Legal Recognition of Non-binary Gender Identities — [Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:30 pm on 23 May 2022.

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Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Equalities) 5:30, 23 May 2022

I am not trying to give my hon. Friend a different answer; I am trying not to give him the wrong answer, so what I will do is this. I think the officials have a very clear understanding of the question, and we will write with the details, to ensure that that very specific question is answered.

My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley raised the issue of participation in sports by trans and non-binary individuals. The Government are clear that we support the independence of sports governing bodies to define their own rules on transgender inclusion. It is entirely appropriate that they can determine the right position for their own sport. Gender has no impact at all in some sports, even at elite level; and for those where it does make a difference, the devil is always in the detail. Sports governing bodies are best placed to navigate that. We may have an opinion, but the Government’s view is that sports bodies are best placed to use all the available evidence to come up with their own policies on how to deal with trans sportspeople.

The Equality Act has permitted restrictions on the participation of transgender people in gender-affected sporting competitions in order to uphold fair and safe competition. That has been in place since 2010. Again, the Government have no intention of amending that provision.

In September 2021, the Sports Councils’ Equality Group published the “Guidance for Transgender Inclusion in Domestic Sport”. The sports councils are currently working with a small number of sports to pilot some practical ways of using that guidance. Obviously, Members who wish to engage with that are advised to contact the relevant sports councils so that they can understand what is being reviewed and their views can be expressed and taken into account. The Government believe that time should be given to sports to consider that new guidance.

I would like to draw attention to the changing atmosphere for LGBT people in sports. Sport has traditionally proven to be a more challenging environment for some than for others to make themselves feel comfortable and safe to participate—that is not the same issue as where trans people are placed in sports. But it has begun to change in recent years. Only last week we witnessed the first male professional footballer in a UK club coming out as gay in more than 30 years. Jake Daniels, who is only 17 years old, has shown courage, maturity and authenticity in coming out publicly. I hope that his coming out will encourage a more inclusive sport, because I cannot believe for one minute that he is the only gay footballer in the professional sport. Certainly he has also been very honest in assessing the impact that it is likely to have on not just his career, but how he is reacted to by the fans. But he is now able at least to live his life the way he chooses, on his own terms. I genuinely wish him the very best and I hope that more follow his stance.

I want to finish on an international point. The UK is and will always be committed to being a global leader in LGBT+ rights. We are by no means perfect and we have work to do, but our role as co-chairs of the Equal Rights Coalition and—until this month—the European Governmental LGBTI Focal Points Network is very important to us. Working with colleagues such as Lord Herbert, who is an envoy specifically on global matters, we will continue to address many of the issues that are facing us overseas, because many countries are further behind. Some of that involves providing support, and some of it involves providing financial support, to ensure that non-governmental organisations are able to challenge discrimination. Although we took the difficult decision to cancel the “Safe To Be Me” conference, I am grateful to all the stakeholders for their work to get the conference almost in place.

I want to ensure that at home we continue to build a consensus on the legal recognition of non-binary individuals, because that has not yet emerged. We may not reach that consensus, and the Government may decide that they do not want to go down that route, but we need sufficient data, research and analysis to start to make decisions on where we go with this issue, based on the evidence. These issues are always thorny and never easy. All I can say is that the Government are willing to listen, talk and engage with many individuals so that their points of view are fully reflected in our policy development.