Gender Recognition Act, healthcare and sex work: What does the UK general election mean for transgender rights?

When Jeremy Corbyn announced that Labour would back a general election, you’d be forgiven if your first thought wasn’t wondering how this would affect transgender rights.

With Brexit and the impending doom coming for us in the form of the climate apocalypse, among other things, this election will likely be dominated by themes of capitalism vs socialism vs environmentalism vs nationalism vs whatever else it is the Lib Dems want along with remaining in the EU.

Transgender rights are unlikely to be a headline issue.

The Conservatives’ plan to “weaponise” trans issues to win votes in the north of England (where, it seems, they don’t think any trans people or allies live) could still materialise, but arguably, given the prevalence of transphobia in the UK media and the increasing number of anti-trans hate crimes in public, the Tories don’t need to weaponise them at all – we are already a much hated group, and any politician speaking out for trans folk is likely to be abused for their efforts.

This election does come at a critical time for the trans community, and not just because we’re equally affected by the possibility that London will be underwater by the time Brexit actually happens.

The trans issue that has been dominating the narrative for the past couple of years is reforming the Gender Recognition Act. By this, people who support trans rights understand reform to mean potentially making it simpler for trans people to change the gender on their birth certificate.

People who don’t support trans rights, or think that they threaten women’s rights, disagree – and this issue has dominated the discussion to the point where you’d also be forgiven for thinking that once the GRA is reformed the fight for trans equality will be over.

A succession of Conservative politicians have delayed reforming it – we’ve had five women and equalities ministers since Theresa May announced GRA reform plans in 2017 (one of them, Amber Rudd, was the minister twice) – despite repeated promises and a huge public consultation in 2018 that collected the opinions of more than 100,000 people and organisations.

Because of this, the main parties will likely all have a position on what they’ll do to the GRA if they get into power. It wasn’t in the Conservative’s 2017 manifesto, but it was in Labour’s and the Lib Dems’.

GRA reform is important. It’s worth asking candidates about; politicians who back a) reforming it and b) reforming it how the trans community would like it done will hopefully be pro-trans rights in other situations.

But the GRA is not the only issue affecting transgender people.

Will any politician address the fact that there are only eight specialist gender clinics in England and Wales? It seems unlikely, although this (lack of) access to healthcare is something that will be on the mind of any trans person who wants to see a gender specialist – the dearth of clinics means the wait for a first appointment is, on average, two years.

Let that sink in a minute. Two years. For an appointment with a doctor.

Of course, it would be more likely for trans healthcare to be on the radar of a politician if we had any trans politicians. At the last general election, at least nine openly trans people were nominated to stand to be an MP – four Green, three Lib Dem and two Labour – but none were elected. Only four trans people stood in 2015, and none in 2010, so this could be seen as an improvement.

However, current anti-trans sentiment is running high and it would be wholly understandable if aspiring trans politicians chose not to stand this time around. Earlier this summer, two trans women were announced as prospective parliamentary candidates for the Brexit Party, but it’s unclear if they’ll still be standing given that the party’s co-founder (not Nigel Farage, the other one) was unhappy about that.

It might also be tricky for trans people to vote at all, seeing as Boris Johnson’s plans to introduce photographic ID requirements for voters will disproportionately impact the LGBT+ community, trans people especially, along with other marginalised groups.

But some trans people will make it to the polls, and plenty of trans allies will, too.

Issues that politicians seeking their votes could think about include: employment, seeing as one in three UK employers won’t hire a trans person; housing, as trans people – especially trans youth – are more likely to be homeless (25 per cent of trans people in the UK have experienced homelessness); decriminalising sex work, a source of income for a significant chunk of the trans community, particularly trans women; supporting trans kids, who are being used as a political football and who have alarmingly high rates of suicide attempts; reversing cuts to mental health services, obviously; and doing something about the institutionally transphobic UK media, which is most definitely exacerbating all of the above issues.

Finally, watch out for any suggestions that trans people be forced to carry ID cards. If there is one thing we definitely don’t want from this election, it’s this.