LGBT Action Plan: Gender Recognition - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:20 pm on 12th July 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Featherstone Baroness Featherstone Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 3:20 pm, 12th July 2018

My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for bringing this important debate to the Chamber and associate myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Scriven and the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and the interesting and informative contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson.

I find myself in the position of welcoming the Government’s approach to this, particularly on self-identification. It shows that more understanding has finally come and that life and gender are not as simple as we used to assume—but it is still misunderstood. About 40-plus years ago when I was a student, I read the book Conundrum by Jan Morris—this was James Morris, who was a military man and adventurer. I had never come across or heard anything about trans before; reading this book as my first connection with this work gave me such a deep understanding that this is so fundamental and so real, but so misunderstood by the general population.

Then, some years later, I led for the Liberal Democrats on the Equality Bill. Vera Baird was the then Minister taking it through for the Labour Benches. In Committee, we had many arguments that are still used by judges today in court, because I argued against the protected characteristic of gender reassignment, which I felt misdescribed that protected characteristic. There is a spectrum, and gender reassignment somehow sounded as though you had to reassign your gender surgically or medically or actually do something. My argument at that point—there are copious words in Hansard—was that people feel very differently at different stages about their gender.

At the Stonewall hustings in 2010, I think, I was sitting on the panel. I was there early and there were two guys in front of me making jokes about trans women—it was the way it used to be, let us say; life has moved on since then. I was so upset and I had a go at them—I am not one to necessarily hold my punches. I was so incensed by the time the whole audience came in that I threw away my speech and lectured the whole of the Stonewall hustings audience on behaviour. I thought it was absolutely awful. Any of us who have been in minorities—even when we are a majority as women—should take note, in my view, of that poem by Martin Niemöller: “First they came for the Jews, and who is left to speak up for us?”. Eventually and wonderfully, Stonewall added trans to LGB and became LGBT. Its current CEO, Ruth Hunt, is doing an amazing job in supporting the trans community. She is outstanding and brave—she is trolled, and the vilification that goes on against trans people is now levelled at her for taking a stand.

The world is funny, because I became a Home Office Minister—who knew a Liberal Democrat could do that?—and Minister for Equalities. One of the first things I did was to produce the first transgender action plan in the whole world. I worked extensively with the community during that time. Although it was not implemented properly and we are now going to have a second one—which is why I welcome what is happening now—trans has, since then, become better known about. But it is still not really known about at a deep level; some of the programmes have been fantastic and some have been found wanting.

There are not enough services for those who need them and not enough understanding that, for those who pass in the other gender, they pass—you will never know what they originally were and what they are now. That is how it should be. The only thing I would take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on is men taking part in women’s sport; there are issues about toilets and changing rooms—and I am sorry that it has been so reductionist as to come down to that—for sport and for shelters. But those who transition are the other gender, and those who self-identify are the other gender. Those are details that need to be worked out.

I came to speak in this debate today because I am an uber-feminist. There are some feminists who have brought shame, I think, to the name of feminist by the level of hatred and vitriol that they have levelled at trans women. That is why I am standing here today. How little they understand this community. They should be welcoming and understanding to these new women. They should have humanity, kindness and inclusiveness in their souls. This fanatical assault is not feminism, it is false protectionism—mistaken protectionism. So to the faux feminists I say: regain your humanity and understanding. To be trans is challenging enough—with the sort of challenges that you have to go through to work in a world that has traditionally been totally binary and is now coming to grips with the fact that perhaps it is not the way we all thought it was. The attempted suicide rate should be indication enough that this is a community that needs our love and support. I am glad that we are going to try to do better.