PinkNews editor Benjamin Cohen debunks ‘protests’ against self-ID on Sunday Politics

PinkNews founder and editor-in-chief Benjamin Cohen has debunked protests against alleged changes to the Gender Recognition Act around self-identification, saying they are based in transphobia and divorced from legal and social reality.

The BBC’s Sunday Politics show ran a segment this morning, led with a filmed stunt by transphobic group Man Friday, cis women who claim to identify as men and try to gain access to single-sex spaces. Members of the group incorrectly allege that this will be made easier by proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act possible from a consultation the government plans to open on July 3rd.

Cohen pointed out that the proposed changes have nothing to do with social self-identification, which was  introduced as part of the 2010 Equality Act.

He said “What the government is looking to do is very similar to the government in Scotland, which is move towards self-identification for the legal change. Already you’ve been able to self-identify as the gender you believe you are or that you live since 2010 – so actually that campaign [man Friday] just proves the law already exists. Those women who were saying they’re identified as men were allowed to go to a male dormitory because the law has been the case like that since 2010.”

Cohen emphasised that supposed concern access to vulnerable women and girls by men could be increased by any change to the act is entirely unfounded – as no change would be made to the current law, under which attacks have not taken place.

He said “Those people in the report just did that and that proves that the law that has existed since 2010 already applies. What these people are campaigning against is transgender rights in general. We’ve had the gender recognition act which allows you to change your gender for 14 years and we’ve had the other law, the Equality Act, which allows you to self-identify for eight years.

“In all that time, none of these horror stories have happened. It also is the law in Ireland and in many other countries that you can change your legal gender very easily and these horror stories just haven’t appeared.”

Trans activist Jane Fae, as part of the report, emphasised this and that in fact the stunts by groups like Man Friday were causing real harm to trans people.

She said “Actually they’re causing real grief. I have spoken to trans men who are now afraid – they’ve caused fear amongst trans men. This campaign, when it started, was ill-informed because it brought together the Gender Recognition Act and the Equalities Act. And it is causing real harm, it is causing people to be abused, to be attacked and to be excluded from public life. I’m disgusted by it.”

“[Changes to legal self-identification] won’t change your right as to what you can access, because it changes your birth certificate. And I don’t know about you but I’ve never been asked for my birth certificate to go into a loo or anywhere like that. At present there are certain proofs and certain processes you go through to change your birth certificate and it is being suggested that those are made simpler.”

Theresa May at the PinkNews Awards

Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech at the PinkNews Awards 2017 was included in the report, during which she said “Streamlining and demedicalising the process for changing gender because being trans is not an illness and it shouldn’t be treated as such.”

Although consultation on proposed changes has not yet started, several groups have alleged that it will allow spontaneous self-identification – showing a clear lack of knowledge about the legal gender recognition process and spreading misinformation.

Cohen called out the wait in moving forward on changes to the act as having allowed these views to be spread, “What there has been is that the Prime Minister came to the PinkNews Awards last year, gave that speech you saw a clip of in the report but there’s been a huge vacuum – it’s taken nearly a year for the government to actually open up the consultation which it’s due to do on Tuesday.

“That has allowed this campaign of misinformation to be begun by those who are opposed to transgender rights and then picked up by all of the press who don’t like LGBT people.”

Although anti-trans groups often allege that a “transgender lobby” is pushing forward an agenda, in fact this has created an environment where trans people are facing more stigma. Cohen was asked if this campaign had more broadly affected public opinion of trans people, despite concerning laws dating back nearly a decade-and-half.

He said “Absolutely. We’re going to be publishing some polling on PinkNews this week which is going to show that actually although people are much more in touch with an in favour of gay rights, they’re not necessarily in favour of transgender rights.”