LGBT Action Plan: Gender Recognition - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:38 pm on 12 July 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development) 3:38, 12 July 2018

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for securing this debate and for the very positive way in which he introduced it. I look forward to the next hot day, when he arrives at your Lordships’ House in a dress. On a serious note, he posed a series of questions for us to think about for the future, and I found them very helpful.

We are proud to have introduced marriage for same-sex couples in 2013 and Turing’s law last year, finally pardoning men convicted of historical consensual sexual offences. The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, mentioned again, as he should have done, the disregard scheme. We are meeting next week and I hope we can then put a timescale on it. I felt slightly ashamed when he mentioned the length of time that has gone by without it making much progress. We have also established a £3 million programme, running from 2016 to 2019, to prevent and tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools. Finally, we committed to consult on the Gender Recognition Act, making the process less intrusive and bureaucratic for trans people. However, we know that there is much more to do.

I turn, first, to the national LGBT survey and action plan. We launched the survey last year to gather more information about, and evidence of, the experiences of LGBT people in the UK so that we can focus on the specific areas that will improve their lives. The results were announced last week. As the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, said, more than 108,000 people participated, making it the largest national survey of LGBT people in the world to date. I am glad to see that the findings received widespread coverage in the press and captured the attention of the nation in the last week, especially in the run-up to Pride in London last weekend.

The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, rightly pointed out that there is a rich source of data in this survey. As to when we will roll it out more widely, last week it was mentioned that the data gave us a burst of information about conversion therapy and how it was much more widespread than we had originally thought. She also mentioned conversion therapy in children. We have made an explicit statement that it is wrong. We plan to end it for adults and especially children. As we heard, the noble Baroness was at the event last week when we talked about conversion therapy. Some people say that they have been undergoing it all their lives, which is very sad. You cannot make someone be what they are not.

The survey focused on the experiences of LGBT people in the areas of safety, health, education and the workplace. Everyone has seen the headlines but I want to focus on a few points in the short time available to me.

More than two in three respondents said that they avoid holding hands with a same-sex partner in public spaces for fear of a negative reaction from others. An act as simple as holding the hand of a loved one should most certainly not be a source of fear. Seven in 10 respondents with a minority sexual orientation and more than two-thirds of trans respondents said that they avoided being open about being LGBT for fear of a negative reaction from others. No one, no matter what their gender identity or sexual orientation, should have to hide who they are.

The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and others, made particular mention of trans people, who face the most horrendous treatment in society—even, it has to be openly said, from among their LGBT colleagues. That sort of treatment came out in the survey and I hope that, through the GRA, we will see some improvement in their lives. Two out of five respondents said that they had experienced a hate incident in the year preceding the survey, committed by someone they did not live with, and yet nine in 10 respondents said that they did not report it because, “It happens all the time”.

The noble Lord raised the question of PHSE in faith schools, as 3% of respondents said they had discussed sexual orientation and gender identity at school and that the process has been far from satisfactory. Young people should leave school prepared for life and without some of the problems that they have faced in schools—for example, teachers disclosing what children have told them. I totally get his point that PHSE needs to be age appropriate, but it should not preclude those discussions that children might want to have in school.

The noble Lord also talked about PrEP. We are funding a three-year trial on PrEP and how best to deliver it. Once it is completed, we will consider extending it further.

My noble friend Lord Lucas talked about fairness in sport. There is already an exception in the Equality Act which allows organisers of sporting competitions to discriminate on the ground of gender reassignment to allow the safety of competitors and fair competition. We will not be changing the Equality Act, as we have said time and time again. Sport UK and Sport England have issued helpful guidance on the fair inclusion of transgender people in sport.

My noble friend also mentioned the Gender Recognition Act and medical intervention for children. It is important to know that only adults over the age of 18 can commit to surgical intervention, and that is after a period of assessment. A limited number of adolescents are prescribed puberty blockers and fewer are prescribed cross-sex hormones. These are prescribed only by specialist gender identity units and so their use is few and far between.

The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, asked why the GRA consultation was ignoring young people, given that many know what their gender identity is and should not have to wait until the age of 18 to have it recognised in law. We are not ignoring young people—they can respond to the upcoming consultation. We will take their opinions into account and we will welcome responses from them. Whether children up to the age of 17 should be allowed legal gender recognition is a topic of debate and, similar to today’s discussion, we are approaching the topic with great care.

The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, told a very painful story about being outed as a young child. There is no legal remedy for outing at this time. I remember the 1980s, when public figures in particular were outed, and I do not we have such an environment any longer. However, whether they wish to come out is the decision of the person involved, and that should be respected. But I hope we are entering a period of cultural shift, in which people do not have to undergo the suicidal thoughts that the noble Lord did. I thank him for sharing that story with us.

My noble friend Lord Lucas talked about single-sex services such as women’s refuges, which has come up time and time again in the discussions I have had. Again, we do not intend to change the existing safeguards in the Equality Act that protect vulnerable women. It will continue to allow organisations to provide single-sex and separate-sex services, and, in circumstances, exclude people identifying as transgender provided that doing so can be convincingly demonstrated to be a proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim. This, however, is a sensitive area, and I know we will have many discussions on it. We have issued very clear guidance to service providers on how to deal respectfully with transgender people. However, I have been told that transgender people are incredibly shy about sharing changing rooms, so what has stood well for 14 years is not about to change.

The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, made a valid point about LGBT homelessness. In our action plan we have committed to undertake a research project to understand more about the complex problem of LGBT homelessness. It is important that government takes action on the basis of good evidence. We do not have enough evidence about the nature and scale of the problem, which at the moment inhibits us from designing effective policies. However, I am sure we will all work together to look at this further.

One noble Lord—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Cashman—asked about devolution and same-sex marriage. It is a decision for the Northern Ireland Assembly but the Government, particularly the Prime Minister, have made clear that they would like to see it.

The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, asked how much of the £4.5 billion would go to government departments and what will be process. I am sorry, I just gave a terrible false hope for two seconds—it is £4.5 million. There will be more details on that as we come up to the autumn. He also asked about making decisions on asylum and I shall write to him on that, about an independent public audit.

In the short time I have left I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for talking about his condition and for sharing his personal experiences with the House. He asked about intersex people and children’s surgery. We have committed to a call for evidence about the issues faced by intersex people and will consider the issues that he raises in the design of that call for evidence.

I was not surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, asked about LGBT people seeking asylum. The LGIG report to which he refers states that the treatment of people has improved, but I do not deny that we have further to go on this.

I am afraid I have run out of time but I think I have answered everyone’s questions. However, I wish to refer to a point made to me the other day. Some of the progress we have made on these issues has been made together. That is why, in the spirit of what the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, said, I look forward to working with noble Lords from all sides of the House on progressing these issues—which are sometimes more difficult than they appear on first view—in the future.