A few days ago, Christine Burns, formerly of Press for Change (PfC) posted an article on her personal blog asking whether the Equality and Human Rights Commission is trying to “forget” trans people. Many trans people feel let down by EHRC. An analysis of their website shows little action on trans issues – press releases may mention gender reassignment in a tag cloud of equality issues, but there’s nothing recent at all in terms of anything substantial on trans issues. I Googled on the name of the chairman, “Trevor Phillips” and “gender reassignment” to see when he last spoke on gender reassignment. I got bored before I found any matches. Speaches on women’s issues and a lot on race, but precious little if anything on gender reassignment.
You’d have thought that after Thomas Hammerberg’s statement in December that “Discrimination against transgender persons must no longer be tolerated” that EHRC would have got the message and spoken up on trans issues. If nothing else, the Human Rights Commissioner had given EHRC a perfect platform to stand up and say, “We agree with the Commissioner. Discrimination against trans people can no longer be tolerated. Discrimination itself can no longer be tolerated against any class of people.”
Only they didn’t. Hmmmm. Concerning.
In fact there’s not even a mention of Hammerberg’s release on the EHRC website. The Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe has issued a hardhitting viewpoint calling for an end to discrimination on one of the statutory strands of discrimination that the EHRC is supposed to promote and it doesn’t ever merit a link on the site.
Hmmmm, that’s downright worrying.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is supposed to be the champion of trans people against discrimination and transphobia, just as they are the champions against discrimination on grounds of race or gender. Only there’s no evidence that they are fulfilling that role. In fact, rather than listing gender reassignment as it’s own equality stream, they keep trying to roll it in to gender. If gender reassignment ceases to be a stream then EHRC doesn’t need to do anything about trans issues because they are part of the gender stream and EHRC can show it’s doing a lot on that stream.
I suspect Christine’s timely article has touched a few nerves within the trans community and that EHRC will be called to account. But if they ignore online blog posts and letters to them, where will we go next? Who oversees the overseer when the overseer goes to sleep? Let’s hope we don’t need to find out and that EHRC in the next few weeks will get off their backsides and demonstrate that they understand trans issues and are committed to fighting trans discrimination. It’s not as if there is a shortage of issues. The many discriminatory provisions in the Gender Recognition Act. PCTs refusing funding. Transphobic bullying in schools. Transsexual adolescents being unable to get puberty blockers on the NHS. Lack of attention to discrimination against those who are transgendered but not transsexual. Problems with transsexual immigrants being deported even thought they will face persecution. Pension issues as highlighted by Thomas Hammerberg.
Hmmmm. Ahhhh. Perhaps that’s the problem. The majority of the discrimination is being perpetrated by the public sector. The EHRC would need to call the Government to account and they seem reluctant to rise to that challenge.
But if they don’t do much more for trans people and soon then I foresee national newspapers asking how EHRC can have credibility in equality issues if they so manifestly fail to act to support one of the most vulnerable groups in society. Having spent time with trans people over the past couple of years, I have learned that they are generally inclined to let things go but all of a sudden reach a tipping point at which their complaints become very vocal. It happened with Stonewall and, if the EHRC don’t pull their collective fingers out and soon, I foresee it happening again with the EHRC.