How did Britain become ‘TERF island’? A brief history of government lies, media profit and trans suffering
As transphobia continues to run riot in the UK, Michelle Snow explains how we got to this point.
Many around the world have asked why the UK is so transphobic. There are many theories but the reason isn’t complicated. Turning the UK into a world-renowned transphobia hot-bed was profitable. And the perpetrators knew exactly how to do it. They had done it before.
In 2015, parliament held an inquiry into transgender equality and released many recommendations including: reform of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), reform of NHS gender identity services, allowing 16-year-olds to change their legal sex and legal recognition for non-binary people.
The GRA allows trans men and women in the UK (not non-binary people) to change their legal sex by amending their birth certificate with a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). To get a GRC trans people have to apply to a panel of cisgender people (that they never meet) who judge their level of transness on their bank statements and photo IDs. GRA reform would have abolished this panel and give power over their identities to trans people themselves.
But in 2016, UK prime minister Theresa May announced that her government would be seeking reform of the GRA to allow for a self-declaration system. All the other recommendations were ignored or quietly binned.
2016: The media enters the ‘debate’
In 2016, the Times saw May’s announcement and began publishing anti-trans news reports and columns every few days. They never stopped. Their transphobia-filled content went on to win awards.
Other UK outlets such as the Mail, the Telegraph, the Guardian, the Express, the Sun, the Spectator, the New Statesman and BBC News joined them. There were transphobia-riddled reports that reforming the GRA “could” endanger women in single-sex spaces by opening every women’s space to men. Such reports rarely, if ever, explained what birth certificates had to do with this, and neither did the transphobia-championing radicals platformed at every opportunity.
The argument that allowing trans people to change their birth certificates easily “could” allow predators into the UK’s single-sex spaces rests on the falsehood that these spaces require birth certificates to access them. McDonald’s doesn’t require them before using their toilets. Refuges don’t ask people running for their lives to see one. Gyms and sports clubs have never required them. Most people only use theirs a handful of times in their lives. This very basic point never made it into most UK media coverage. They were essentially arguing that the thin line between an epidemic of sexual assaults and women was a piece of paper that rarely leaves peoples’ lofts.
On top of that, gender self-declaration processes have existed in many countries around the world for years. At this moment somewhere between 1.5 and 2 billion people live under self-ID laws. Ireland, Denmark, Argentina, Malta, Norway, Portugal, Belgium, India, many states in the US and Canadian provinces all have some form of self-ID. There has never been a rise in the number of sexual assaults anywhere attributable to the introduction of self-ID.
These two points were left out of the UK debate. Perhaps because the inherent transphobia in selling the terrifying idea of sexual predators being granted access to victims would draw more attention to adverts than the truth.
2018: The government backs away as anti-trans activists zero in on the NHS
In 2018 May’s government backed away. Any hopes of using trans issues to cultivate another celebratory moment, like that which followed same-sex marriage, had been destroyed by transphobia. So they announced a public consultation on the issue. All this consultation did was ramp up the UK media campaign which now had every excuse to publish transphobia daily.
That year the UK media found another lucrative opportunity: the NHS’ only gender identity clinic for young people, GIDS, run by the Tavistock and Portman trust. Service users regularly experienced years-long waiting times and painfully slow internal practices which saw young people age out of the service before they ever got inside.
Susan Evans is a nurse who worked at GIDS part-time between 2004 and 2007. In late 2019, over a decade after she left the clinic, Evans launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund legal action against the Tavistock who, in her opinion, were rushing young people into transition. It was titled: Legal case to protect children from experimental medical treatment.
Evans called upon the legal services of Paul Conrathe of Sinclairs Law. He has also represented parents who took issue with the introduction of LGBT-inclusive sex and relationship education, and appears to be the solicitor of choice amongst anti-trans radicals having now worked with many including Sarah Phillimore, the Safe Schools Alliance and Fair Cop. He also has a history of taking cases that seek to erode abortion access in the UK. You can see his history of cases yourself by clicking here. It is important to note that many of the anti-trans activists he has assisted identify as feminists.
