Crispin Blunt and Sue Pascoe: The Government must act decisively to win the trust of the LGBT+ community

16 Mar

Crispin Blunt is Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT and Rights, and is MP for Reigate. Sue Pascoe is Acting Area Chairman of the Conservative Women’s Organisation in North and East Yorkshire.

Recent weeks have been tumultuous for the LGBT+ community across the UK with an increasing breakdown of trust towards government, ministers, some parliamentarians and sections of the media.

Trust is a vital component for government and for our free press to function effectively. Yet for months now certain sections of the media have been spreading misinformation and confusion about the functioning of the Equality Act and generating fear towards transgender people, even going so far as to make an extraordinary attack on Penny Mordaunt for stating the Government’s legal and moral position that “trans men are men and trans women are women”.

She had gone out of her way to try and restore some trust by using these words at the despatch box after their Lordships had made an amendment to legislation which had provided an opportunity for certain people, motivated by anxieties or fundamentalist belief, to renew an attack on the principle of gender neutrality in legislation, which established practice since 2007.

It is never necessary to humiliate or degrade trans people in order to discuss sex and gender or to address health needs or social inequalities.The Equality Act brought in the concept that gender reassignment was a ‘personal process’ rather than a ‘medical one’. Trans people have been accessing single-sex services and facilities in line with their lived identity for many decades. More than that though, trans people are also covered by the sex discrimination parts of the Act the same as everyone else – crucially, in their lived identity.

Some media outlets have also been trying to attack LGBT+ organisations and supporters as some sort of ‘secret lobby’. This includes the very public Stonewall Champions programme and the LGBT+ Global Rights All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG).

Then came the cross-party consensus Commons debate on Conversion Therapy (defined by the UN as a form of torture). After a promise made to legislate for ‘ban’ a thousand days earlier, the Equalities Minister finished the debate only speaking about ‘ending’ the practice at some indeterminate time in the future whilst leaving religious groups to continue guiding people.

This was followed quickly by resignations of three principled members of the Government’s LGBT+ Advisory Panel citing a ‘hostile environment’, ‘equalities ministers ignorance of issues and lack of willingness to listen’ and ‘failure to include gender identity in their responses’ to ending Conversion Therapy.

The panel members who resigned, who must be thanked for their service to the LGBT+ community, included Jayne Ozanne, a well-known gay evangelical who works to ensure full inclusion of all LGBT+ people of faith, particularly in the Church. In 2019 she was given an audience with the Pope to present research on Conversion Therapy. She was accompanied by James Morton, until recently manager at the Scottish Trans Alliance and prominent trans advocate, and Ellen Murray, human rights writer and disability student.

The LGBT Conservatives said: “It is upsetting to hear of her experience and read the allegations she has made. A thorough investigation is needed… We need to set a standard for others to follow. This is not it.”

We are pleased that the Prime Minister intervened quickly saying “I think this practice is repulsive and I think it’s abhorrent, and I’m sorry these advisers have gone, but be in no doubt that we will deal with this issue.” A government spokesperson confirmed this would involve a ‘ban’.  We look forward to speedy resolution and to effective legislation that bans conversion therapy of sexual orientation and gender identity of adults and children – including harmful religious and spiritual practices.

The Minister for Women and Equalities also mentioned improvements in transgender healthcare which are desperately needed, as services are currently at crisis point in many areas. One of the gender identity clinics only assessed two patients last year. Moreover, the three new primary care pilots for service delivery only cover a smaller portion of the services offered by the seven full gender identity clinics.

Trust is everything. We are now at an inflection point. Trust can get restored or it can erode very quickly to dangerous levels not seen since the days of Section 28, the law (repealed in 2003) that stopped councils and schools from “promoting the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”

The Government needs to understand that there is a climate of fear, which is being fuelled from many sources. Now is the time to show leadership to assert that those days are not returning. Trust in our elected officials and government to serve the whole of society in a representative democracy is vital.

Some MPs foster trust in the Government. Others do not. Worst still, in the media at the moment some outlets are actively driving misinformation and divisions in our society. It’s so important that the voices and the ‘real lived experiences’ of the LGBT+ community are listened too, just as it is to listen to the outrage and outpouring voices of women which have come forward in recent days as they seek to be safe in society.

Domestic, street, and sexual violence plus misogyny impacts women who have intersecting minority identities. They can also face increased discrimination and further barriers to seeking justice and support. Being safe in society is not a lot to ask, is it?

Equality and inclusivity for all is both right and necessary for a society to be free, and we would be surprised by Conservatives standing against that. We must continue to work towards a society where we treat each other with respect, dignity, compassion, tolerance and understanding. We wish to see policy measures which bring social cohesion, and focus on our common welfare, whilst understanding the perspective and challenges of others.

We must deliver our promise to protect all LGBT+ people at home and abroad, and ensure UK leadership in human rights for all continues.

Crispin Blunt and Sue Pascoe: It’s time to correct the stoking of alarm and spreading of misinformation about trans people

16 Jul

Crispin Blunt is Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT and Rights, and is MP for Reigate. Sue Pascoe is Acting Area Chairman of the Conservative Women’s Organisation in North and East Yorkshire.

As the UK strives for a new global place in the world, it’s important that we place equal weight on our personal freedoms, the prosperity of our communities, and equality and equity of opportunity for our people as we level up our country.

