Boris Johnson is scrapping plans to allow self-identification, while Trump has reversed protections against discrimination in health care for trans people
Since Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, he’s been rolling back rights for the most vulnerable in society. In 2018, he announced a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to those seeking asylum, leading to thousands of children being separated from their families – and then locked in cages – at the US-Mexico border; he’s enabled states to pass dangerous, restrictive, and archaic abortion laws; he recently threatened to halt funding to the World Health Organisation during a pandemic; last month, he called those attending Black Lives Matter protests “thugs” and threatened to have them shot; the list goes on.
Now, in his continued fight against LGBTQ+ rights – which includes the banning of trans people from the military, the reversal of trans students’ rights to use bathrooms that match their gender identity, and the stripping of trans people’s ability to have their gender recognised legally – Trump has rescinded trans people’s protection from discrimination in health care.
Over in the UK, Trump’s British counterpart Boris Johnson also appears to be steadfast in his rejection of trans rights, scrapping the government’s plan to allow people to change their legal gender by self-identifying as male or female.
Both developments – arriving just two days apart – come as a blow to the LGBTQ+ community, particularly during Pride Month, and as the US marks the fourth anniversary of the tragic Orlando shooting. Here’s what the changes mean and how they will impact trans rights in the UK and US.
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THE US?
On Friday (June 12), the Trump administration finalised a regulation – first proposed last year – rolling back protections against discrimination in health care for trans people. As reported by The Guardian, health services will return “to the government’s interpretation of sex discrimination according to the plain meaning of the word ‘sex’ as male or female and as determined by biology”. Under Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), patients were protected from discrimination on the basis of gender identity, defined as a person’s internal sense of being male, female, neither, or a combination.
In stark contrast, today (June 15), the US Supreme Court has backed protections for LGBTQ+ workers, rulilng that employers who fire people for being gay or transgender are breaking the country’s civil rights laws. Campaigners have hailed the decision as the end of people hiding their sexuality at work.
It is outrageous that Trump, in the middle of a pandemic, is working to prevent LGBTQ+ Americans from getting health care they need. Discrimination of any kind has no place in our society. We must defeat Trump, guarantee health care as a right and protect all LGBTQ+ Americans. https://t.co/aNhYc2R4M5— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) June 12, 2020
HOW WILL THIS AFFECT ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE?
The policy change will allow health care providers and insurance companies to refuse to provide or cover transition-related care for trans people in the US. It also enables providers to refuse treatment simply because of a patient’s gender identity. Women’s groups say the new regulations even undermine access to abortion – a legal medical procedure.
“This change in legislation sends a message to the American people,” Voices4 London organiser and trans artist, Wednesday Holmes, tells Dazed. “It sends a clear message that reads: ‘transgender people are less human than you’. When you start to tell people that a minority is less deserving of human rights, people can very quickly start thinking that it’s OK for other safeties to be removed. It can also morph into more extreme violence. Trump has had a personal vendetta against trans people for his whole career in the White House. He’s sorely misguided if he thinks the people won’t fight him hard on this.”
“When you start to tell people that a minority is less deserving of human rights, people can very quickly start thinking that it’s OK for other safeties to be removed” – Wednesday Holmes, Voices4
Speaking to Dazed, Voices4 London organiser Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin says the government is using the “assumed distractions of recent events to further their anti-trans sentiments”. She continues: “The fact that this is happening during a time when many more are engaging with anti-racism work is no surprise. The framework and enforcement of the gender binary is rooted in white supremacy and colonialism.”
Writing on Twitter, Stonewall said: “This is terrifying news for our trans siblilngs in America, in the middle of a global pandemic. The Trump administration is rolling back more human rights for LGBTQ+ people – we will keep supporting US orgs (sic) in their fight for equality.”
WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?
Sign this petition urging the government to reinstate trans health care protections.
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THE UK?
