The Northern Ireland government intends to make it illegal to discriminate against transsexual people trying to access goods and services, according to a consultation document.
At present it is not against the law to refuse to serve a transsexual person in a pub or restaurant, or refuse to rent property based on the tenant’s gender identity.
While the 2006 Equality Act protects people from discrimination on the grounds of gender, and a directive means public bodies have to actively promote gender equality, including that of transsexual people, this is limited to jobs and training.
The Act also allowed the government to introduce legislation banning discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual people trying to access goods and services – the Sexual Orientation Regulations.
But there is no provision specifically protecting transsexual people from similar discrimination.
“Our view is that the law is fundamentally flawed in that it is still legal to discriminate against transsexual people,” Rebecca Dittman, Chair of the Gender Trust, told PinkNews.co.uk
The Trust helps people with gender identity issues.
“We believe that this is an important area of legislation that needs bringing into the 21st century. The law offers protection to many other minority communities.
“The Gender Recognition Act was a 32-year battle, we’re hoping this wont be another 32-year battle to safeguard our legal place in society.
“We are a small community in a population of 60 million, and we can’t effect social change by ourselves. The government is the strongest ally we could have.”
The Northern Ireland consultation paper also proposes outlawing discriminatory maternity leave policies and insurance provisions.
The Office of the First Minister plans to legislate against:
“Discrimination against transsexual people in the provision of goods, facilities or services and premises… as it already is in the fields of employment and vocational training.”
This would exclude some single-sex services, such as voluntary organisations, but include competitive sports in most circumstances.
The consultation ends in September.
Legislation must be in place in the UK by December this year to comply with an EU Directive.
The British government is currently considering similar plans under the Equalities Review, which will look at the long-term causes of all inequality, and review equality legislation over the past 30 years.
But Dittman says even this may not be enough to guarantee full protections.
“It has become clear that the government is only going to go so far.
“The way they interpret the EU directive remains to be seen, it could well end up back in the courts, there could be a legal challenge.
“This is the history of trans change, we battle away in the courts. It was the same with the Gender Recognition Act, the government had to concede because of two cases in the European Court of Human Rights.”