Plan to change Equality Act will ban trans people from single-sex spaces, charities warn

Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch is looking to re-write the 2010 Equality Act, which could see trans people banned from single sex spaces. Credit: PA

By ITV Westminster Producer Lucy McDaid

Trans people could be excluded from same-sex places if the government changes the legal definition of sex to "biological", in a move one charity has called "very distressing".

Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch is considering changing the 2010 Equality Act so the legal definition of "sex" becomes "biological sex", in a move that could allow organisations to bar trans people from single-sex spaces and events.

Mermaids, a charity that supports transgender, non-binary and gender-diverse children, accused the government of "seeking to strip trans people's rights" from the Act. Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall said they "do not see a world where cis women are desperate to exclude trans women from their spaces."

Speaking on Wednesday, Rishi Sunak backed Ms Badenoch and said "it's important we also protect and support and ensure women's rights, and I fundamentally believe that biological sex is important in that regard".

'It's important we protect and support and ensure women's rights', says the prime minister

Ms Badenoch wrote to a government watchdog in February to seek advice on the plan, which proposes to re-write what she called "a technical and contested area of the law".

Responding to the letter, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said on Tuesday that the change to the definition "could bring clarity in a number of areas, but potential ambiguity in others".

Chair of the commission, Baroness Kishwer Falkner, added: “Our response to the minister’s request for advice suggests that the UK Government carefully identify and consider the potential implications of this change."

The Bill would make it easier for trans people to gain legal recognition in their acquired gender Credit: PA

Currently, a gender recognition certificate (GRC) is legal confirmation of someone's gender. A trans person with a GRC is legally recognised as belonging to the opposite sex from the one they were born as.

But the changes tabled by Ms Badenoch would strip a GRC of its validity in certain places, potentially excluding trans people from single sex spaces.

The EHRC said this would make it easier for female-only hospital wards to bar trans women, as well as other single-sex spaces like lesbian groups, female book clubs and hostels.

It would also give greater powers to organisations wanting to exclude trans women from female sports.

"A biological definition of sex would mean that organisers could exclude trans women from women’s sport without this additional burden," the EHRC said.

The change would extend protections for trans men who use maternity services, as they would have rights based on their biological sex.

Several LGBTQ+ charities, including Stonewall, have expressed deep concern at the revelation made by the EHRC on Tuesday.

A spokesperson said it "fails to recognise" the successes of the 2010 Equality Act, including support for businesses and other service providers to "challenge discrimination".

"At Stonewall, we work with hundreds of employers week in week out. They would say that the Equality Act is working well and do not see a world where cis women are desperate to exclude trans women from their spaces.

"Instead, poll after poll shows that women are much more likely to support trans equality than men. The EHRC is right to consider how trans men miss out on provisions and protections, but it is fundamentally wrong to imply that trans women do not experience sexism, which cuts far beyond biology." Rather than moving the discussion forward, Ms Badenoch "risks opening yet another chapter in a manufactured culture war that will see little benefit to women, cis and trans alike", they added.

Meanwhile, transgender model Munroe Bergdorf posted her response on Instagram.

"I'm no longer willing to live under an authoritarian government that is intent on reducing trans people to second class citizens, stoking unwarranted fear and forcing us into lives of disproportionate harm," she said.

"This climate is already creating an increasingly unlivable environment for trans people to navigate, and over the next year or so ahead of the general election it's due to get a lot worse."

But speaking to broadcasters while on a visit to Peterborough on Wednesday, Mr Sunak said: "We should have enormous compassion and understanding for anybody who is thinking about their gender and identity, but alongside that it's important we also protect and support and ensure women's rights, and I fundamentally believe biological sex is important in that regard."

He added: "That's why the Secretary of State asked the independent advisory board for advice on this matter. They've responded, and we'll consider that advice in the normal way as we always do in these matters."

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