by Eve Lacroix
A report due to be released this month by the Common’s Women and Equalities Committee may prove to be a great step forward in terms of legal rights for the transgender community in the UK. Official existing acts that protect transgender people are the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, in which changing one’s gender became legally recognised, and the 2010 Equality Act which prohibits transphobic discrimination.
These two acts have proven insufficient, and to address current issues, one of the Committee’s tasks is to assess and research improvements that need to be made to achieve greater transgender equality. Conservative MP Maria Miller, who chairs the committee, has stated that “as a society and a government we should be looking at ways of trying to strip back talking about gender… We need to understand that gender stereotyping can be as damaging for men as it can be for women.”
Changing one’s gender on official documents today requires money and time and paperwork. Current legislation requests two certified doctors’ assessments that an individual experiences gender dysphoria, costing £140 each, and proof of living in their preferred gender for 2 years, and passing by the judicial body of the Gender Recognition Panel. The language used in the acts are vague, stating that “a person has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment if the person is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.” The unclear wording makes proving one’s gender a confusing process and may require proof of hormone therapy, counselling, and undergoing expensive surgery.
One potential change that the report should propose is the removal of gender signifiers on passports and driver’s licenses. The lack of an incorrect gender signifier could come as a relief for transfolk whose documents do not match up with their true gender and/or physical appearance. Indeed many people have transitioned or are in the process of transitioning, but are still struggling through the lengthy and costly legal procedures to change their official documents. This movement could also be a positive step forward for genderfluid and genderqueer folk who may not identify as either male or female, or whose identities shift from day to day.
If the proposal is accepted and turned into law, transgender people will be able to change their legal name without the plethora of psychiatric evaluations and strenuous paperwork that slows down the process of transition.
Another significant proposal is the ability for a person to self-define one’s gender as of the age of 18. Following inquiries made by MPs, an expected proposal will permit transgender people to change their names by filling in an application form. This change would follow a system put in place in Ireland in July 2014, and is deemed sound enough to be replicated in the UK. If the proposal is accepted and turned into law, transgender people will be able to change their legal name without the plethora of psychiatric evaluations and strenuous paperwork that slows down the process of transition.
Although the proposals will not eliminate discrimination and transphobia, new laws could significantly impact transgender people’s live for the better. 2015 saw transgender woman Tara Hudson, sent to an all-male prison in Bristol and fearing for her life. With her paperwork still defining her as male, easier legal transition would mean that she would never have been sent to the wrong jail in the first place. Allowing adults to define their own gender not only keeps them safer, but also stops us from belittling transgender and genderqueer folk by disbelieving them. After all, no-one knows your gender better than yourself.