On Sunday (June 14), The Times revealed that Johnson was ditching plans developed by Theresa May’s government that would allow trans people to legally change their gender without a medical diagnosis, enabling them to self-identify. This means that those wanting to change their birth certificate will still need medical approval. The leaked paper also detailed government plans to announce a ban on ‘gay cure’ therapies – something that was disclosed in 2018 – which is said to be an attempt to “placate LGBTQ+ people”. The government has also said it will “protect” female-only spaces, but that gender will be determined by anatomy; introduce national guidelines to counter the rise of gender-neutral toilets; and crackdown on “quack” doctors who are approving applications for Gender Recognition Certificates (GRC).
The announcement comes ahead of the long-awaited publication of the government’s response to 2018’s public consultation on the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). According to The Times, a paper on the government’s plans is “basically ready” and will be published at the end of July. It’s reported that over 100,000 people responded to the consultation, with 70 per cent of those backing the idea that everyone should be able to self-identify, leading to confusion as to why the government would not take public lead on its decision (officials allegedly believe the results were “skewed” by an “avalanche” of responses generated by trans rights groups).
The latest developments follow equalities minister Liz Truss’ comments in April, when she said she wanted to protect under-18s from “irreversible” decisions about their gender. These remarks came amid initial revelations about the publication of the response to the GRA consultation.
The GRA was implemented in the UK in 2004, and was a significant step for trans rights, giving trans people the opportunity to obtain a GRC that legally recognised their gender identity. However, it’s been 16 years since its introduction, and it’s in need of reform.
The UK government 'leaking' intentions to strip back trans rights at this moment is a clear attempt to divide the attentions of the left between standing up for Black lives and standing up for trans lives.— Drag Leone (@KiraArghy) June 13, 2020
We can do both.
Fuck the government.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR TRANS PEOPLE?
Without the ability to self-identify, trans people will still have to obtain a GRC before they can legally change their gender. The process of obtaining a GRC can be intrusive and humiliating (and, at £140, costly) – trans people have to receive a mental health diagnosis of gender dysphoria. A panel then decides upon each case, without ever meeting applicants. According to the government, just 4,910 people have legally changed their gender in the UK, proving that trans people aren’t using the complex and inaccessible process as it is now.
Speaking to Dazed, Holmes says: “It is already very difficult to access doctors who are willing to acknowledge that their patients are trans, and (if needed) to refer them quickly onto services that can deliver medical transition. The scrapping of (the ability to self-identify) sends a message to the public that transgender people should not be believed, and that they should not have a say in their own health care rights.”
“The government has scrapped the plans despite 70 per cent of the responses being in favour because they’re afraid,” Maheshwari-Aplin tells Dazed. “They’re not ready to accept that the world is moving forward and leaving them and their bigoted views behind. Now, more than ever, we, as cis allies, need to be speaking out in solidary with our trans+ siblings. Trans rights are human rights.”
“The government has scrapped the plans because they’re afraid. They’re not ready to accept that the world is moving forward and leaving them and their bigoted views behind” – Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin, Voices4
Holmes believes the government reversed its plans “because their views are in line with TERF organisers, who were hoping to swing the result to destroy any chance at reform”, adding: “Boris Johnson can’t possibly believe that people would care about transgender people. It has to be activists because he personally cannot understand that people would treat us as human.”
Other activists have also criticised the news. In a statement, Nancy Kelley, chief executive officer at Stonewall, said: “These reforms would have made many trans people’s lives much easier, as we know from the changes already made in Ireland five years ago.” In a blog post citing the reported responses from the GRA consultation, she continued: “The current narrative of ‘women feel threatened by trans rights’, that is the cornerstone of anti-trans rights campaigns, simply doesn’t stack up with the evidence we have.”
WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?
Write to your MP to express your dismay at the recent government announcements, asserting the urgency for the protection of trans rights. In April, trans-led charity Gendered Intelligence set up a tool to help you email a statement to your local MP. The group included a template email, which you can edit as you please to include the updated announcements.