‘Trans women are women, that is the starting point’: Equalities minister Penny Mordaunt on gender recognition consultation
Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt speaks to PinkNews as the government publishes a landmark survey of the LGBT community – and launches an action plan on LGBT rights.
Mordaunt’s Action Plan reaffirms that the government will push ahead with plans for a consultation on reform to the Gender Recognition Act, despite strong opposition on the issue from media commentators and some self-identified radical feminist groups.
The plan also vows to outlaw gay ‘cure’ therapy, reform healthcare provisions for LGBT people, and strengthen the approach to hate crimes and homophobic bullying in schools.
It comes at the same time that the government publishes results from an LGBT survey, which raised worrying questions about the wellbeing of the LGBT population.
PinkNews spoke to Mordaunt on a visit to LGBT charity London Friend.
Q. You’ve published the results of the National LGBT Survey today – what were the results that were found?
A. There were some very extreme findings. Very large numbers of people have been offered or had conversion therapy, and been through an appalling time.
Some results were just, quite frankly, heartbreaking – the fact that two thirds of respondents felt that they couldn’t hold their partner’s hand in a public place, I found really distressing. It’s a sign that though we’ve come a long way, there’s so much more to do so that LGBT people can really thrive in the UK today.
Q. The survey also found that LGBT people have significantly less life happiness than the general public – what can the government do overall to address those issues?
A. This is why the survey is so critical. I think we have to look at why people are feeling that way. It’s about every aspect of their life – they’re not able to access services, and their experience of those services when they’ve accessed them has been poor.
It’s about how they feel, how safe they feel when they’re out in a public place.
We’re really looking to address those issues and ensure that [hate crime] offences are taken seriously by the police and by the legal process. There are many things that we need to do – there are 75 separate actions in the Action Plan, and every part of government is working to deliver them.
Q. Seven percent of LGBT people say they’ve had or been offered gay ‘cure’ therapy. What is the government doing to challenge that?
A. We want to ban [gay cure therapy], and what we are doing is going to be consulting on the best ways of doing that. That will include legislative and non-legislative means.
What people need to understand is this is not about banning appropriate counselling for people who might be seeking support to explore their sexuality or gender identity… this is about harmful processes. In the most extreme form, corrective rape, and those must be banned. We are looking at the best ways of doing that.
Q. Conversion therapy is often tied to faith groups, which has been an obstacle to banning it in the past. Will the ban apply to faith groups, and does it raise issues of religious freedom?
A. We don’t want to hamper religious freedom, but that is very different from processes and practises that intimidate people, that make people feel bad about who they are, who either coerce or force them to go through a particular so-called treatment.
That is entirely separate from someone’s religious freedoms and so we will not have any qualms about tackling those appalling practises wherever they arise.
Q. There has been a spate of recent hate crime incidents. What is the government doing to address hate crime?
A. We’re going to be working with the Ministry of Justice and the police to really ensure that for starters people are properly protected, and that officers receive good training and advice.
But also, where we’ve got hate crime happening, [making sure] that people have the confidence to report it because they know it will be treated seriously and they know they will be taken care of as a victim of crime.
There are many things in the action plan which will help address this, but that’s the culture change we’re really looking for in law enforcement.
Q. What can we expect from the upcoming consultation on the Gender Recognition Act?
A. The current process doesn’t work for people. It’s overly bureaucratic and it’s highly medicalized with people making decisions about you who have never met you.
There’s also huge inconsistencies throughout the process – you have one identification document in one sex and another in another.
It doesn’t work, it needs to be radically improved, and that’s why we’re going to consult on that. Really the outcome we’re looking for is that people are supported through that process… it is a challenging enough thing to go through without the state and its bureaucracy adding to people’s stresses.
We will reform that.
Q. There’s been a substantial amount of controversy, in terms of the backlash from some feminist groups. What does the government make of some of the concerns that have been raised?
A. We’re listening to everyone. The starting point for this is that trans people need to be supported and we need to ensure the processes that are there when they’re going through a transition are there to support them and not add to their stresses.
Trans women are women, that is the starting point for this consultation.
Of course we listen to all groups, and women’s groups in particular.
What we need is a very pragmatic approach to this where everyone is respected, where there is empathy for everyone’s position.
We will get the best results from this consultation if it is done in that environment with people being sensible, people looking at the facts and not making things up, and ensuring people are respected.
Q. Last month the Welsh government committed to LGBT-inclusive Relationship and Sexuality Education in all schools in Wales. Is there a similar commitment here in England?
A. A large part of the Action Plan does relate to schools, and really trying to ensure we’ve got good education there, but also measures to combat bullying and homophobic practises that might be going on.
So, yes – education is a major part of the Action Plan.
Q. The survey found that 80 percent of transgender people faced issues accessing healthcare. People have raised issues with capacity of the Gender Identity Clinics – are there going to be more resources available to expand healthcare services for trans people?
A. Healthcare is probably one of the main areas that really needs to be addressed in the action plan.
The starting point is to appoint a national lead on this, who will ensure NHS services and the services they are referring into are really fit for purpose and are tailored to meet the specific needs of LGBT people.
What we need to do is ensure that is mainstreamed into every public service out there.
The GEO will also be providing some additional resource to ensure the action plan is being kept on track.
Q. Is the government committed to finding a solution to bring equal marriage to people in Northern Ireland?
A. Yes, we think that is the right thing to do. There are particular issues about trying to get the process to happen in Northern Ireland.
There is also a private members’ bill that the House of Commons have available to them should they wish to pursue that.
We are working very hard on a whole raft of issues in the equalities agenda to ensure that people in Northern Ireland are able to enjoy the same rights and access, whether it be services or the opportunities that the rest of the UK enjoys.
Q. At the PinkNews Belfast reception last week, all Northern Irish leaders spoke about the importance of LGBT rights, and the DUP’s Arlene Foster spoke on this for the first time. Is it encouraging to see them engaging on those issues?
A. I think it is encouraging. What people in Northern Ireland want are their elected representatives to represent them, whatever the issue is.
My colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office are working very hard to ensure that happens in short order, and I would add my voice to theirs in encouraging those parties to come forward.
The Commons is also very exorcised about some of the inequalities that Northern Ireland has, and just because we have a vacuum [of power in Northern Ireland], doesn’t mean that Westminster is not concerned about the fact that in Northern Ireland, people can’t enjoy freedoms that are enjoyed elsewhere in the UK.