LGBT Action Plan: Gender Recognition - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 12 July 2018.

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords) 3:15, 12 July 2018

My Lords, I join others who thanked the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for securing this debate, and for the interesting way in which he introduced it. I am not sure that Hansard will be able to pay due credit to the flourish with which he unveiled the colours behind his jacket, but I hope that some means will be found of expressing it. Without the props, which we are not really supposed to have, it would have lacked a little. It was an important contribution to the debate, and the noble Lord made some very sensible points. We should also thank others who have spoken, including my noble friend Lord Cashman and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, who dealt with their personal experiences and brought in their wider experience on this issue.

I want to focus on the references in the excellent report to non-binary people and to intersex, which is an area I have become interested in because I myself suffer from a condition called hypospadias. I have not often talked about it because it leaves strong psychological burdens which I struggle with, even today. Having got that out of the way, I did manage to set up a small charity which reached out to those in our society who have the hypospadias problem. It brought me into contact with other organisations mainly to do with hypospadias but also involved in campaigning around intersex and non-binary issues.

It came across strongly to me that the two main concerns were not just the recognition of gender identity, although that was mentioned very strongly by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. It is a very important issue to which I want to come back. As he said, and others have mentioned in other debates, there is extraordinarily aggressive treatment meted out to young people and children who are too young to be aware of what is happening to them. There are those who have a vision about a society that is strongly bi-gendered—in other words, the male and female sides are easily identified both in terms of their physical look and subsequently in the way in which they are brought up. This is something that has to stop and I hope that, when the report is finally received, we can look forward to some legislation because it is a very important issue.

In working on my charity, and in helping those who suffer from hypospadias, I have come across areas where activity has been followed by legislation. I draw attention in particular to a recent law in Malta which deals with gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics. It is a model that could be translated easily into British law, and I recommend it to the Minister as an issue that she might pick up when it is right to do so. The Maltese Act deals with and identifies gender expression and gender identity. It talks about gender marking and lived gender, which are all issues that those with problems of gender expression and sex segregation are familiar with. It is important to see these things in statute, and I recommend that to the Minister.

The Act also talks about sexual characteristics, often used as a test or diagnostic, leading to further medical treatment, which is appalling and must be stopped. It deals with the way in which everybody in Malta, perhaps since the passing of the Act, now has the right of recognition of their gender identity. By that it means a person’s internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body—of appearance, functions, medical, surgical or other means. These issues are so important, and it would be wonderful to see them in our own statute book.

The question of a change of gender identity is raised in the Act. Those who have concerns about how minors are treated are dealt with. Towards the end, it deals very importantly with the need to protect bodily integrity and physical autonomy, issues that I think have been left too long out of the scope of our legal processes. I just read this particular section:

“It shall be unlawful for medical practitioners or other professionals to conduct any sex assignment treatment and/or surgical intervention on the sex characteristics of a minor which treatment and/or intervention can be deferred until the person to be treated can provide informed consent”.

This is such an important passage, which raises matters such as other interventions in children. It should be picked up and used in any future discussions in this area.

I would hope that the report that will be generated by the GEO, which I welcome, will improve the understanding that we all should have about the issues facing non-binary people and the issues facing people who are intersex. But that in itself will not be sufficient, and I call for action.