It recently came to our attention that a member of Health Improvement Scotland had been participating in anti-trans discrimination online. GenderGP has a policy of non-engagement with any individual or organisation who discriminates against LGBTQ+ people in any way, shape or form. However, we were concerned that such exclusionary views could have a place in an organisation committed to equality in healthcare, so we reached out to HIS.
Sent via email: June 23rd, 2021
Dear Carole Wilkinson and Robbie Pearson,
It has come to our attention, on the HIS Board Biographies page, that Rhona Hotchkiss is a non-executive director of Healthcare Improvement Scotland. We would like to take this opportunity to raise some concerns about her position in this role.
GenderGP is a global organisation that provides Health and Wellbeing Services to transgender and gender diverse people. Our concern is that Rhona Hotchkiss’ affiliations and publicly held views are at odds with your own commitment, as outlined by Mario Medina, Equality and Diversity Advisor for Healthcare Improvement Scotland, to eliminate discrimination, advance equality, tackle prejudice and promote understanding across nine protected characteristics.
The evidence contained in this letter points towards a need to review her role at HIS as we fear she has the potential to negatively impact progress for the healthcare rights of transgender people in Scotland.
Reflecting on her own experiences of growing up gay and as a tom-boy, in January 2020 during a event for ForWomen.Scot Rhona commented: ‘I have no doubt that if I was growing up now and on social media and listening to the utter pishh that organisations like mermaids come out with I would be being Transed’ – Mermaids is a National Lottery funded charity that has been supporting transgender, non-binary and gender-diverse children, young people, and their families since 1995.
It may be best for Rhona herself to account for her use of the word ‘Transed’ in this context. However, we believe that the subtext points towards the suggestion that social media is responsible for an alleged social contagion that has resulted in an increase in people transitioning, even if they are not trans.
As a provider of transgender healthcare and wellbeing services, we find it incredibly difficult to witness a non-executive member of an organsation responsible for improving healthcare, assert that organisations working to support young trans people are in fact seeking to influence them into becoming trans.
Indeed, any such suggestion merely belittles the experiences and needs of trans people, particularly against a backdrop of the widely publicised struggles that this patient group has had in accessing healthcare.
At this same event, Rhona equated trans women to men, in the context of ‘men’ being put in women’s prisons because they identify as trans women. When describing the current prison policy of housing trans women in the women’s prison estate, Rhona goes on to say that there, ‘is an acceptance that the same men are not a danger to women when you put them beside them [In Women’s prisons]’.
Rhona goes on to say that, ‘Trans women are not a subset of women, they are a subset of men’, a strong indication that Rhona believes that trans women are men and not women, at the very least in the context of the prison population.
We believe this demonstrates a view that would potentially limit Rhona’s ability to represent the needs of trans people without prejudice. It’s also a view that is at odds with the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and Equalities Act 2010, which assert that if a trans man says they are a man, it is their right to be treated by healthcare services as such.
During her time as a member of the Scottish National Party, it is reported that Rhona attended the launch and became a signatory of the SNP Women’s Pledge. The pledge states that, ‘We cannot share female-only spaces with male people regardless of their personalities, dress sense, identities etc.’ In this context ‘male people’ is in clear reference to transgender women and girls.
We feel that if a representative of HIS is unable to accept and respect transgender identities, they lack a fundamental understanding of trans people, something that would impact their effectiveness when contributing to the improvement of trans healthcare and wellbeing service in Scotland.
We are also concerned about certain affiliations Rhona has outside of her role with the HIS.
Rhona has been a spokesperson for LGB Alliance – and is quoted as speaking for them on BBC Politics Show in March 2020. The LGB Alliance is an organisation opposed to Trans related Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) in schools.
More information on LGB Alliance’s opposition to trans related Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) can be found on their page on the subject – https://lgballiance.org.uk/schools-campaign/ – a page dedicated directing their followers on how to oppose trans related SRE as facilitated by NGOs and schools.
It concerns us that Rhona has represented an organisation that promotes education as damaging. Indeed the Alliance states that: ‘Governments are allowing a range of gender identity lobby groups to sell or provide materials to schools that promote potentially damaging theories’. As a healthcare organisation we do not believe there is anything damaging in young trans people being taught in a school setting that there is nothing wrong with them being transgender, that they are as valid as their cisgender colleagues and friends, and that there are organisations that are able to help, should they need it.
Rhona’s affiliation to an organisation that has its roots in ensuring that transgender rights in healthcare and legislation are curbed in this way, raises questions around how they might be influencing access to transgender healthcare and regulation of hospitals and clinics in Scotland.
It’s worth noting that Rhona’s own public comments, on the subject of transgender healthcare and trans rights also highlight concerns as to the appropriateness of her position at HIS.
In her tweet dated 02.04.2021, replying to an anonymised account and in reply to a link to a USA Today with the title ‘States weigh bans on Trans athletes’, Rhona said that ‘They need to stop saying it’s a ban on trans athletes. It’s not. It’s a ban on men competing against women. Everyone is free to compete in sport – in their correct category‘.
In her tweet dated 29.12.2019, in a long thread about trans women and girls accessing women’s only spaces, Rhona mentioned that ‘The vast majority of transwomen are still clearly and obviously men‘.
In her tweet dated 23.03.2020, replying directly to the GenderGP twitter account, and in reference to GenderGP mentioning trans healthcare and welcoming a Stonewall UK statement in support of trans people, Rhona referred to trans healthcare as, ‘no more ‘healthcare’ than plastic surgery.’
This suggests that Rhona’s position in relation to transgender healthcare is at odds with NHS Scotland’s National Gender Identity Clinical Network for Scotland (NGICNS) steering and working group’s goals of achieving timely, coordinated, service provision and equitable access to planned gender identity clinical services.
In her tweet dated 31.03.2021, replying to Tim Morrison during a long thread discussing ‘Self-declaration’ and in part discussing the years-long waiting lists that trans people face accessing affirming healthcare, Rhona openly stated her view that transgender people have ‘the same access to healthcare as anyone else’ which, it is widely known, is not the case.
She reiterated this position in her tweet dated 04.12.2020, and in reply to Amnesty UK where she added that, ‘Young trans people should not have their access to healthcare restricted simply because they are trans’, Rhona suggested that Amnesty UK should ‘get a grip’. She went on to suggest Puberty Blockers are ‘foisted on children’.
In her tweet dated 29.03.2021, in a reply to KymmeSevenTymmes during a conversation about trans children accessing puberty blockers, Rhona again made her views on gender diverse youth clear, by commenting that ‘Children are children. They are not ‘CIS’ or ‘Trans’. Some children need puberty blockers because they have an actual medical condition, not an indefinable feeling‘.
All individuals representing your organisation must be seen to support your own commitment to eliminate discrimination, advance equality, tackle prejudice and promote understanding across nine protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
The above evidence raises questions as to whether this particular appointment meets the necessary criteria, and whether indeed she has acted outside the law in her publicly-stated opinions. Our view is that it does not and we ask that this be fully investigated in light of these findings.
Trans people must feel protected and supported in accessing healthcare, appointing an individual to a position of power with views that might further impede or block access to care is a serious concern.
We look forward to hearing from you.