Current Affairs

Employers challenged over trans policies

Amy Bourke April 4, 2007
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A leading gender charity has criticised employers for rarely giving much thought to how difficult a gender transition can be for their employees.

Not long before the Gender Equality duty (GED) comes into force, the Gender Trust has said that employers are often surprised what a turbulent process changing gender can be.

The GED will place a duty on public authorities to eliminate unlawful discrimination and harassment of transsexual people in employment and vocational training.

Public authorities must also apply this obligation to the provision of goods, facilities and services, and in the disposal and management of premises from December, when the Goods and Services Directive is implemented.

Transgender people identify their gender to be different from the physical sex at birth, while the term transsexual is usually used to describe a person who intends to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone gender reassignment.

A spokesman for the Trust told The Guardian : “When people are told how difficult it can be for people to be told they can’t go into a certain toilet or that trans issues are not to do with sexual orientation but people feeling they are genuinely a different gender, they start to be more understanding.”

Part of the recent Equalities Review reported on transgender and transsexual people’s experiences of discrimination.

The review found that two out of three respondents who had left jobs after gender transition did so because their employer forced them, or because they felt they had no choice.

A contributor to the Equalities Review, Stephen Whittle, said: “Our research found that the area of employment was the most problematic for trans people.”

Sue, a transsexual women told The Guardian : “I finally threw the towel in at work in the civil service because of almost five years of harassment and discrimination.

“For months I was unable to use male or female toilets because no one liked it, and warned off wearing ‘frocks’ to work.”

Such stories are not rare, by any means.

And the review suggests that harassment does not stop with colleagues: 18% of respondents experienced it from suppliers, customers or clients.

Outside work, the estimated 5,000 trans people in the UK face similar levels of prejudice.

An example given to the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) helpline was a transgender person who was refused service and followed out of a DIY shop by a sales assistant shouting abuse.

Meanwhile, many trans people say they have been denied access to changing rooms in gyms and health clubs, as well as toilets in pubs.

Several found that when they requested help from the police, they were arrested themselves.

Existing legislation such as the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Gender Recognition Act 2004 already offer some protection for trans people in the workplace.

But the GED is a vital improvement in circumstances, because it requires public authorities to actively prevent inequality and discrimination for the first time.

Public authorities have been advised to consider implementing a policy specifically relating to the equality of transsexual job applicants and employees.

They also have been told to target trans advocacy groups to ensure these policies are workable and assess the impact of these policies.

“The problem is we’re talking about a small group, so many managers, for example, will never have had to deal with someone transitioning before,” says Amanda Ariss, head of policy and research at the EOC.

“The GED will mean they have the support they need, in turn, to support the trans person.”

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