Transgender Equality

Stephen Doughty Excerpts
Thursday 1st December 2016

(7 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
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The hon. Gentleman has made an important point, but I think the right hon. Member for Don Valley has the right to make the assertion that she did. I know that some organisations may be at risk of misinterpreting the rights that transgender people have, in the belief that they somehow undermine the rights of women. We need to get the balance right. As the hon. Gentleman says, if criminal behaviour is taking place, it should be dealt with by the criminal law.

This debate is important because it is our job to stamp out prejudice wherever it lies, and to ensure that, as a nation, we are fair to everyone. I think we should judge our success as a Parliament by the way in which we treat the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups in society, and, given the issues with which transgender people must deal, they certainly fall into one of those groups. In striving for the recognition of equality rights that trans people need to enjoy, we reject prejudice, and by doing that, we improve the ability of all who are struggling to be treated equally to achieve their aim.

Attitudes are not static. I think it incumbent on us in Parliament to continually re-evaluate what equality means—what it means to have a free and fair society that gives everyone the opportunity to succeed. If attitudes towards equality were static I would not be standing here today, and the hon. Ladies on our green Benches would not be sitting here today; the civil rights movement in the US would not, in the year I was born, have outlawed segregation in schools and public places; Nelson Mandela would not have been democratically elected in South Africa; homosexuality would not have been decriminalised here in the UK in 1967; and we would not have equal marriage for same-sex couples. We need to continually challenge these norms and things that might be accepted, so we can be sure that equality evolves over time.

Trans people have not been dealt with fairly in this country—they have been marginalised. We know that is wrong, and the motion challenges us to consider what we can do better in the future.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
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The right hon. Lady is making a strong speech, and I wholeheartedly support it. Will she join me in praising the work of many public sector organisations, including South Wales Police and the British Army, which has been praised for its work with trans communities and the wider LGBT community? It is by showing leadership in the public sector and through such organisations that we can deliver real equality.

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
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The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point, and our Select Committee inquiry report looks carefully and closely at the challenges that public sector organisations face. I have to say that we found some were able to cope with them better than others. I particularly have been impressed by the way in which the Ministry of Justice has accepted the challenge around trans prisoners. I note the comments the hon. Gentleman makes about the police as well, and I hope other police authorities are able to follow suit.

The Select Committee report covered a huge range of issues, because that is what was required of us, making recommendations on hate crime, gender markings, prisoners and probation, media representation, schools and social care. I welcome the Government’s very positive responses to our report. Perhaps the Minister in her response today can indicate whether the Government have been able to look further at the issues on which the responses were perhaps a little less positive, because Committee members felt very strongly that every single one of the recommendations we put forward had merit and needed to be looked at, although there was a large number of recommendations—more than 70—so it was clearly difficult for the Departments to respond to them all in the time available.

Today is about looking at progress, so I will focus particularly on the strategic and legislative aspects of the Select Committee report, in the full knowledge that the great number of other Members here today will pick up on progress on the recommendations made for the NHS, child protection, offender management and schools.

The Government have committed to a new trans equality action plan to include a review of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and a cross-Government review of removing unnecessary requests for gender information. All these steps are hugely welcome, but particularly the undertaking to look at training for specialist NHS staff to work in gender identity services, and tackling harassment and bullying of transgender people in education.

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Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab/Co-op)
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I thank the Backbench Business Committee and right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House for securing this important debate.

Transgender people make an enormous contribution to our society. As well as allowing us to discuss the difficulties that transgender people face each day, I hope that this debate can be used to celebrate transgender people across the UK. The hate and prejudice that lurks in our society is sickening, but what is remarkable is the positivity that shines in contrast to that. Ranging from the brilliant author and historian Jan Morris, to the late businesswoman and documentary star Stephanie Booth, some of our most remarkable people in Wales identify as transgender.

The obstacles standing between transgender people and equality, however, should be a cause of concern for all of us. In this House and in wider society, we often talk of working towards a more equal community, but in practice that is a distant future for transgender people. The lack of awareness and education about the issues that transgender people face is shocking, and the lack of action to tackle the problem is more so. In recent months and years, efforts have been made to increase awareness of the difficulties that transgender people face. Although there is still a long way to go, the contribution made by organisations ranging from news outlets to film production companies has been incredibly important.

Channel 4’s “Born in the Wrong Body” season raised awareness of how life is for transgender people before, during and after transition. The BBC has made similar productions, including “Just a Girl”, which tells the powerful story of young trans people. There have also been great initiatives by public bodies and institutions. I was proud to march at Pride Cymru this year and saw South Wales Police—my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) mentioned this—marching with special shoulder patches to demonstrate their support for the LGBT+ community. Similarly, the British Army recently won the PinkNews public sector equality award for its work supporting LGBT personnel, including those who identify as transgender.

Such schemes are incredibly important to contrast with the discrimination and prejudice that is part of day-to-day life for transgender people in the UK, which at their worst can create unimaginable danger and put transgender people in immense harm. In 2015, 582 incidents of hate crime against transgender people were reported in the UK. This figure has trebled in the past five years, as was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), the Chair of the Select Committee. Those incidents included harassment, threatening behaviour, sexual assault and other violence, yet of the last year’s 582 incidents, only 19 led to prosecution. That cannot be acceptable.

Transphobic violence is a global problem. So far in 2016, it is estimated that at least 26 transgender people have been murdered in the United States, whereas in Brazil, it is estimated that around 60 were murdered in the first month of this year alone. Free & Equal, the UN campaign for LGBT equality, has claimed that such reported numbers account for only a fraction of the true figure as victims often do not feel safe enough to come forward.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty
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My hon. Friend is making a very strong speech. He, like me, is wearing a World AIDS Day ribbon. On the global context for trans people, is he aware of the challenges for trans people who have HIV? Men who have sex with men are 19 times more likely than others to have HIV, but trans women are 49 times more likely to have HIV. Special attention needs to be paid to the provision of HIV services globally for the trans community.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore
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I thank my hon. Friend. His contributions in the House are always of interest and I am glad that he has been able to raise that important point.

