The government has published its long-awaited Discrimination Law Review, and is asking the public for their views on a proposed new Equality Act.
The purpose of the new legislation is to simplify the current piecemeal discrimination laws and to strengthen the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights, which comes into being this autumn.
The rights of disabled people, older people and women are mentioned in the consultation document, but some politicians have complained that transgender people are not getting enough protection.
“It is a sad fact that the Government remains totally oblivious to the needs of most trans people in the UK,” said Lorely Burt MP, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on equality.
“Whilst the Government acknowledges people who have had, or seek, gender reassignment surgery need protection, it does not seem to think other trans people, like transvestites and cross dressers, face any discrimination at all.
“Over the past year I have personally tabled two written parliamentary questions on this matter as well as personally writing to Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, yet nothing has been done.”
People who have undergone or are seeking gender reassignment surgery are protected by the Sex Discrimination Act.
The government proposes extending protection against discrimination when accessing goods and services to the same group of trans people.
Those who do not want surgery will not be covered.
Churches will be allowed to reject trans people from certain jobs for doctrinal reasons and sporting organisations will also be allowed to reject trans people from competitions.
Other proposals will give women the right to “discreetly” breastfeed their children in public, with fines of up to £2,500 for businesses or organisations who tell them to stop.
Institutions such as golf clubs will be barred from giving women an inferior version of membership, but sports clubs and other recreational groups that are just male or female will remain.
Local authorities will be legally required to give equal treatment to all religious groups, and police forces will be allowed to fast-track the careers of ethnic minority officers.
It will become illegal to discriminate against older people, for example by refusing a store or credit card to someone over 65 on the basis of their age.
However, holiday companies like Club 18 – 30 and Saga, which caters for the over 50s, will be exempt from the new laws.
Landlords will be compelled to make communal areas in rented accommodation accessible for disabled tenants, though the tenants and not the landlord will pay for alterations.
Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the CEHR, said the new law would help untangle the “impenetrable thicket” of disrimination laws currently in place.
“This should be an opportunity to do something more ambitious than simply ensuring that women get a place at the bar in the local golf club,” he said.
Gay equality organisation Stonewall said the proposals would cement the rights of LGB people.
Alan Wardle, Stonewall’s director of parliamentary affairs, told PinkNews.co.uk:
“We broadly welcome the review. It builds on all the many legal changes in the last 10 years for gay people.
“We will be pushing to ensure the commitment that all public authorities have to promote equality will apply to gay people as well, such as health services for gay people. Schools will have to acknowledge gay pupils and gay parents.
“There is a lot of detail we need to look through, but this consultation is another step on the road.”
The consultation period for the new Equality Act runs until 4th September 2007. To view the consultation documents click here.