The moral panic over our existence has been raging for seven years. Media reports about us have escalated from the occasional article where we are some kind of salacious punchline towards us being a threat to everything from women, children, IT systems and the environment. It was (and is) those media reports that have escalated the rise of transphobia in the United Kingdom but those reports escalated in response to the actions of those in the UK parliament.
And the UK parliament is going to be doing a lot of things relating to trans people this year. There is a possibility that most of these things could make life better for trans people in the UK eventually. But judging by what the last seven years have been like for trans people, the road to get there is going to get pretty fucking weird.
Here are the big issues you won’t be able to avoid keeping an eye on:
The conversion therapy/practices ban
First announced in 2018, the conversion therapy ban has been changed, dropped, resurrected and messed with more than the Spider-man movies.
Under Theresa May’s Conservative government it was announced and then seemingly forgotten about until Boris Johnson became prime minister and his minister for women and equalities Liz Truss actually put together a widely criticised draft for a ban and put it out for consultation. Thanks to the UK media establishing narratives around transition regret, the vilification of trans healthcare and everything else, trans inclusion became the focus.
In April last year Boris Johnson’s government binned the entire ban, before quickly partially reversing and keeping the ban but dropping trans people from its protections. This resulted in nationwide protest and a rebellion inside the Parliamentary Conservative party (and reportedly, anger from Liz Truss over Downing Street going over her head).
That was how things were left before Liz Truss came and went as prime minister and Rishi Sunak’s government announced a new ban last week. All indications suggest that what was left of Liz Truss’ ban has been binned and a new bill has been started from scratch.
A draft of the new ban will be published as part of yet another public consultation ‘shortly’ according to Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan.
How the draft of the bill will shake out remains to be seen but however the bill is phrased and whatever this government classify as conversion therapy/practices, this consultation will inspire the usual suspects in the media and in parliament to say a lot of weird, silly shit about trans people.
The legal battle of Scottish gender recognition
After six years and two public consultations, the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood overwhelmingly passed their Gender Recognition Reform bill that would have lowered the age a person can attain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) to 16, removed the requirement for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria/incongruence and would have lowered the ‘lived experience’ requirement from two years to three months (six months for those under 18).
I use the phrase ‘would have’ because the UK government decided to block the bill. They argued that the bill would have strayed into areas that the Scottish parliament does not have jurisdiction over and cited concerns for the safety of women and girls. Kemi Badenoch told the Times that the bill could enable predators easier access to vulnerable people. This made very little sense as it suggests that the UK government believes that birth certificates have ever stopped a sexual predator from doing anything they wanted and implies that rape hasn’t effectively been decriminalised in the UK.
Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has come out strongly against the block and has said she will be seeking a legal challenge to the block via judicial review.
Trans issues are not the only factor in this upcoming legal fight. Issues of Scottish independence and autonomy and the future of the union of the United Kingdom are also going to make this a media event.
Judicial reviews are a specific legal action that challenges the lawfulness of a specific action by the government or a public authority. These can take months to commence and it can take judges months to render a judgement.
This story is going to be a major part of UK trans news this year and may even continue into 2024.
New trans pupil guidance for schools
Last year the (now disgraced) former Minister for Education Nadhim Zahawi announced that new guidance for schools covering how to deal with trans youths would be put to a public consultation in September.
The plans were postponed after Boris Johnson was forced to resign, Liz Truss came and went as prime minister and Rishi Sunak took the role. The consultation will now happen ‘shortly’ according to the Department of Education.
You can bet that when that happens the UK media will focus on whether it is right or wrong for a young trans person to socially transition without their parent’s consent or knowledge. Some will almost certainly focus on whether a young trans person should be allowed to transition at all.
The shadow hanging over this will be the on-going Cass Review, commissioned by the NHS to investigate and recommend how the NHS provides healthcare to transgender youths. In her interim report, Hillary Cass stated that social transition is not a neutral act whilst also pointing out that doing nothing for a distressed child is also not neutral.
Another shadow hanging over this guidance will be the fact that young people are protected under the Equality Act almost as much as adults are. The guidance will have to take into account that misgendering and insisting that a young person not present as the gender they are could cause legal issues.
What you can be sure of right now: the public debates over this guidance are going to be very silly and potentially harmful for vulnerable trans youths.
The Cass Review
The NHS commisioned Hilary Cass to review gender identity service provision for transgender youths in 2020. So far the only result has been an interim-report that they released last year.
To say this review has been controversial in the community is the biggest understatement since everyone wrote off COVID-19 as a simple flu.
The Cass review interim report itself sparked a national media shit-storm that gave a great many anti-trans activists a platform to claim Cass was calling for everything from the end of trans healthcare for young people to the banning of social transition. None of that was actually true.
Whilst nothing has been confirmed so far, it is likely that the Cass review will release either another report or possibly its full report before the end of the year.
It remains to be seen if the report will be good for trans youths or not but like the Department of Education guidance, you can be sure the media will be all over it with the sensitivity and decorum they have become famous for.
LGBT+ inclusive relationship and sex education may be coming under the microscope once again
Last summer Rishi Sunak announced at a number of Tory leadership contest events that he wanted to give parent’s ‘more rights’ in regards to LGBT inclusive sex and relationship education (RSE).
After years of campaigning from LGBT activists and organisations, schools in the UK begun teaching a more inclusive program of sex and relationship education that included issues relating to trans people.
A number of factors make this subject likely to become even more of a fascination in the media this year.
There is a petition on Parliament’s petition website that has gained over 180,000 signitures calling for LGBT+ inclusive RSE to end. Also there is the upcoming guidance from the Department of Education concerning how schools should handle trans youths (it is currently unknown how much this will impact LGBT+ RSE).
If you add up Sunak’s clear support for weakening LGBT+ RSE and everything else, it is likely that this is a subject that will come up a lot this year.
A fair amount of potentially positive steps…but…
It is entirely possible that these moves in parliament and the courts result in positive change. A comprehensive conversion therapy/practices ban, positive guidance for schools and a legal victory for Scottish trans people would improve trans lives going forward.
But as is the nature of this never-ending moral panic over our mere presence seemingly anywhere, even if that is true the road to a better place is going to be rough.
It is also just as likely that these moves are not nearly as positive as they could be. Judging by how openly hostile the Conservative party has been (and is) towards trans people, many reading this wouldn’t be entirely wrong in believing this will be the case.
However this all shakes out, whatever the results, the next 12 months for trans people are going to be rough.