The UK’s equalities watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), has been strongly criticised after issuing new guidance relating to trans people.
On Monday (3 April) the EHRC published its guidance to Kemi Badenoch, the women and equalities minister, regarding the definition of ‘sex’ in the 2010 Equality Act.
In summary, the EHRC has suggested redefining ‘sex’ as ‘biological sex’. This would exclude trans people from single-sex spaces, support groups, and more. It is a suggestion at this point.
Mermaids, the trans charity, said it was “extremely distressing” to see the EHRC “seeking to strip trans people’s rights.”
It continued that with “no supporting evidence,” and “no detail of how this would work in practice, the EHRC is doubling down on its politicised, anti-trans position.”
Gendered Intelligence, another trans charity who severed ties with the EHRC last year, has said it is “reflecting on the current situation.”
It reminded followers that “This letter has no statutory weight,” meaning it’s just guidance at this point.
Stonewall’s Director of Nations, Colin Mcfarlane who used to work for the EHRC tweeted: “I’m ashamed of what it has become.”
He added: “The fact that our human rights regulator is considering removing the existing rights of a minority group should terrify us all.”
Michael Cashman also added that “The @EHRC has lost any shred of credibility.”
The trans activist Katy Montgomerie described it as “bleak,” and “a backdoor bathroom bill including for people with a GRC.” By GRC Katy means a Gender Recognition Certificate.
Elsewhere, the EHRC was blasted by people online as ‘transphobic” – an allegation that has been levied at the organisation before.
The EHRC’s guidance follows a request from Badenoch for advice on the definition of the protected characteristic of sex in the Equality Act.
“We have come to the view that if ‘sex’ is defined as biological sex for the purposes of EqA [Equality Act], this would bring greater legal clarity in eight areas,” the EHRC said.
These eight areas are: Pregnancy and maternity, Freedom of association for lesbians and gay men, Freedom of association for women and men, Positive action, Occupational requirements, Single sex and separate sex services, Sport, and Data collection.
One example the EHRC gives is that currently a lesbian support group may have to admit a trans woman with a GRC.
“On the biological definition it could restrict membership to biological women,” the EHRC has advised. The same also goes for the example of a women’s book club.
The definition of ‘biological sex’ would also exclude trans women from women’s hospital wards as well as women’s sport.
As to where the potential change could cause a disadvantage the EHRC also said this would be a trans man being able to bring a claim a cis-man was being paid more. Trans men could also bring sex discrimination claims as women.
The EHRC also said Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill could impact things.
“If ‘sex’ means legal sex and the GRR became law, then the class of women would become possibly larger and certainly more porous. If ‘sex’ means biological sex, then it would not. This would make a difference to whose interests the public body was advancing,” it wrote.
It closed by saying the advice “merits further consideration.”
In response to a request from Attitude the government has said: “We are committed to protecting women’s rights and the Minister for Women and Equalities regularly seeks advice from the independent equality regulator as part of her role.
“We have received advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the Equality Act and will consider it in the usual way.”