Ruth Hunt is the Chief Executive of Stonewall. In 2015, Ruth was voted the third most influential LGBT person in Britain in the Independent’s Rainbow List.
After years of being simultaneously ignored and sensationalised, discussions about trans people and their issues have become mainstream. But the debate has sadly turned into a vicious fight about who should and shouldn’t have access to equality between supporters of trans and women’s rights – two groups that should have common cause.
In 2004, the Gender Recognition Act confirmed that transgender people exist, and their gender should be recognised in law. It’s a clunky process that relies on trans people demonstrating they have a mental illness. We moved on from labelling homosexuality as a mental illness back in 1992. Surely it’s long overdue for those who are transgender? As the prime minister reaffirmed last week at the Pink News awards: “Being trans is not an illness and should not be treated as such.”
Trans people and people who are neither male nor female should be recognised for who they are without abuse or discrimination; they should not have to go through a lengthy, degrading process. It’s notable that societies more conservative than ours – Argentina, Ireland and Malta – have all done it. Why can’t we?
Some believe that if people could self-declare their gender without the bureaucracy and paperwork, men will simply say “I am a woman” in order to access female-only spaces to abuse women. We all should be concerned about male violence, and we should all be concerned about preventing it and responding to it when it happens.
...Domestic violence agencies and the prison service have vast amounts of experience dealing sensitively with people from a range of backgrounds. Domestic violence and rape crisis centres are concerned primarily with supporting the victims of male violence, and they will always find an appropriate service for anybody who arrives at their door, including trans men and women. They have been doing it for years without asking trans people to show their certificate. They know how to balance the complex needs with sensitivity and professionalism, although it’s clear that trans (and LGB) people require more direct services designed for them, such as the specialist LGBT service that sits alongside a women’s aid centre in Birmingham.
Prisons have also been navigating these issues for years. As the Ministry of Justice says in its own guidance, “allowing transgender offenders to experience the system in the gender in which they identify will, in the great majority of cases, represent the most humane and safest way to act. We believe it will also assist successful rehabilitation.”
...Women and trans people both exist in a world where they are prevented from accessing true equality because of their gender. We must not be divided by arguments that undermine the equality we so desperately need and deserve.