Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch hints at changing the Equality Act to ‘protect single-sex spaces’ from trans people
Minister for equalities Kemi Badenoch has suggested the government could change equalities law to “protect single-sex spaces” in a letter to Labour MP Ben Bradshaw about transgender rights.
Badenoch also said the Conservatives “want to ensure that under 18s are protected from taking decisions which could have an irreversible impact on their development before they are capable”.
The letter was in response to a 21 May email Bradshaw sent Badenoch enquiring about the government’s plans for the Gender Recognition Act (GRA).
In particular, Bradshaw was asking about healthcare for young trans people in the wake of Tory equalities chief Liz Truss’ comments on April 22, when she first suggested the government could restrict access to healthcare for trans youth.
The government remains “absolutely committed” to ensuring that under 18s “questioning their gender” receive “appropriate support”, Badenoch said in her June letter to Bradshaw.
Healthcare for trans under 18s usually consists of psychological support and, in some cases, puberty-blocking medication – drugs that significantly lower the risk that trans youth will attempt to die by suicide.
Badenoch continued: “We also want to ensure that under 18s are protected from taking decisions which could have an irreversible impact on their development before they are capable.
“The current minimum age limit for legally changing gender is 18 years, which is set out in the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA) itself.”
Her comments come after leaked reports in the Sunday Times on June 14 suggested the Tories will scrap long-delayed plans to reform the GRA, which could have removed the need for trans people to get a diagnosis of gender dysphoria before being able to gain legal gender recognition.
Campaigners for GRA reform also called for extending legal gender recognition to non-binary people and 16- and 17-year olds.
After the leaked report, Bradshaw accused Boris Johnson’s government of “weaponise the transgender issue to pour more fuel on the culture wars fire”, saying Johnson was “despicable” for doing so with far-right violence on the streets.
Johnson previously told PinkNews ahead of the 2019 general election that he remained committed to the LGBT Action plan published under Theresa May’s government, which promised to reform the Gender Recognition Act to make it less bureaucratic and intrusive.
Badenoch added in her letter that “protecting young people” means “ensuring the appropriate checks and balances” are in place, and does not mean “withholding support”.
And she confirmed for the first time that the department for health and social care, “who lead in this area”, would be “exploring what this means”.
“The wellbeing of all young people is our number one priority,” Badenoch said.
Kemi Badenoch on women’s single-sex spaces.
Ben Bradshaw, who has been the Labour MP for Exeter since 1997, wrote to Kemi Badenoch after several of his constituents raised the alarm over Liz Truss’ remarks about the GRA.
The idea of potentially reforming the 2004 law was introduced in 2017 by then-prime minister Theresa May, who told the 2017 PinkNews Awards that she supported removing the medical requirement for legal gender change: “Being trans is not an illness.”
May also noted that only around 5,000 trans people have used the GRA to change their legal gender, despite there being an estimated half a million trans people in the UK.
A huge public consultation on proposed options to “streamline and demedicalise the gender recognition process” was then held in 2018.
Seventy per cent of more than 100,000 respondents agreed with May that the need for a gender-dysphoria diagnosis should be removed when trans people want to be legally recognised in their gender, according to the leaked report in the Sunday Times.
But in the 18 months since the consultation ended, anti-trans rhetoric has ramped up in the media as the government repeatedly promises to publish, and then delays publishing, the public’s response.
Anti-trans pressure groups have sought to position trans rights – in this case, the technical details of how a small number of trans people update the gender marker on their birth certificate – as infringing on women’s rights.
This manufactured debate has focused on trans people’s access to public bathrooms and changing rooms – a point Badenoch also addressed in her letter to Bradshaw.
“We have heard concerns that progressing the rights of transgender people should not have a detrimental effect on the rights of others, especially women,” Badenoch wrote.
“The government believes that the protection of certain single-sex spaces, as governed by the Equality Act 2010, is important.
“I can assure your constituent that any changes to the act – as with all legislation – would go through the appropriate processes of engagement.”
Bradshaw told one constituent that he thought Badenoch’s letter was “shameful” and “disappointing”.
He added: “I am concerned that delays in reforming the GRA have created a hostile environment for LGBT+ people.”
PinkNews has contacted the government equalities office for comment.