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Trans Awareness Week 2020: We must end the toxic gender identity debate

2020 could have been the year when the route to real equality of rights and services opened. On rights, it didn’t, writes Crispin Blunt MP. | PA Images

4 min read

We must not continue ignoring the inequalities transgender people face. A sensible, empathetic and evidence-based approach to transgender policy is well overdue.

Trans Awareness Week 2020 is a moment to enjoy both the gains made and secured for trans people over the last two decades, but also to reflect the regrettable missed opportunity of Britain continuing to be a global leader in understanding and supporting people with gender dysphoria.  

The government’s response to the 2018 consultation on the 2004 Gender Recognition Act reflects the wretched trend in the politics of too many liberal democracies. Seeking division based on fear rather than unity through understanding different perspectives and finding ways of accommodating legitimate anxieties, whilst enabling rights we properly now regard as fundamental to be able to live your own life as you wish.  

The reality of coping with gender dysphoria is an issue that is going to be remote to most people. But it should not be too hard to imagine the challenge and trauma if you are certain your physical sex is not the same as the gender you feel. Coming to terms with this, learning to understand it, and then cope with it. 

In the UK, we shouldn’t ignore the continued inequalities trans people face. 2020 could of been the year when the route to real equality of rights and services opened. On rights, it didn’t. We won’t have to wait for the Cass review to see if the appalling imbalance between supply and demand for trans specific health services will be addressed. 

Elsewhere in the world, the position can be a brutal battle of simple survival. In the last 12 months alone, 350 deaths have been recorded worldwide, an increase from 2019. 

But we can hardly be complacent in the UK. New research published by UK charity Galop – who provide support and advocacy for LGBT+ victims and survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence and hate crime – showed that in 2019 a quarter of trans people had experienced or been threatened with physical assault. Nearly one in five had experienced or been threatened with sexual assault. Over half said they had adjusted their daily routine out of fear; and concerningly, fewer than 15% of trans people reported these experiences to the police, with most respondents feeling that the police would not be able to help them.   

A sensible, empathetic and evidence-based approach to policy discussions relating to transgender people is well overdue.

Trans and non-binary people should not live life in fear of abuse. Nor should gender dysphoria be used as part of a wider culture war over our political identity

Trans, non-binary and gender diverse people exist and have always existed. We need to respect and rejoice in the diversity, as well as acknowledge the profound challenges transgender people can face both in exploring their gender identity, and in the discrimination and violence they can face throughout their lives. Just like everybody else, trans and non-binary people should not live life in fear of abuse. Nor should gender dysphoria be used as part of a wider culture war over our political identity. In 2020, we might surely have realised that applying biblical certainty and simplicity to medicine and science around human identity is a very dark path to follow.  

The detoxification of the debate around gender identity is an essential first step. JK Rowling’s controversial views are much better understood and explained in the context of male violence towards women, that she along with too many women have suffered, let alone the fear of that violence. 

It is practical, proportionate protection from that violence, and sensible reassurance around the fear women may feel, that is required. Vilification for expressing those concerns is as unacceptable as is a central assault on the core of someone’s sense of identity in twenty first century Britain. 

A policy landscape which delivers reassurance around trans policy is possible. I had hoped we had achieved that when all the political parties LGBT groups and the main civil society LGBT representative organisations accepted the position paper produced by the Officers of the APPG for Global LGBT+ Rights as bringing the rights and reassurances required together.   

Internationally, we may find we have an uncomfortable few months as the UK has announced itself as a global leader in advancing LGBT+ rights and is the host co-chair of the upcoming conference of the Equal Rights Coalition. The 42 nation coalition of those nations most committed to giving their LGBT citizens the right to live their lives as they wish. 

Whilst we may be embarrassed by the missed opportunity for British trans people in 2020, the situation globally for many for LGBT+ people remains terrifying. On trans issues, 15 countries criminalise gender identity and/or expression of transgender people. The civilised world watches the whipped-up hatred in Hungary with undisguised horror. In contrast at least 25 nations – albeit not the UK – permit legal gender recognition without prohibitive requirements.  

Everyone should be safe to be themselves in modern Britain. Trans people deserve recognition of their status, access to healthcare and measures to combat hate crime and bullying in schools, just as much as everyone else. 

We must work together to ensure trans and non-binary people in the UK and around the world are treated with dignity and respect, the sooner we do, the sooner we can deliver for the whole of society.


Crispin Blunt is the Conservative MP for Reigate and chair of the APPG on Global LGBT+ Rights

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