Equalities watchdog wants to exclude most trans people from single-sex spaces, leak suggests

Baroness Kishwer Falkner

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been accused of planning to exclude trans people from single-sex spaces without a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) in leaked guidance.

An “unpublished guidance pack dated from the end of 2021” was leaked to Vice World News, the latest in a string of revelations relating to anti-trans sentiment within the EHRC, the UK’s equalities watchdog.

The documents appear to show that the EHRC, which says it works to “promote and uphold equality and human rights ideals and laws across England, Scotland and Wales”, has been working on proposed guidance advising organisations like prisons and gyms, as well as businesses, to bar trans people from single-sex spaces unless they hold a GRC.

Obtaining a GRC is intrusive and difficult. Less than one per cent of trans people in the UK have one, and the system does not recognise non-binary people, meaning that the vast majority of trans and non-binary people would be impacted.

The commissioners of the EHRC are appointed by minister for women and equalities Liz Truss. In 2020 she named Baroness Kishwer Falkner as chair.

Former EHRC staff members told Vice World News that Falkner had said “excluding trans people” from single-sex spaces would “protect women’s rights”.

Falkner was also reported to have been incensed when John Lewis introduced gender-neutral changing rooms last year, with one former employee saying: “Falkner was furious about John Lewis ‘letting down women’.” Another added: “She was being transphobic… The team just wants to exclude trans people more.”

One source currently working at the EHRC said that it didn’t matter if the guidance was actually enforceable, adding: “The leadership team aren’t worried about that, they just want organisations to know that they won’t be sued for being transphobic.”

The charity Mermaids said that such guidance would be unlawful if true “as people don’t need a GRC to be protected by the Equality Act”.

“The idea that someone could be excluded from services without one is a fiction,” it added on Twitter.

“The EHRC has completely lost any sense of credibility and the trust of our community. Its duty is to advance equality, yet it is actively doing the opposite for trans people. An urgent root and branch reform is needed, starting with a new chair that is truly independent.”

Vice reported that The Good Law Project provided another document confirming that EHRC leadership wants trans people’s access to single-sex spaces to be dependent on GRCs.

Jo Maugham, director of The Good Law Project, said he would challenge any such “unlawful guidance”.

Trans Safety Network urged followers to contact their local MP.

The GRC system, governed by the Gender Recognition Act, requires trans people to first get a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, which can take years due to the painfully-long waiting times at NHS gender clinics.

Medical reports must be submitted to a panel, judge whether they meet the criteria for legal recognition. Only a few thousand trans people have been granted Gender Recognition Certificates since they became available in 2004.

After publication, the EHRC provided this statement to PinkNews: “We aim to publish guidance on single sex spaces in due course, in line with our mandate to advise on equality and human rights laws, and in response to longstanding calls from a range of stakeholders and service providers. Any guidance we produce will explain how to comply with the legal provisions approved by Parliament in the Equality Act.

“Much of this report is seriously inaccurate and does not match any document we are aware of. It is completely false to suggest that we are looking to bar trans people from accessing spaces without a Gender Recognition Certificate. The Equality Act provisions on gender reassignment are not predicated on possession, or not, of a Gender Recognition Certificate.”

Baroness Kishwer Falkner was also contacted for comment.