As we write of things like the sectioning of trans people, it’s easy to see that as past, finished, something which could never happen again. Lest we forget, it’s important to remember that as recently as 2007 the British Government reaffirmed that in and of itself gender identity disorder(GID) can be grounds to section and individual. This was set out in appendix 1a of the fifteenth report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights in a letter dated 1 April 2007 from Rt Hon. Rosie Winterton MP (Labour), Minister of State, Department of Health. It includes sections like these:
The Government’s understanding, therefore, is that gender dysphoria and transvestic fetishism potentially constitute “a disability or disorder of the mind” in the terms of the Mental Health Act 1983 (“the 1983 Act”) and a “true mental disorder” for the purposes of Article 5(1)(e) of the Convention, where they reach a sufficient level of clinical significance. The issue has not arisen as far as the Government is aware, and the Government does not think it is possible, in the absence of case-law, to take a definitive view.
On the other hand, if a person did meet the criteria for detention as a result of gender identity or transvestic fetishism (or any other equally unlikely disorder) and needed to be detained for their own sake or to protect others then it is right that mental health legislation should enable appropriate action to be taken. But for that to happen there would have to be wholly exceptional – and very hard to envisage – circumstances.
What is doubly concerning is that when passing the Mental Health Act 2007 the Government specifically excluded learning difficulties as a mental disorder but, despite being urged to do so, retained the classification of GID as a “true mental disorder” which means transsexual people can be sectioned or forced to undergo treatment – for instance a transgendered adolescent could be forced by a pysch to undergo gender-reparative therapy.
There are less critical implications, which are nevertheless potentially serious to transsexual people such as the ability of Family Courts and adoption agencies to take a mental disorder into account when considering cases involving trans people.
It is also worth remembering that the Gender Recognition Act 2004(GRA) forces those who have undergone gender reassignment to secure a diagnosis of GID (ie of a mental disorder which could see them forcibly detained) even though it is, in practice, possible to receive hormonal treatment and surgeries to alter sexual characteristics without needing a GID diagnosis. This is surely wrong.
More positively, the suggestion that transvestism may also be regarded in law as a mental disorder means that transvestites (who have received no protection under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975) may have rights under the Disability and Discrimination Act 1995.