In 1996 the European Court of Justice issued an important judgement which compelled the United Kingdom to update the Sex Discrimination Act so as to outlaw rampant employment and education discrimination towards people who intend to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone Gender Reassignment.
The Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations were eventually enacted in April 1999. Even so, research conducted for Trevor Phillips' Equalities Review and published in February 2007 showed that, among 872 trans people questioned, 42% said they had lived in fear of workplace discrimination when they needed to transition. (Engendered Penalties: Transgender and Transsexual People's Experiences of Inequality and Discrimination; Whittle, Turner and Al-Alami; Equalities Review; Feb 2007).
Ten years after the law was introduced, transsexual people continue to describe instances of discrimination. Meanwhile transgender people are not even protected, because they don't fulfil the law's criterion that changes in one's gender presentation must be under medical supervision in order to count.
That same year (1999), the Court of Appeal upheld an earlier High Court judgement against North West Lancashire Health Authority and in favour of three transsexual women who had been denied NHS treatment for their condition. The Court ruled that gender reassignment treatment was the proper clinical response to the condition described as 'gender dysphoria' and that it was unlawful for any NHS organisation to operate any system of control which amounted to a blanket ban.
Ten years after that judgement and in spite of countless guidance publications from the Department of Health, several Primary Care Trusts and whole regions of the country persist in operating policies which do amount, in effect, to blanket bans. Their rules, when obtained under Freedom of Information procedures, read like a travesty of the founding principles of the National Health Service.
In 2002 the Royal College of Psychiatrists, in conjunction with the Royal Society of Medicine, set out to draft the first set of guidelines for the care of trans people by clinicians in the UK. A draft was published widely for consultation in November 2006 and attracted dozens of critical comments. The clinicians on the committee drafting the guidelines could not reach agreement with stakeholders, who pointed out that many of the proposed provisions were in fact discriminatory and unlawful on a succession of grounds. The guidelines were sent to a Barrister by the Royal Colleges, where they remain to this day. Seven years after setting out to produce guidelines, there are still none.
I could continue, but you get the gist. In spite of a succession of legal judgements upholding the rights of trans people in the UK (including a unanimous decision by the European Court of Human Rights in July 2002) they remain subjected to constant oppression and abuse of the same basic rights expected by everyone else.
And so that brings us to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The EHRC came into existence in October 2007. It replaced three previously separate commissions dealing with the discrimination of people on grounds of their Race, Gender or Disabilities. The remit of the new commission requires them to tackle issues related to gender; gender identity; race or ethnic background; disability; sexual orientation; age, religion or belief. If you add those up then it comes to seven so-called "strands".
Even before they opened their doors, trans activists were worried about whether EHRC seriously recognised trans issues as something specifc. One moment the commission's chair, Trevor Phillips, asserted publicly that trans people were specifically there on the list, as a seventh category. The next moment different members of his staff would try to slip trans people into one of the other categories – gender or sexual orientation – where the distinct issues of trans life would immediately be forgotten.
And that's the way it has remained – vague and equivocal.
If you visit the EHRC's web site then the invisibility of trans people is quickly evident. "Transgender" is mentioned as a standard throwaway line in the standard "Notes to Editors" that go on the bottom of every commission press release. Yet it is impossible to find any commission press release which specifically addresses any of the battles which trans people still face in the most basic aspects of life – protection from discrimination; access to healthcare; freedom from human rights abuses.
The inactivity is carefully concealed though. A visitor to the commission's web site probably won't notice that there are conveniently generated news feeds for every other category of discrimination but none for transgender people. That's because the commission would have nothing to place on that feed and it would be ... well ... embarrassingly obvious.
A few weeks ago I wrote and pointed this issue out to an EHRC middle manager whom I deal with. The result? Absolute silence. This week I therefore decided to take action.
I am now actively pursuing a complaint about EHRC's inaction and cover up. And these are the issues which I have demanded they address. Addressing Trevor Phillips and his team of managers I have demanded:
- set yourself the goals that trans people in Britain should no longer suffer a postcode lottery for funding of the most basic health care provision and
- commission the most basic of all research – to find out, with a degree of certainty, (a) how many transsexual, transgender and other gender variant people live in the UK; (b) how many require care relating to their gender issues (not just those who present seeking surgery); and (c) how many are not getting that care or suffer unreasonable waiting times or denial of service choice
- quiz the Royal Colleges on why they have dragged their feet for seven years and have still not published basic standards of care for the UK (they're afraid their discriminatory protocols are unlawful)
- demand to know why there is no published, peer reviewed research on the outcomes of trans care in the UK (and why less than 0.098% of articles recently searched in the Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE and PsychINFO relate to UK research on LGB&T health as a whole.)
- Proactively audit EIA's on PCT commissioning policies at random and use judicial review to overturn cynical discriminatory practice predicated on the above lack of data – a locked in form of institutional discrimination if ever there was a case
- Take up the case of the UK's backward practice on prescription of hormone blocking treatment of teenage trans people as the travesty of ethics and the Human Rights abuse that it represents
- Ensure that all police forces are monitoring transphobic hate crime.
- Put transphobic bullying in schools into the educational vocabulary
- Actively investigate the reasons why trans people are living on benefits and why those in work are known to be paid several grades below their capability.
- Criticise media organisations when their editors still persist in allowing transphobic language to air (especially from comics of dubious talent).
- Investigate and report on why the trans community's tiny support and advocacy organisations are close to collapse – their leaders physically and spiritually exhausted after nearly 20 years of voluntary work
In concluding this call I also said,
"I would like to see some action. In particular I would like to see a national lead on the issues I've listed below, by someone whose annual job appraisal and public assessment depends on making concrete progress on issues that are simply allowed to drag on, unaddressed."
"The time for patting trans people on the head and throwing occasional scraps is gone. And I'm tired of seeing former colleagues beating themselves ragged doing work that the Commission itself should be doing. We're all now too old for that, and we've all been exploited for too long."
"The Equality and Human Rights Commission is now being directly measured on what it achieves – this week, this month, this year"
Tonight I received an assurance from a regional manager that she would be looking into these issues.
Let's hope she does more than look; for trans people in Britain have been looking at those issues for far longer than necessary already. And the body they should have been able to expect to champion their plight has brushed them under the carpet.
Update: See the reply from EHRC Chief Executive Nicola Brewer