We must not leave any section of our society behind because of misunderstandings, prejudice or fear.  It is the first duty of government to foster an environment where this exists for everyone. We hope as a Party, a Government and members of society that we can each hold out a helping hand to all those who still struggle, who still face the difficulties of daily life, who still cannot be their authentic selves.

Our freedom and our basic humanity are two of the key components of what defines us as individuals. When we cannot be our authentic selves, our freedom and our humanity is taken away from us.

During recent months, we had begun to despair with some sections of the media and its relentless stoking of alarm and spreading of misinformation about trans people. There appear to have been orchestrated campaigns to try and roll back the hard-won rights of not only trans adults but of vulnerable trans young people as well.

We would like to bust some myths.

  • Women and trans people have the same need to live in safety from abuse, sexualharassment and physical violence. Trans women and trans young people are not aninherent threat to women. Sadly, there are a small number of abusive people in thisworld of all genders and measures and efforts should focus on stopping their actions.
  • We are out of step with other countries around the world in adopting rights fortransgender people – from such countries as Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia to many of the states in the US to countries closer to home like Portugal, Belgium and Ireland. United Nations Free and Equal recommends that a range of measures are introduced by states to support transgender people, from legally recognising the gender identity of trans people in official documents through a simple administrative process in line with their lived identity to gender-affirming healthcare services free from stigma and discrimination.
  • The World Health Organisation made clear in 2019 that being transgender is not amental illness, and should not be treated as such.
  • Considerable scientific evidence has emerged demonstrating a durable biological element underlying gender identity.
  • Language respecting the sex in which trans women and trans men live has beencommon decency in Britain since the 1970s, and has been clearly upheld in UK law since 2004.It is never necessary to humiliate or degrade trans people in order to discuss sex and gender or to address health needs or social inequalities.
  • The Equality Act brought in the concept that gender reassignment was a ‘personal process’ rather than a ‘medical one’. Trans people have been accessing single-sex service and facilities in line with their lived identity for many decades,  and with proportionate protection from discrimination since 2010. Misinformation is driving current fear to try and change this. It will remain permitted under the Equality Act to exclude trans women from single sex facilities, such as a woman’s refuge, on a case by case basis, but it would be anathema to British values to attempt to blanket-ban trans people from toilets and shop changing cubicles.
  • Trans people already access services matching their gender under the law, except inrestricted individual circumstances, with all the protections that have been campaigned for to balance rights. This is why we say so much of the campaigning ismisinformed.
  • All that’s been asked for now for GRA reform is a minor change in administrative arrangements for birth certificates that only impacts the holder of the certificate onmarriage, death, getting a job or a mortgage. Can you remember when you last used your birth certificate or even where it is? GRA reform has never had anything to do with toilets or changing room cubicles.
  • Currently, less than 0.03 per cent of under 18s in the UK are referred to gender identity development services, of which only a tiny number may eventually go on to receive puberty-delaying medication for two or three years while under 16.
  • Changes to curtail trans young people’s healthcare could have serious unintended detrimental consequences on wider children’s health services. We have clinical safeguards such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to ensure best evidence-based protocols. ​We must be guided by evidence and clinical experts and not lobby groups to make policy decisions.
  • Only 5,000 trans people currently have a GRC, fewer than 100,000 have changed their driving licence or passport. The numbers remain small and any proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act would only apply to people living permanently in theirgender with all their other ID such as passports or driving licences already changed.

We really wonder if the good people of our great nation realise they are being manipulated through fear and false information to roll-back the basic dignity, privacy and safety of trans people who are just trying to live ordinary lives.

Yes, the bodies and life experiences of trans people will never be identical to those of people who are not trans. But that is not good reason to segregate and demonise them. It is also the same with trans young people. Parents of young people who are struggling with their gender simply want their children to have unconditional love and support – to explore their identity and time to enjoy their childhood with assistance from trusted multi-disciplinary professionals in the field free from political interference. That is the right and humane way forward.

In recent weeks, voices have spoken up from global businesses in the City, global media and entertainment businesses, members from across the Commons and the upper chamber; voices from across all sections of society, from within the LGBT community and its close allies, from faith leaders and parents of trans children but, most of all, from trans people with a simple message.

With one voice, asking for trans inclusion and equality, trans people say: we are just like you, human beings who just wish to go about our lives free from hate and persecution. Be kind, let us love and be loved. Let us be our authentic selves. We are not an ideology to be fought over by others.

The bottom line is most people in the UK do not want to reduce trans people’s inclusion in services or undermine their identities. Polling consistently shows the majority of women support trans women’s inclusion in services and reform of the GRA (see the British Social Attitudes Survey and recent YouGov polling).

Ipsos MORI reported this month that 70 per cent of Britons believe that transgender people face discrimination, with a quarter (26 per cent) saying they face a great deal. We have ended up entangling ourselves in unnecessary scaremongering against trans people at a time when most people want us focused on tackling Covid-19, rebuilding our economy and bringing our society together.

Equality and inclusivity for all is an essential bedrock of our free society. We wish to work towards a society where we treat each other with respect, dignity, compassion, tolerance and understanding. We wish to see policy measures which bring social cohesion, and focus on our common welfare, as we work together to emerge from these troubling times.