Keir Starmer backs Equality Act review despite trans activists’ warnings

LGBT+ Labour at London Pride

The Labour Party has said it supports the Equality Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) proposed review of the UK’s Equality Act, despite grave concerns from the trans community.

In a letter sent in February by women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch to the EHRC, the UK’s human rights watchdog, the minister asked for advice “clarifying the definition of sex for the effective operation of the Equality Act 2010”. 

The EHRC published its response on Tuesday (4 April) where it laid out that while there is “no straightforward balance” in the matter, defining sex as “biological sex” would “bring great legal clarity”. 

A Labour spokesperson subsequently told The Times that “clarification is a good thing” and the party will “look closely at what’s brought forward”. 

Labour’s response to the matter comes just days after it shared a Transgender Day of Visibility post, where the party outlined its intentions to introduce tougher sentences for LGBTQ+ hate crimes, ban conversion therapy and modernise the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) if voted into power. 

This clarity the EHRC suggests would be seen across eight areas, including ‘freedom of association for lesbians and gay men’, ‘single sex and separate sex services’ and ‘sport’. 

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As well as this, the letter also notes areas which would be “ambiguous or disadvantageous” if the definition of sex was changed. 

This includes, for example, “reversing” the current situation with equal pay provisions where trans men could bring forward complaints in regards to unequal pay, while a trans woman with a gender recognition certificate could not. 

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The letter is currently just advice to the government and does not change the Equality Act. However, the government may choose to implement these amendments and thus change the definition of sex in the legislation. 

‘Trans people no longer seem to be people’

Trans activists have expressed “alarm” at the letter and have been left concerned at the impacts such a change would have on their day-to-day lives. 

Helen Belcher, chair of TransActual, said the letter indicates the EHRC may try to redefine what a ‘woman’ is, whereby trans women are excluded and trans men included. 

“Our challenge to the increasingly misnamed EHRC and [Kemi Badeoch] is: why it is necessary now to try to redefine ‘woman’ to exclude trans women (and include trans men) when there is no evidence of problems actually caused by the understanding that has existed for decades?

“By insinuating in its previous advice that organisations should exclude trans people from single-sex services and spaces, and now proposing that parliament actively considers effectively removing trans people from sex-based protections under the Equality Act, the EHRC continues demonstrating its inability to fight for human rights for everybody,” Belcher said. 

Adding: “Trans people no longer seem to be people in their eyes. Our pains and struggles are seemingly irrelevant.”

Cleo Madeleine, communications officer for Gendered Intelligence, described the response as “gutting” but noted that it is currently just advice and no changes have been made. 

“The key thing to take away from it now is that our rights and protections are the same as they were yesterday,” she said. 

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“This doesn’t change any of that, and I think it’s really important to bear that in mind because a lot of the damage that’s done by this non-statutory guidance is in terms of the impact on the community, the fear that it causes, the misunderstanding and misinformation that it causes.”

A government spokesperson told PinkNews it will “consider” the advice set out by the EHRC in the “usual” manner.

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