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Stonewall ‘deeply troubled’ by UK equality watchdog’s call to pause LGBTQ consultations

"Our communities need and deserve a stronger human rights institution."

By Alastair James

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Pexels

Stonewall says it is “deeply troubled” by statements made by the Equality And Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which advocate for a pause on the UK’s ban on conversion therapy, as well as a pause on Scotland’s legislation regarding gender recognition. 

The EHRC is UK’s equality watchdog and writes on its website that its job is to “help make Britain fairer,” which it says it does by “safeguarding and enforcing the laws that protect people’s rights to fairness, dignity, and respect.”

It issued two statements on Wednesday (26 January) which have drawn the ire of LGBTQ organisations including Stonewall and the LGBT Foundation. 

“No longer fit for purpose”

In a letter addressed to the Scottish Government, the Chairwoman of the EHRC, Baroness Kishwer Falkner, suggests pausing current plans to simplify the process for trans people to be recognised as their preferred genders.

She says, “more detailed consideration is needed before any change is made to the provisions in the Act.” She points to “increasingly expressed” concerns from “some lawyers, academics, data users and others” about the implications of simplifying the process to get a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).

It goes on to say that “We otherwise consider that the established legal concept of sex, together with the existing protections from gender reassignment discrimination for trans people and the ability for them to obtain legal recognition of their gender, collectively provide the correct balanced legal framework that protects everyone.”

Then in a document regarding the UK Government’s current consultation (due to end on 4 February) on banning conversion therapy, the EHRC indicates its support for the ban but says the consultation currently lacks clarity on what ‘conversion therapy’ is, and also what defines ‘transgender’.

It says the lack of clarity means people won’t be able to provide “informed responses”. 

Responding to these Stonewall on Wednesday described the statements as “an attack on trans equality and undermine their core purpose of regulating, promoting and upholding human rights,” adding that the statements “effectively seek to exclude trans people from improved rights and protections.”

“We are deeply troubled by the approach that the EHRC is taking to trans people’s human rights. Their approach appears to focus on pleasing a noisy minority of anti-trans activists, rather than promoting human rights for all LGBTQ+ people,” the LGBTQ charity goes on to say.

The Twitter thread concludes: “The EHRC’s statements actively stand in the way of improving the rights and lives of trans people. We know this isn’t what the majority of people in Britain want.”

In its full statement, Stonewall calls on the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions to “urgently review” the EHRC and “ensure that trans people’s rights are effectively supported by this institution.”

The EHRC’s statements have also led another LGBTQ charity, the LGBT Foundation, to “sever all ties” with the Commission. In its statement, the Foundation says “These statements are extremely damaging and cannot be supported in any circumstances.”

The Foundation argues that the EHRC is “no longer fit for purpose” and that “Our position from today is clear: EHRC can no longer call itself a true human rights organisation.”

It says it is writing to the Government’s Minister for Equalities, Mike Freer, and is demanding a review of the EHRC’s accreditation as an A-status National Human Rights Institution.

Attitude has approached the EHRC for comment. 

The Attitude February issue is out now. Get your copy here