‘It’s a testament to how far we’ve fallen, and how much we are really just going backwards’
A coalition of LGBTQ+ charities, including Stonewall, has launched a campaign to have the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s ability to act as an independent overseer reviewed. This move comes following a series of actions undertaken by the EHRC which critics have deemed biased in favour of anti-trans groups.
The EHRC is an independent public body dedicated to promoting equality and non-discrimination laws, but its detractors argue that it’s failing it in its stated mission. In January, it was criticised by trans groups for trying to stall Scotland’s plans to make it easier for people to change their sex on their birth certificates. Yesterday, VICE News published leaked EHRC guidance which revealed plans to exclude trans people from using same-sex spaces, such as toilets and changing rooms, unless they hold a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) – something which as little as one per cent of trans people in the UK have.
Dazed spoke to Cara English, Head of Public Engagement at Gendered Intelligence, a trans charity that is involved in the campaign to have the EHRC’s status reviewed, to find out why this measure is necessary. “For the past few years, it’s been increasingly obvious that there isn't going to be anything positive towards trans communities coming out of the EHRC,” she says. “We haven’t had much of a relationship with them at Gendered Intelligence, apart from the occasional meeting where we’ve essentially just agreed to disagree. But over the past few weeks, the situation has drastically worsened and it now seems to be taking an actively anti-trans stance. We don't have faith in them as the watchdog of human rights for the UK. They are simply failing in their duties towards trans and non-binary communities.”
For Cara, the problem is that the EHRC is not as independent as it claims to be, as an organisation that theoretically should be free from political interference. “It has a direct through-line to the government, and whatever this particular government wants to achieve, which is a culture war, they're going to do that via the EHRC. To that end, they have stacked it with political appointees,” she says.
The proposed guidance which would ban trans people without GRCs from using single-sex spaces has understandably inspired a lot of concern among trans people, many of whom see it as an attempt to banish them from participating in public life. When I ask Cara how likely this is to actually come to fruition, she says it’s difficult to say for sure. The real problem is the fact that it’s being considered by the EHRC in the first place, regardless of whether it is actually actionable. “It’s a testament to how far we’ve fallen, and how much we are really just going backwards.”
“Over the past few weeks, the situation [at EHRC] has drastically worsened and it now seems to be taking an actively anti-trans stance. We don’t have faith in them” – Cara English, Gendered Intelligence
According to Cara, if the guidance does actually come about, then it will likely falter and almost immediately be rejected in court. “The problem is more that it’s spurring on transphobes and people who would seek to exclude trans people from things like single-sex toilets, and telling them via this dog-whistle guidance that this is OK,” she says. “So the real issue is everything behind it rather than the actual guidance itself.”
If you’re concerned about this proposed guidance and want to do something, there’s a petition on the Stonewall website which you can sign. But Cara wants to stress that people shouldn’t be too worried. “I’d like to say: it's going to be fine. We’re taking care of the legitimization of these kinds of anti-trans attitudes by going to the UN to have the EHRC downgraded or certainly reviewed, so people don’t need to concern themselves with that. We’re doing all we can to ameliorate and deescalate the situation. All of these threats are just unactionable, illegal nonsense that will be challenged, so just wait it out and hold the line.”
The campaign has also been supported by The Good Law Project, who Dazed also contacted for comment. In response, the non-profit’s director Jo Maugham said: “The combination of a transphobic media and a Government profiting from the culture war has caused the EHRC to slip its ethical moorings. This intervention is significant because it lets someone outside the UK, the UN, judge whether the label 'Equality and Human Rights Commission' accurately describes what the institution now is. In the meantime, there is a vast amount of work to be done protecting the trans community from illegality.”