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These five sentences written by equalities minister Liz Truss have people very, very concerned for the future of the Equality Act

Vic Parsons May 19, 2020
Liz Truss sparks fresh wave of concern with comments about Equality Act

Liz Truss speaking at the annual British Chambers of Commerce conference on March 28, 2019 in London, England. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Liz Truss, the minister for women and equalities, has provoked “deep concern” for trans rights in the UK with new comments about the Equality Act.

Truss is currently in charge of plans to reform the UK’s Gender Recognition Act (GRA), which is the law that has, for 16 years, governed the process by which transgender people can update the gender marker on their birth certificates.

Responding yesterday to letters from Baroness Nicholson about the Equality Act 2010, Truss sparked unease from politicians and LGBT+ charities about her plans for the GRA and for trans rights.

In a letter published by Nicholson on May 18, Truss said that she would “be able to say more” about “protecting single-sex spaces for women and girls” when she publishes the government’s plan for reforming the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) this summer.

“I have made my commitment to protecting single sex spaces for women and girls clear,” Truss wrote.

She continued: “As part of this work I will ensure that government guidance gives a clear message to service providers, schools and others, putting their ability to provide single sex spaces beyond doubt.

“I will be able to say more about this important issue when I publish the government’s response to the Gender Recognition Act consultation in the summer.”

Liz Truss was appointed minister for women and equalities in April.

In the month since she took up the equalities brief, Truss’ statements on GRA reform have been protested by tens of thousands of people, provoked concern from the official LGBT+ group of every UK political party, and caused alarm among parents of trans youth.

The alarm has focused on Truss’ comments regarding access to healthcare for trans youth and trans women’s access to single-sex spaces, neither of which are currently covered by the GRA.

Single-sex spaces are protected under the Equality Act 2010, and the Tories were very clear when they set out plans for GRA reform in 2018 that they were “not proposing any amendments to the Equality Act 2010“.

Responding to Truss’ letter to Nicholson, Labour’s shadow minister for women and equalities, Marsha de Cordova, told PinkNews that Labour is clear that the GRA “must be reformed to introduce a system of self-declaration for trans people”.

“It is important that this government does not interfere with protections under the Equality Act, which ensure that trans people are not wrongfully excluded from single-sex spaces,” she said.

It is important that this government does not interfere with protections under the Equality Act.

“The government must protect the rights of the trans community in its response to its consultation on the Gender Recognition Act this summer, which has already been significantly delayed,” Cordova said.

‘Deep concern’ at Truss’ letter about the Equality Act.

On April 22, Truss first set out her plans for GRA reform at a virtual meeting of the women and equalities committee, which is chaired by Caroline Nokes – a Tory MP who voted against equal marriage in 2013.

Reforming gender recognition laws could make it simpler, easier and cheaper for trans people to update the legal gender on their birth certificate.

More than 53,000 people took part in a comprehensive public consultation on reforms to the GRA in 2018, but the government has still not published those responses.

Several successive equalities ministers have also promised to publish both the government’s response and its proposals for reforming the GRA only to then repeatedly kick those plans into the long grass.

Lord Michael Cashman told PinkNews that he will be writing to Liz Truss, as a member of the House of Lords, about her comments on the Equality Act, to “seek reassurances that there will be no diminishing of rights and protections for trans people”.

“I’m deeply concerned because of other comments Liz Truss has made regarding trans people,” Cashman said. “As equalities minister, she must pursue the brief of equality – and not pursue the brief of inequality based on the gross misrepresentation of trans people.”

“There is a worrying trend to dismiss the rights of trans people. If we do that, as LGB people, then we put our own lives and rights in the firing line,” he added.

There is a worrying trend to dismiss the rights of trans people.

In April, LGBT+ rights organisations and parents of trans children spoke out about their alarm at Truss’ conflation of healthcare for trans kids with reform to the law by which trans adults can update the legal gender on their birth certificate.

Susie Green, CEO of trans children’s charity Mermaids, told PinkNews that the issues being raised by Truss have implications not just for trans people, but for children and young people’s autonomy in general.

“Liz Truss seems determined to follow a political course guaranteed to cause serious distress to arguably the most vulnerable minority group in the UK,” Green said.

“We don’t know what she actually means when she says these things,” Green continued. “We haven’t had any full substantiated statement. This feels like a specific rolling back of trans rights, potentially, but we would like a clear, simple explanation of what she means regarding the Equality Act – because, as far as we were aware, the GRA was the only thing being revised.”

Green added that the letter from Truss to Nicholson “seems an extraordinary position for her to take as equalities minister”.

“We are increasingly wondering if she is the minister for women and equalities, or the minister for cisgender women alone?” she said.

Is Truss the minister for women and equalities, or the minister for cisgender women alone?

Mermaids is working with other LGBT+ organisations to “make it clear that we are increasingly worried about this narrative”, Green continued.

“There are similarities to the arguments used by gender-critical feminists,” she added. “It looks as if she is taking the narrative from the anti-trans brigade and taking that as her motivation.”

A ‘trans Section 28’.

In April, Truss said that trans people should be “free to live their lives” while “the proper checks and balances” are maintained.

This, Green says, is “incredibly worryingly reminiscent of Section 28” and wrongly positions trans people “as a threat”.

Green is not the first to draw a comparison between Truss’ statements on GRA reform and Margaret Thatcher’s homophobic Section 28 legislation.

Section 28, brought in by Thatcher’s government in 1988 and not repealed until 2003, banned the “promotion of homosexuality” in UK schools and barred local authorities from promoting “the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

It was a law based on prejudice, which is now widely viewed as being discriminatory towards LGBT+ people.

Baroness Liz Barker said of Truss’ letter: “When an equalities minister proposes legal change on the basis of prejudice rather than evidence everyone should fear for their human rights.”

In an email to PinkNews, Baroness Nicholson said that she wrote to Liz Truss about the Equality Act because her stance is that it’s being “deliberately mangled”.

“If you look up my correspondence with the health minister, my question is on the misuse of the 2010 Act,” she said. “I see this as a deliberate attempt to foil parliament’s careful wording by spreading false information far and wide.

“I very strongly disapprove of such illegal tactics whereby hospitals, which are exempt from the 2010 Act, are given apparently mandatory ‘guidelines’ instructing their administration to accept self-ID patients as of law.

“This is justified by filleting the act’s clear statement in schedule 23 of the act; taking out words and concluding a different meaning to that clearly stated in legal wording in the act.

“This wholesale destruction of law has been promoted through many government departments. As a legislator I am objecting and will continue to explain why what has been stated is not the case at all.”

“The Equality Act 2010 has been misquoted,” she added. “The act has been changed and represented in a different set of meanings.”

More: baroness nicholson, gender recognition act, GRA Reform, liz truss, Marsha de Cordova, mermaids, susie green, trans rights

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