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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:51 pm on 23 May 2022.

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Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham 4:51, 23 May 2022

I had wanted to say only a few brief words in this debate, but given that we have a little time, I might add a few more. I start by echoing the words of my hon. Friend Nick Fletcher, who opened the debate: we absolutely have a duty to be tolerant of those who do not identify with the gender that reflects their biological sex, or who choose to identify as non-binary. I acknowledge that a great many young people suffer from gender dysphoria, and we need to be supportive and give them the help they require.

That does not mean that we have to change the law, and it certainly does not mean that we have to change statute in order to recognise one particular description of how people are choosing to identify. As my hon. Friend said, there are criminal laws in place to deal with transphobic crime and other related hate crime. It is important that those laws are enforced and are seen to be enforced, in a way that is no different from how they are enforced in respect of those who do not identify in that way.

The petition states that recognising non-binary as a valid gender identity

“would aid in the protection of Non-binary individuals against transphobic hate crimes, and would ease Gender Dysphoria experienced by Non-binary people.”

That is quite a bold claim, for which I do not see the evidence. Indeed, being faced with the possibility of identifying not as a male, not as a female, but as non-binary could cause added confusion, certainly to teenagers going through a very formative and impressionable stage of their lives—as if they do not have enough to worry about already.

In so many debates, we hear about the huge pressures on our teenagers, and those of us who are parents have seen those ourselves. Teenagers certainly face far more pressures than when you or even I, Sir Roger, were at school and growing up, going through puberty and everything related to it. They face the mental health impact of the modern world—of social media, of peer pressure, and of the trendy thing to do that goes on in school and, crucially, in the social media world, out of the range of face-to-face challenge.

Those are huge pressures on our young people. What are they to do if faced with the question, “Are you sure you are a girl or a boy?” If we put that into law and say, “Actually, you may not be a girl or a boy; you can opt for non-binary,” whether or not a young person instigates that themselves, the pressure from some people to get their contemporaries to do so could be overwhelming. I take issue with the formula in the petition because I think it could actually make things worse for children who are already potentially questioning their gender identity because of pressures on them.

Not acknowledging that the law needs to be changed in order to protect such individuals should not be seen as in some way anti-transgender or anti people who want to identify themselves as different from the sex with which they were born. I share the concerns of my hon. Friend Miriam Cates about the disproportionate number of young people, in particular, who are looking to identify as transgender or non-binary and are ending up in gender clinics. She said there has been a 15-fold increase in recent years. Why is there this big increase? We need more evidence and research on exactly what is driving it in certain parts of the country and certain parts of the world.

I gather that it is heretical to claim that a person cannot change their birth sex, but to me, it is not terribly traditional to have been brought up with biology lessons that say that sex is not immutable. I fully acknowledge that people can choose to change their gender and want to be identified as something else. They cannot reverse history and change their birth sex. They can only choose to change their gender or the way they are recognised now; they cannot go back in time.

We must also look at the impact on the rest of the population. It is absolutely right that we protect a minority of people who need protections, but it is not right that we do it with no regard whatsoever to the vast majority of the population who do identify as men and women—in particular, women; the impact on women’s space is absolutely worrying. We have heard examples relating to gender-neutral toilets and changing rooms, the situation in prisons, and so on.