Transgender Equality

Ruth Cadbury Excerpts
Thursday 1st December 2016

(7 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
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I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate—the first on trans issues in this Chamber. It was a privilege to have been a member of the Women and Equalities Committee for the inquiry, although I subsequently stood down due to my Front-Bench role.

Many of us have been strong supporters of LGBT rights for many years, but until the Committee’s inquiry I knew relatively little of the extent of the issues facing transgender people. We heard moving accounts of people’s transitions and subsequent experiences and also from parents who have supported their children through the process of transition. It was also helpful to hear from service providers, academics and health specialists and from those providing representative and advocacy work within and for the trans community. I thank all of them for providing extensive evidence and for responding to our questions.

A cultural shift is going on in this country around issues of gender. There is greater acceptance of gender differences among young people. Our report identified the need for changes in the law and significant cultural, policy and process shifts in the fields of health, criminal justice, education and others. It also revealed that individuals experience high levels of harassment on a daily basis. That harassment can undermine careers, family life, incomes, living standards, access to services, quality of life and physical and mental health. It is no secret that a disproportionally high number of trans people have reported attempting suicide—an extremely sobering and distressing fact. The sooner we advance trans equality through legislative, policy and cultural change in our public institutions, the sooner there will be fewer trans people in the position of wanting to take their life because they are not getting the necessary care and support and the respect they deserve.

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
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Does the hon. Lady share the concern I felt when I read that the number of hate crimes against trans people has trebled over the past five years? Does she, like me, hope that more will be done on education to ensure that that intolerance is stamped out?

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury
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The right hon. Lady is absolutely right that there is an awfully long way to go in the recognition of trans people’s rights. Education is an important part of that. On that issue and others, the Committee discussed the need for adequate, high quality, universal, age-appropriate sex and relationship education in all our schools.

We have seen some progress in trans equality over the past few years. Trans and non-binary characters are actually being played by trans and non-binary actors.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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The hon. Lady is making a powerful and heartfelt speech. Does she agree that a challenge facing the LGBT community is having people from all parts of our community, particularly the transgender community, represented in the media and getting proper coverage? The Press Gallery is sadly quite empty today, but we need the media to be better educated so that they can properly represent the transgender community.

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right. We must congratulate those media organisations that are doing this. With Laverne Cox playing Sophia in “Orange Is the New Black” and Riley Carter Millington acting as Kyle in “EastEnders”—the first trans actor to play a transgender character in British soap history—things are moving in the right direction. Trans people are becoming more visible and that is something to be celebrated.

If we look at America, however, any advances made in trans equality there have been threatened by state legislatures introducing bathroom Bills, which have been described as a solution in search of a problem. Such Bills are malicious, misinformed and directly threaten transgender people. The election of Donald Trump does not fill me with much joy for the future rights of transgender people in the US. A bathroom Bill would never be passed here in the UK, but we must keep an eye on the situation abroad and ensure that the British public are well informed so that harmful attitudes do not form here.

It is time for the law and our public services to catch up. On education, the Committee recommended:

“More needs to be done to ensure that gender-variant young people and their families get sufficient support at school. Schools must understand their responsibilities under the Equality Act.”

A survey this year in further and higher education found that bullying and harassment of trans students and staff appear to be commonplace. Furthermore, with nearly half of non-binary gendered respondents to the survey reporting that they are considering dropping out of their course and three quarters stating that they did not find their place of learning supportive, it is clear that we have to do more.

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury
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If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I need to make progress.

Will the Government assure the House that steps are being taken to create a more trans-inclusive environment in post-school education for trans students and staff? The Government’s response to the Women and Equalities Committee report on trans equality said that the Minister for further education would be writing to sector umbrella bodies highlighting the need for specific gender identity training and the need to ensure trans equality. Has that happened?

On health, we know that there has been a massive increase in the number of people, particularly young people, wanting/needing to transition, and many are identifying as non-binary, yet the delay they face in getting access to health and support services is far too long. Furthermore, GPs are too often acting as gatekeepers, preventing people from even entering the transition pathway. I was moved to hear of the experiences of trans young people who were denied support at the crucial time as they approached puberty. It has been clear from our inquiry that trans people encounter significant problems in using general NHS services that have nothing to do with their trans status due to the attitude of some clinicians and other staff when providing care for trans patients; we heard of the “trans cold”. That is attributable to a lack of knowledge and understanding, and in some cases even to out-and-out prejudice. It is therefore essential that there is sufficient training for GPs and a range of other clinicians to understand trans identities, so that people get the treatment that they want and need and that is appropriate.

Turning to criminal justice, with every news story that a transgender woman has been sent to a men’s prison, our frustration grows further. Our report made it clear that there is a clear risk of harm when trans prisoners are not located in a prison appropriate to their affirmed gender, and that they should get the right support there. It is unacceptable that in 2016 we have a criminal justice system that does not protect all groups on an equal basis, especially as this is costing lives.

In conclusion, I am proud to now be a Member of Parliament in the country that has gone further than most in recognising lesbian, gay and bisexual rights, but the UK is not the leading country in the world on the rights of trans, non-binary and intersex people. There has been progress, but not nearly enough. Time has not allowed me to cover all the issues raised in our report, but the Government’s delayed response—it took seven months—to our report raises concerns for us. The coalition Government’s 2011 advancing transgender equality action plan remains largely unimplemented. I repeat the Committee’s recommendation: the Government must take trans equality seriously and draw up a comprehensive strategy, with an action plan that addresses the full range of issues covered in our recommendations—and soon.