Gloria De Piero: On ten years since the passing of the Gender Recognition Act

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Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities Gloria De Piero writes for PinkNews on ten years of the Gender Recognition Act.

It’s 10 years today since it became possible for trans people to change their legal gender. The Gender Recognition Act, introduced by the last Labour Government, meant that the law recognised that the gender individuals identify with matters more than the gender people are assumed to be because of their outward appearance. Labour MP David Lammy who was the Minister at the time responsible for introducing the legislation told Parliament that it had a wider purpose beyond guaranteeing individuals their basic human rights – “It affirms the values of tolerance, inclusion and social justice that are we as a country embody, and that we as a Labour Government are committed to fostering.”

It is hard to understate just how important and powerful a statement that must have been just 10 years ago. To say that trans individuals have the right to expect that their basic human rights are equally respected should be self-evident to most of us today, but before April 4 2005, trans individuals had no right to expect the same right to liberty or privacy because they would face being ‘exposed’ every time they were asked to present their passport at immigration, every job application or legal form that required you to tick a box saying ‘M’ or ‘F’, or provide your birth certificate.

There are many trans people who have expressed far more eloquently and poignantly the trauma of growing up and navigating a world that attempts at every point to reinforce a gender identity you don’t want or recognise as your own. Far be it for me to try and tell their story, but as politicians it is our role to ensure that the law creates a society in which individuals have the opportunity to achieve their full potential, to flourish, to live free from the fear of discrimination and to have their own intrinsic value as human beings recognised. Sometimes to do this, the law needs to do more than reflect existing opinion, it must drive forward social change.

Last year was something of a watershed in trans visibility. From Laverne Cox who was featured on the cover of Time magazine to Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst; Emily Brothers Labour’s first openly trans Parliamentary candidate to Cosmopolitan Woman of the Year Paris Lees – a Hucknall girl who grew up down the road from the constituency I represent. Here are powerful trans women demonstrating their own sense of self-worth, and being recognised for their talent – as actors, political commentators, politicians and for singing that special brand of pop that wins you the adoration of millions of viewers across Europe. And after 25 years at the forefront of lesbian, gay and bisexual rights, Stonewall recently announced they would add the ‘T’ to their LGB work and campaign for trans rights too.

However, whilst trans visibility and awareness is growing, we still have a long way to go on equal rights. The last 20 years have seen unprecedented progress on formal equality for lesbian gay and bi individuals, but in many ways trans rights are an area of the law where there is more work to be done. Ten years on from the introduction of the Gender Recognition Act, it’s time to review the laws governing trans rights and protections including the Equality Act provisions, and if elected this is what a Labour Government will do.

A Labour Government we will look at whether the procedure for gender recognition is operating fairly and efficiently, whether the tests set out in the act are still the right ones or are too onerous. We will look at how we can strengthen hate crime law to ensure transphobic hate crime is treated as equal to racial or religious hatred. The review will tackle questions around the recognition of intersex people and it will look again at the clause within the equal marriage act that mean if you want to remain married and change your legal gender, you first need your spouse’s consent – the so-called ‘spousal veto’. And new requirements we will introduce for every teacher to be trained in how to deal with LGBT bullying, will be central to providing greater inclusivity and protection for trans children and young people in school.

Times and thinking is changing. Just this week Malta passed the Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act, hailed by campaigners as some of the most progressive and comprehensive framework of rights and protections anywhere in the world. Stonewall too, who recently announced they would begin campaigning on trans rights, have also called for a review of trans law in their LGBT equality manifesto.

This will be no small review, and the issues raised will no-doubt spark a healthy level of public debate and lead to further advances in the law. But when almost half of trans young people have tried to take their own life, when individuals still face hounding and public humiliation in the media, this is a debate that needs to happen.

Gloria De Piero is the Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities and Labour candidate for Ashfield.

As with all comment, this does not necessarily reflect the views of PinkNews.