Ministers have vowed to defend women’s rights to exclude transgender people from female-only spaces such as changing rooms, lavatories and swimming sessions.
In a significant victory for campaigners, the government has promised not to put the rights of those who identify as women ahead of those who are biologically female. Its intervention comes in the wake of a series of clashes that have come to light in the year since the government floated proposals to allow adults to change their gender legally without a doctor’s diagnosis.
Men identifying as women were permitted to swim in the ladies’ pond on Hampstead Heath in north London; a woman who requested a female nurse to perform her cervical smear was called in by a person with stubble; and a woman with a fear of men was locked in an NHS women’s psychiatric ward with a burly 6ft transgender patient.
Now the government has faced down pressure from Labour and influential backbenchers to tilt the balance further in the direction of transgender rights, as it prepares to announce a consultation on the Gender Recognition Act. This is expected to coincide with the Pride in London parade on July 7.
A statement from the Government Equalities Office, overseen by Penny Mordaunt, the women and equalities minister, promises that “advancing the rights of trans people does not have to compromise women’s rights”.
It said: “We are clear we have no intention of amending the Equality Act 2010, the legislation that allows for single-sex spaces. Any Gender Recognition Act reform will not change the protected characteristics in the Equality Act nor the exemptions under the Equality Act that allow for single and separate-sex spaces.”
It pledges: “Providers of women-only services [can choose not to] provide services to trans individuals, provided it is objectively justified on a case-by-case basis. The same can be said about toilets, changing rooms or single-sex activities. Providers may exclude trans people from facilities of the sex they identify with, provided it is a proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim.”
The government statement came in response to a petition launched by Amy Desir of Man Friday, a feminist group that seeks to ridicule the notion that people should be allowed to self-identify with a particular gender.