The Government Equalities Office has now confirmed its action plan for transgender equality in their response to the previous Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) review.
In January 2016 we reported on the outcome of the House of Commons WEC transgender equality review (the report) which confirmed that transgender people continue to suffer prejudice in and out of the workplace. A recent example of such inequality was highlighted in our report on Bisson v Condor.
More recently, the Adult Psychiatry Morbidity Survey confirmed that nearly half (48%) of transgender people under the age of 26 say they have attempted suicide. In comparison, about 6% of all 16 to 24 year-olds say they have attempted suicide. These are worrying statistics and confirm the need for further action to achieve equality in this area.
Whilst the government's response indicates it will not fully address all of the concerns highlighted in the report, it does outline some positive steps towards transgender equality, including:
- a review of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA) to tackle unnecessary bureaucracy and to assess the need for medical checks. In particular, it is recognised that the existing medical and quasi-judicial system of gender recognition is damaging to those seeking to change their legal gender. A system based on self-definition has been proposed.
- a cross-government review on removing unnecessary requests for gender information, including within official documents such as passports.
- confirmation that gender dysphoria is not a mental illness, and that transgender people will receive support from gender identity services and improved training for NHS staff.
- tackling harassment and bullying in higher education system, from secondary schools upwards.
- an assessment of the size of the UK's transgender population so future policy can be more evidence-based.
- the measuring and monitoring public attitudes towards transgender people.
All of the above is a significant step forward. However, not all the report's recommendations will be implemented. The report sought to extend the definition of 'protected characteristic' under the Equality Act 2010 to cover gender identity or gender expression, and not just limit the protection to transsexual people or those proposing to undergo, who are undergoing or who have undergone gender reassignment. The government's response determined that the legislation already provided adequate protection and therefore those who cross-dress or express themselves as transgender will continue to fall outside the scope of the definition and not be protected.
The discussions to address transgender equality between the transgender community and the government continue. In the meantime, what remains clear is that employers should ensure they foster an open, inclusive and supportive environment free from discrimination and that they have robust policies in place to deal with any such transgender situation with dignity and respect.