Fix the Equality Act to restore sanity to the trans debate

A Private Members’ bill that offers MPs a chance to discuss changing the law to clarify the meaning of “sex” in the Equality Act 2010 is being debated in the House of Commons today (Friday, 15th March).

A Private Members’ bill that offers MPs a chance to discuss changing the law to clarify the meaning of “sex” in the Equality Act 2010 is being debated in the House of Commons today (Friday, 15th March).

The Equality Act has for some time been causing problems in areas of everyday life including (but certainly not limited to) feminist student societies, women’s sport and single-sex spaces like domestic violence refuges and rape crisis centres. That’s because it gives protection to both women and people undergoing ‘gender reassignment’ in ways which are seen by some campaigners as coming into conflict. For example, the legislation uses the words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ interchangeably, even though campaigners now argue they have different meanings.

The Health & Equality Acts (Amendment) Bill put forward by Liz Truss MP will ensure that the word “sex” aligns with biological sex so that it protects the right of women and girls to have access to single-sex facilities and spaces, as well as female-only sporting activities and competitions.

Writing for the Telegraph, former Home Secretary Suella Braverman points out that confusion over the meaning of the word “sex” in this piece of legislation has been a significant factor in driving the growth of cancel culture in the UK. Here’s an extract:

What is a woman? This has apparently become one of the most complex questions of our time. 

The sad truth is that the debate on transgender rights has become so shrill that reasonable people are terrified of speaking out. For describing the basic facts of life has become a heroic and risky endeavour. To utter such seemingly maddening truths as “a woman cannot be a man” or “boys and girls are different” will invariably lead to accusations of transphobia, far-Right extremism, bigotry or worse.

Too many of us tiptoe around this debate and walk on by. But the tide is turning in the UK.  And that has been because of brave women who stood up for common sense. It’s the reason why the gender ideology movement has gained less traction in the UK, compared to the US or Canada. It’s why the Government has agreed to ban the use of puberty blockers for children on the NHS.

The figurehead of this advocacy for women has been J K Rowling. To judge by the brickbats and abuse that she has received, you’d be forgiven for thinking she’d committed crimes worthy of lengthy spells behind bars. But she has transcended politics to be a symbol of truth in a world of deception and doublespeak. It is thanks to people like J K Rowling that more of us have found the courage to speak out for women, for safety and for sanity.

The reason why there is so much confusion on everything, from which pronoun to use to how to support gender-questioning children in schools, is that the law is unclear. And that is why no amount of guidance, whether on non-crime hate incidents or for schools, will fix the problem. That’s why we need to clarify the Equality Act to ensure that sex means biological sex, as proposed by my colleague Liz Truss.

The root problem is that the meaning of “sex” in the Equality Act is currently contested, especially when read with the Gender Recognition Act. Where someone has changed their sex in the eyes of the law by acquiring a Gender Recognition Certificate, which does not necessarily require surgical alteration, they do not suddenly become entitled to all the rights that come with their acquired sex. 

But the Equality Act protects both gender reassignment, broadly interpreted, and sex. That’s why when it comes to using single sex spaces, access to sports and the protection of children in schools, there is a level of confusion about where the line is drawn and where a trans woman is, for all intents and purposes, still to be treated as a biological man.

Worth reading in full.