My Lords, I welcome wholeheartedly the Government’s LGBT Action Plan and I urge all noble Lords to consider contributing to the consultation. I will concentrate on just one aspect, which is gender. In that area, there are radical effects that go well beyond the LGBT community. The Government’s proposal to amend the Gender Recognition Act 2004 so that a wholehearted commitment to change gender should be enough and that we should do away with the current hurdles that have to be leapt are proposals that I entirely support—but, if we are moving to a world where it will become commonplace, if uncommon, for men to have babies and women to have penises, that is the end of the fiction of binary gender. I absolutely think that that is good for us all.
Of course, biological sex is mostly binary. There are distributions around the two modes and there are some people who are in between, but the pattern is pretty binary. Behavioural gender is not. There are not two genders, and nor are there many genders, as some people have contended. Gender cannot be counted or clearly defined. We can distinguish male typical expression and female typical expression, but there is an immense amount of crossover and interpenetration. The Telegraph said a couple of days ago, with reference to the Thai cave rescue, that the rescuers were demonstrating typical male virtues like courage—phooey. Courage as a male virtue? None of us men has ever given birth. Does that not take courage? It is a ridiculous idea that courage is a male virtue. No, these are human virtues. To some extent there is a distribution, but it is absolutely not something that can be separated into two genders, and we should not let ourselves be defined by labels.
Over the centuries, labelling people as men and women has led, particularly for women, to serious, crippling oppression, to limitation of their lives and to there being a whole list of things that women are not supposed to do because they are women. There is no good reason for it, and many of us have spent a chunk of our lives in this place fighting against it and trying to make it possible for more women to be engineers, more men to be primary teachers and things like that. The use of gender as a binary concept has done nothing but hinder us as individuals and as a society.
Gender is an obstacle to our self-expression and to equality. Who should care if men choose to wear pink dresses and make-up or if women climb trees and have hairy armpits? Why should any of us try to make people behave in ways that they choose not to when we are quite happy to let other people behave in exactly those ways merely because we assign them to a different gender? It is time that we took advantage of this liberalisation which the Government are looking at to free up the world for all of us. It is not that I expect things to change fast. On the odd hot day, I might choose to wear a dress. My goodness, a suit and tie in this place does not go very well. Besides, apart from the odd pink tie, we are not really allowed to be colourful these days—although I can show off the lining of my jacket. The restrictions that we put ourselves under because of gender are entirely unreasonable. I congratulate the Government on opening the challenge to that, and I hope that this is something that they will allow us all to take advantage of.
However, because it is such a radical change, it will have predictable problems. To pick an obvious one, there is women’s sport. We separate women’s sport because testosterone, in particular, has an effect on the development of the male body which means that males generally show greater strength and endurance—characteristics which allow them to perform better at sport. I think that that shows in the various world records for the two genders. If we are to allow someone whose body has been formed by testosterone to compete as a woman in women’s sport, that is a question which we must look at. Is that what we intend? Is that fair? Is that the way we want the world to be? We would be affecting an awful lot of women by allowing a few men to compete in women’s sport. Imagine the noble Lord, Lord Addington, coming down at you in women’s rugby. It would not be fun. We need to think through these things because we are opening the door to them.
There are lots of ways in which we reserve spaces for women: because they want to be naked in them, because they want to take refuge in them, because they want to perceive themselves as safe. I remember long campaigns in this place to make sure that we had sufficient single-sex NHS wards. We need to think how that will change. If we are not using gender—sex—as the discriminator, what will we do? Will we have people taking individual, risk-based decisions? If so, we need clear guidelines so that they can be confident in the decisions that they take.
We need to look at the practice. In some ways we are much better at his than the US. We need to look at the practice of allowing children’s bodies to be chemically and physically altered because of a perceived difference between their body and the gender that they perceive themselves to be. If we are getting ourselves to a position where gender does not matter any more, why are we considering allowing that to be done to children? Adults, yes, but why do we allow it for children? We need to look at that with great care.
So I hope that, in the course of this consultation, the Government will address these problems which they are—rightly—exacerbating and which will cause much pain if we do not address them. I wish them great courage—as an ungendered virtue—in that.