The UK has announced a major LGBT conference for 2022. However, over the past few years, when it comes to improving trans healthcare, it has failed to deliver. With politicians saying one thing but practising something altogether different is it any wonder that the trans community views the forthcoming conference with scepticism? Real change starts by listening – and responding – to the needs of the people. In this article we explore this topic in more detail.
Next year the UK will hold its first ever global LGBT equality conference. The announcement came with a few names attached that, if you’re trans in the UK, you’ll probably recognise – and not for good reasons, unfortunately.
‘Safe To Be Me’ was introduced by Liz Truss, the Minister for Women and Equalities and overseer of the recent consultations on the reform of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). She made an impassioned defence of international equality: “I want everyone to be able to live their life free from prejudice, malice, or violence, regardless of their background”. These words should be a source of strength to anyone who has been marginalised in the UK or beyond.
However, Truss’ relationship with the LGBTQ+ community in the UK – and especially transgender people – has been rocky. Even before her appointment as Equalities Minister she had sided against the trans community, praising MumsNet boss Justine Roberts for her ‘approach to free speech’ after Roberts came under fire for promoting anti-trans hate speech and calling for ‘a new section 28’.
She failed to recognise the needs of trans people during the GRA consultations, despite overwhelming popular response (70% of the UK public want self-identification to be made easier). Instead, the consultations dragged on for years, ignoring positive responses and calls for affirming action. In her written response to the consultations in September 2020, she correctly identified that the process to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) was bureaucratic and costly, and that the state of trans healthcare in the UK was deeply concerning.
However, the actions she proposed as an outcome did very little to address these issues. Instead of reforming the outdated GRA, the process for obtaining a GRC was moved online and the cost was reduced. This is little consolation to the thousands of trans people in the UK who cannot obtain a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, or have not been able to live in their gender for the required two years, or to non-binary people, who continue to have no legal recognition whatsoever in the UK.
To improve access to healthcare for trans people Truss promised ‘three new gender clinics’, which, it was revealed shortly afterwards, were not new at all and in fact referred to pilot schemes in London, Manchester and Merseyside that had been seeing patients throughout summer 2020. Although these pilot schemes are a great resource for trans people in these areas, they aren’t the new clinics that were promised. Furthermore, they only see people who have already been referred to a Gender Identity Clinic (GIC).
Not to mention the fact that the process for referral to a GIC on the NHS continues to be governed by inconsistently applied, arbitrary protocols, making it difficult for trans people to even be considered for treatment.
More recently Truss has claimed that she was intending to waive the need for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria in obtaining a GRC, but was persuaded by Dr Michael Brady, National Advisor for LGBT Health, that there wasn’t “any stigma attached” to obtaining such a diagnosis. Brady himself has since denied the accusation, although the Government Equalities Office records show that Truss was advised that this was his position. Whatever the facts, nobody is taking responsibility for this failing, despite the fact that human rights groups like Amnesty described the current process for access to healthcare and legal recognition for trans people in the UK as ‘dehumanising’.
The common thread throughout all of these issues is a lack of trans voices. Why is an overwhelming response in favour of trans rights treated as a vocal minority? What can Michael Brady bring to the table that someone trying to use his services can’t? If our treatment of trans people has an international reputation for inhumanity, surely it’s time to listen to them? Rather than promising more of a broken system, isn’t it time to change the system entirely?
Alongside Truss in the equality conference announcement was Dominic Raab, Conservative Secretary of State and Foreign Secretary, who said that ‘The right to live life without fear and persecution are the bedrock of inclusive and open societies’. A cursory glance at his voting record, however, reveals a long history of opposing human rights. In fact, in 2019 when asked about whether he would continue with former Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans to relax the restrictive GRA he responded, “I certainly don’t think I want to make it easier”. It’s clear that it’s easy to talk about inclusivity and openness, but it is a very different matter to actually act on it.
Exposing this hypocrisy is all well and good. But that’s not what trans people in the UK care about. When people come to GenderGP they aren’t interested in politics or finding someone to blame. They’re more concerned with finding someone who will listen, and getting the care that they desperately need. If Liz Truss and the Government Equalities Office really want to improve the condition of trans healthcare they need to recognise the needs of the people they support and start making changes. Until then, it’s going to be hard to take them seriously.
GenderGP have written on the problems with the GRA consultation process, and you access a transcript of the most recent session on our blog. If you are concerned about the state of trans healthcare in the UK, you can share this article on social media with the hashtag #TransHealthcare.