The UK, like every other nation, has a long way to go to ensure that transgender people are safe from violent crime. A start would be to ensure that everybody feels safe and secure in reporting a crime of which they are the victim. Organisations such as Stonewall have been working relentlessly to encourage transgender people to report the violence that they face, but many victims say that they are concerned that they will not be taken seriously. Both the police and the Government must work harder to get the message across that if victims of violence report a crime, they will be taken seriously, and will be safe and secure.

For many transgender people, finding and maintaining work can be far more difficult than it is for others. A survey by the Gender Identity Research and Education Society in late 2000 found that, post-transition, two in three transgender people had left their job, either because they were forced to do so or because they felt there was no other choice. Although it is thought that conditions have improved since the date of that survey, there is still far more work to be done. More recently, to mark International Transgender Day of Visibility 2016, a less varied poll revealed that around 36% of transgender people left their job due to their transition.

The Equality Act 2010 states that people cannot be discriminated against in the workplace because of their gender reassignment, though far too often the Act is ignored. Thousands of transgender people each year in the UK are made to feel uncomfortable, intimidated and subjected to unwanted comments. The trade unions Unison and PCS have both been campaigning to make transgender people aware of their rights at work, and have worked alongside transgender people to fight cases of unlawful discrimination. Unfortunately, there is only so much that trade unions can do to protect people when discrimination can be so rife. In the same way as victims of transgender hate crime often do not come forward, many who are discriminated against in the workplace are afraid to report the fact, though this is unsurprising considering the lack of support they often receive. Unlike other forms of workplace discrimination, there is a lack of high-profile cases of transgender people being discriminated against, meaning that many are not fully aware of their rights or the procedures to make a claim.

Unfortunately, for many transgender people, discrimination does not begin only in the workplace. The education system in the UK is often woefully inept at accommodating transgender people. It is estimated that currently only 5% to 10% of transgender people begin transitioning under the age of 18, but those who do are often failed by their schools, colleges and sixth forms. A report earlier this year by Susie Green, chair of the Mermaids charity, claimed that transgender pupils are more likely to have poor attendance and attainment records, and are often seen as a problem for schools to overcome. Although schools often want to do their best to accommodate transgender pupils, most are not equipped with the right knowledge or resources to do so.

Addressing the difficulties that transgender people face in school often focuses on physical accommodation. Efforts may be made to provide gender-neutral facilities but, although that is incredibly important, there is often not enough focus on why transgender people fall behind academically. A number of local authorities now produce guidance for head teachers, but equally important are the NGOs and charities that deliver awareness training for school staff. In and around Bridgend county, which includes my constituency, the group A Brighter Future Altogether, Benefiting Bridgend provides crucial workshops to ensure that schools are better prepared to help transgender pupils to excel.

Those who begin transitioning at university can face similar issues. A 2014 report by the National Union of Students showed that 28,000 transgender students were studying in the UK, yet more than half had seriously considered dropping out. The same report also found that one in three transgender students had faced some form of bullying or discrimination. Student unions across the UK have been fighting to make campuses more welcoming for transgender students, and universities themselves have usually been willing to learn and adapt. I pay tribute to those universities that have adapted to support people who identify as transgender.

From school to university to the workplace, transgender people face discrimination at each turn in their life, and the persistent prejudice and danger can manifest itself in mental health issues. A recent study in the US journal Pediatrics claimed that these issues can arise if a trans person is not able to express their identity or if they do not feel accepted. PACE, the LGBT mental health charity, claims that 48% of transgender people under the age of 26 have attempted suicide, compared with only 6% of all adults under 26.

Similarly, as other Members mentioned, reports by Mind have claimed that LGBT people in general are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, with other studies demonstrating that transgender individuals are particularly at risk. That in turn can lead to people abusing alcohol and recreational drugs. Although there is little research into the prevalence of substance abuse among transgender people in the UK, the US national transgender discrimination surveys of 2008 and 2009 showed that over a quarter of participants had abused drugs or alcohol.

Unfortunately, the high rate of mental health issues in the transgender community is a problem that can be exacerbated by a lack of sufficient mental health facilities. The truth is that there is a serious lack of facilities for those with mental health issues in the UK. According to the King’s Fund, 40% of trusts saw a cut to their mental health budget in 2015-16, which has led to

“widespread evidence of poor-quality care”.

Mental health charities have voiced their concerns about these cuts, with Mind recently expressing concern that they fall squarely on patient care. Better mental health services would benefit everyone who finds themselves needing them, but considering the high proportion of transgender people needing help with their mental health, better services would specifically help those who are the focus of our debate.

The discrimination and prejudice that transgender people are met with for living their lives is a stain on our society. For these people, simple everyday tasks that we take for granted can be laborious and tiresome when they face unequal treatment at every turn. Our schools and workplaces are often woefully inept at accommodating transgender people, and the protection that they receive from harassment and violence is far from sufficient.

We owe it to the transgender people in each of our constituencies to come together to take concerted action to help to deliver equality for everyone, and we must start by recognising the scale of the problem. In this week alone, around 10 to 15 incidents of hate crime against transgender people will be reported to the police. Over the course of the month, more and more transgender people will leave their universities and places of work. We cannot claim to be working towards an equal society if we do not include transgender people in that vision. I sincerely hope that today’s debate will help to raise awareness of the issue and mark the start of a journey to make the UK inclusive for everybody.