences too much discrimination.
“We continue to take action to protect trans people, including successfully undertaking legal work to support trans people who have been discriminated against in their place of work or education, in their access to health and social services and in other areas of their life.
“For example, we have repeatedly championed the rights of trans people to the Department of Health and Social Care and have raised concerns directly with ministers about long waiting times and insufficient advice and support. We also raised specific issues such as the UK government’s ‘list of specialist practitioners’ for providing a gender dysphoria diagnosis, which we know is a barrier for some trans people in obtaining a GRC.”
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