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Cambridge council under fire for transgender policy reversal

Nick Duffy September 26, 2018
A transgender flag flies in the background during a Pride march (SAMUEL KUBANI/AFP/Getty Images)

Paisley tricked her parents into making her room more rainbow-coloured (SAMUEL KUBANI/AFP/Getty)

Cambridge City Council has been accused of scaling back anti-discrimination provisions for transgender people.

The Labour-run council announced on Monday planned changes to the council’s existing equality policies, which have been in place in 2010.

The draft document strips the Comprehensive Equality and Diversity Policy of a specific pledge that stated: “Transgender people will not be excluded from gender-appropriate single sex/sex segregated facilities operated by the council.”

Cambridge City Council building (Creative Commons/Rept0n1x)

The changes come after a raucous dispute on transgender issues that has rocked the Labour Party both nationally and locally.

Cambridge Labour councillor Ann Sinnott resigned earlier this year to protest the existing policy, accusing the council of being in “dereliction of the law” and claiming it has “insidiously dismantled” women’s rights by including the non-discrimination clause.

The revised policy provides the minimum protections required by the 2010 Equality Act, a UK law that banned discrimination against transgender people but included a narrow legal exemption for women-only services.

The proposed new Cambridge council policy states: “We will recognise and treat people with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment according to the gender in which they present unless it is necessary, in exceptional circumstances, to use the single sex emption as a proportionate means to achieve a legitimate aim in line with the Equality Act 2010.”

In a statement, the council insisted the changes were required to “ensure the wording matches that used in the Equality Act 2010.”

It said: “The council sought independent legal advice on proposed wording changes, due to the complexity of the law in this area. These changes do not alter the levels or type of services offered for transsexual people, but instead seek to ensure legal compliance.”

However former Lib Dem councillor Sarah Brown, who was responsible for introducing the previous policy, accused the council of scaling back to the legal minimum required to protect transgender people.

Former Lib Dem councillor Sarah Brown, a transgender rights campaigner (Supplied)

Speaking to PinkNews, the trans activist said: “If this was just a wording change, it wouldn’t matter. However, the council is changing a policy of full trans inclusion to the bare minimum they can get away with under the Equality Act.

“They say this is to comply with the law, but the law is a minimum standard, not a guide book.

“It’s like deciding to only pay your staff minimum wage because the law doesn’t require you to pay any more. It’s clearly absurd.”

Lib Dem Cllr Zoe O’Connell told the Cambridge News the changes were a “step backwards.”

O’Connell said: “Liberal Democrats gave trans people eight years of some of the most progressive policies in the country, marked by harmony and acceptance. Now Labour says it wants the right to discriminate. This is a step backwards.

“Instead of asking how they can best protect trans people, they are asking how they can best play it safe in the face of rampant transphobia which is making the lives of trans people a misery up and down the country.”

The council defended the changes.

Councillor Anna Smith said: “Cambridge City Council is fully committed to equality. The update to the Single Equalities Scheme lists the many brilliant projects we are working on across the council to ensure equality and access for all those experiencing discrimination.

“When it was pointed out that the wording of our Comprehensive Equalities and Diversity Policy was not entirely consistent with the Equality Act, we immediately sought legal advice and have, as a result, made amendments to the policy. These amendments reflect specialist legal advice to ensure that the wording of the policy is consistent with the 2010 Equality Act.

“The council is committed to ensuring Cambridge continues to be a safe and welcoming place for all members of our community, and ensuring everyone has equal access to council services.”

More: Cambridge, England, LGBT, policy, Trans, Transgender

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