The EHRC is utterly broken

February is LGBT History Month – a month where we take the time to reflect on our history and honour those who fought for our rights.

Last week the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) issued a letter to the Scottish Government asking them to pause consideration of reforming the Gender Recognition Act. Apparently two consultations over 5 years was not enough. Not content with that, on the same day they wrote to the UK Government proposing that the new proposals for banning conversion practices should NOT cover trans people. The Equality and Human Rights Commission there, proposing inequality.

Yesterday, VICE magazine revealed that the EHRC is actively considering guidance for single-sex spaces which would bar all but a very few trans people from the spaces appropriate for them. The Equality and Human Rights Commission there, actively considering removing human rights and promoting inequality.

It’s for this reason that TransActual (which I chair) said this afternoon that the EHRC is “no longer fit to be called an equalities organisation. Trans and non-binary people will rightly now consider the organisation to be a hate group.”

For the avoidance of doubt, a good legal phrase there, any such guidance would plainly be unlawful, as it runs completely against the actual wording of the Equality Act, let alone breaching all sorts of basic human rights such as privacy. As such it would be challenged in the courts, as Good Law Project has indicated. But let this run for a moment.

The EHRC is utterly broken. Lest you think this is just about trans rights – it isn’t. In September, the EHRC agreed with the Government that there was no evidence of systemic racism in Britain, causing a huge outcry from race equality groups. Individual Commissioners have history in supporting the “hostile environment” against immigrants, supporting “white self-interest”, and that wariness about Muslims is justified. The Commission has made statements overtly supporting the Government’s political agenda, so it’s not even independent.

Let’s unpick what’s wrong with the guidance they are considering.

The first question is how would such a policy be policed? There are tens of thousands of publicly owned toilets across the UK, and an equally large number of toilets where the public has access to, in shops for example. Is it seriously being suggested that each one of those is policed at all times?

Or maybe they are thinking about electronically controlled access to these places? In which case every single person would need to acquire some kind of toilet access card. Consider the cost of installing such a system, and the requirement to have either personal information on the card or the system connecting back to a central database.

Or, given that the outcry seems to centre around women’s toilets and changing rooms (we’ve not even thought about the number of changing rooms), maybe this should only apply to women and girls? Given our party’s justified opposition to voter ID, are we really going to support gendered toilet ID, which only women and girls would presumably have to pay for?

The second question is where are trans people supposed to go? If you force trans women into the gents, then equalities law strongly suggests you’d need to force trans men into the ladies. This would effectively place all trans people into some kind of house arrest, as it would be unsafe for us in public toilets.

But then what’s to stop predatory men claiming they are trans men just to get access? After all, that’s one of the main (flawed and incorrect) arguments used against trans women, that we facilitate predatory men. In this scenario, such men wouldn’t even need to dress up or gain gender recognition. It makes it worse – much worse.

Another proposal is that trans men and trans women have a set of “trans only” toilet facilities. Apart from the fact that the predatory man could also gain access to those spaces by saying they’re trans, making it unsafe for trans women, personally I’m not keen on sharing toilet space with men. And can you consider the cost of implementing this, let alone policing it alongside the other toilet facilities?

The impact on trans people would be immense. In order to gain gender recognition, or even genital surgery, you have to currently convince people that you’ve lived full-time in your gender role. How can you do that if you’re barred from the single-sex spaces assigned to that gender role? It would make it pretty much impossible to gain either gender recognition or genital surgery.

And that’s the point. This whole so-called debate is fundamentally about eliminating trans people from society. It’s never been about women’s safety. The implementation of such a law in North Carolina in 2016 showed that many more women were assaulted as a result – it was repealed within a year. It’s never even been about reasonable debate, as the “other side” don’t believe that trans people should be allowed to define ourselves, or even exist.

When future generations commemorate LGBT History Month, how will they remember 2022? As the year when civil society finally came alongside trans people and said enough is enough, or as the year when the elimination of trans people started?

* Helen is a Wiltshire Councillor, and fought Chippenham in both 2017 and 2019. She is also currently the chair of the trans advocacy organisation TransActual.

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  • Rachel Walters 11th Feb '22 - 3:48pm

    Thank you Helen , I agree with everything you have said.
    It’s time to just allow us to live as we have been since forever , Trans folk exist and if we are only 1% of the population in the UK , that makes 500,000 or more.
    All we need is to be able to live our lives , just like anyone else.

  • Brad Barrows 11th Feb '22 - 4:37pm

    My only direct experience with the trans community is my knowledge of a dozen cases of secondary school pupils who decided to make public their belief that they were a different gender than that identified at birth. All but two of the dozen were girls wishing to be recognised as male or non-gendered, with the majority having major other issues in their lives, mainly autism, eating disorders and struggles over their sexuality (a few with all 3). One girl lived as a boy for 7 months before deciding they were a girl and reverting to her previous name. I fully support helping trans people get the support and, eventually, medical treatment they require – I just think we should not make the mistake of assuming that every child who decides they are a different gender is 100% correct in that position…it should not be regarded as conversion therapy to allow caring adults to help such children explore their feelings more fully, especially before embarking on puberty blockers, even if that results in some of them changing their views.

  • I am beginning to wonder if there is anything left that is not “broken”.

  • @Brad somebody being autistic, struggling with their sexuality or A MH issue/eating disorder doesn’t mean they can’t also be trans. Young people of all genders should be free to explore their gender identity and sexuality – that is what being young is for, finding out who you are. Yes not every young person who tries out presenting as a different gender will end up making that change permanent but for them, at that time, that is their truth and should be respected (and if they do decide it’s not for them that should also be respected without any patronising comments about it being a phase or anything like that- changing your mind on something personal like that does not necessarily mean you were wrong just that you needed the opportunity to find the truth).

    Indeed one of the most common reasons for someone detransitioning is lack of support from friends and family. Some of these people may end up retransitioning once they are in a better environment.

    At 16 I came out as Bi. The biphobia I experienced from other LG people ended up with me spending a year saying I was Lesbian because it stopped it happening (then at 18 I came out as trans as well). But I was *NEVER* a lesbian. I was bi and hiding half of myself for an easier life.

  • Dahnya Hollier-Day 12th Feb '22 - 7:08am

    Full disclosure: I am trans

    I am terrified by the fact that they want to force me into toilets with men until I get some document which seems impossible to get.

    Worse, the attacks they all seem to worry about, I already deal with when I’m simply out in public, and from the men, so you want to force me to use those bathrooms, behind closed doors where the risk magnifies? What risks am I to women, exactly, at worse I’m demisexual, and I only get excited by someone if I have a connection with them, I go in, do my business, leave, i barely acknowledge people in there, for fear they’ll kick up a fuss, think I’m going to risk asking one out, assault them, rape them? Please, I’m already afraid thats going to happen to me, let alone going from there to being the perpetrator. The EHRC is run by a literal phobe, she threw a wobbler over gender neutral changing rooms in John Lewis, hello, noone needs to use them, if they’re afraid, but no, their existence was the problem. So which side of this argument is the problem, the equalities board that thinks gender neutral spaces are an issue so trans people need eliminating, or us, trans people, who simply want to live our lives without the constant fight on even basic needs.

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