A few months into her campaign, Susan Evans swapped herself out of the case for Keira Bell, a woman who had detransitioned months before. This was a smart move as Bell was easier to sell to the press and garnered widespread media attention whilst repeating transphobia-filled talking points. This move saw media coverage of the case increase.
2020: The year everything came to a head
For trans people, 2020 was not just the year of COVID-19 but the year everything came to a head. In April, the minister for women and equalities Liz Truss announced her three intentions for GRA reform. She told parliament that she wanted to protect single-sex spaces. She never said from who – but she didn’t have to. The transphobia was evident.
The minister also said she wanted to respect the dignity of transgender people whilst maintaining “proper checks and balances”, and that she wanted to protect young people from making irreversible healthcare decisions.
Truss was not talking about the reality of GRA reform (only the second of her intentions had anything to do with the GRA). She was speaking to the talking points in the media which had jumbled up GRA reform with the Tavistock and the fiction that gender recognition and birth certificates have anything to do with single-sex spaces. The media’s transphobia-led logic had clearly influenced government policy.
Truss does not hide that she is sympathetic to those with anti-trans views. In 2019 her department paid Equaliteach (an equality training organisation) to conduct a program designed to trial anti-LGBT+ bullying policies in schools. A year later they released a document about their program and Maya Forstater tweeted her displeasure at it. Liz Truss immediately replied to Forstater and had the Government Equalities Office logo removed from the document that her department had paid for, stating it had not been approved.
This document was not approved by government. It does not reflect government policy. The GEO logo should not be on it and I have asked for it to be removed.
— Liz Truss (@trussliz) May 1, 2020
A reminder: Liz Truss is the UK’s equalities minister.
Maya Forstater came to trans people’s attention when her employer chose not to renew her contract as her views on transgender people created a toxic work environment. Forstater took her former employers to an employment tribunal claiming that her views were being discriminated against. When she lost her case, her choice to misgender people due to what physical sex she believes they have was deemed “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”.
In June, what were alleged to be Truss’ plan were leaked to the Times. They were everything the trans community had feared, and equated to a UK bathroom bill in the form of new national guidelines on lavatory provisions and safe guards to “protect” single-sex spaces. Thankfully, they never came to pass.
In September, the results from the 2018 GRA consultation were finally released and in spite of the fact that the response was overwhelmingly in favour of self-ID and transgender equality across the board, Truss ignored it. She announced that GRA reform would consist of a reduction in cost to apply for a GRC and the ability to apply online.
The transphobia-filled media narrative, it appeared, had successfully overruled the will of the British people.
High Court ruling
In December 2020, the judgement from the Evans/Conrathe/Bell vs Tavistock judicial review came down. As a result, transgender young people would now have to petition the courts to have any hope of receiving puberty blockers. Those already receiving them would have to petition the courts to stay on them. In January 2020, the biggest study of its kind showed that puberty blockers save lives.
On the Friday before Christmas of 2020, Liz Truss announced that she would be changing the focus of the Government Equalities Office away from “fashionable” injustices such as racism and homophobia towards regional income equality. While doing so she accused “the left” of failing to protect single-sex spaces, putting this on a par with failing to fight antisemitism and failing to stop paedophile grooming gangs in Rotherham.
If you want to know the reason why the UK is as transphobic as it is, the answer is clear. Cisgender politicians five years ago used trans people to appear progressive before bolting the second trans issues became a liability to them. Cisgender journalists used trans issues to create a new moral panic to gain eyes on their adverts. Cisgender anti-trans radicals were boosted to assist in the spectacle. The media was doing the same thing they did in the ’80s and ’90s against gay people, muslims in the ’00s and immigrants since forever. And just like previous moral panics it influenced government policy and gave power to hate groups and bigots who successfully used this to potentially risk the lives of thousands of transgender young people in the UK. So where has this left transgender people in the UK?
Since 2015 reports of transphobic hate crimes have quadrupled. According to Galop one in four trans people have been threatened with or experienced transphobic violence. One in three UK employers will not employ a trans person. Almost half of trans people have a suicide attempt in their past. And trans children have to go to court to get medication.
The UK media had another success. It was transgender people’s turn to pay for it.
Michelle Snow is the co-founder of the transgender news podcast What The Trans!?
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