Equality for trans women – louder and prouder!

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2022 Virtual National Women's Conference
14 October 2021

The toxic debate ignited by the UK government’s public consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) underlined the importance of our union supporting and representing our trans members effectively.

Attacks on trans rights have continued to escalate. In September 2021, the Council of Europe published a detailed report ‘Combating rising hate against LGBTI people in Europe’, which states “In the United Kingdom, anti-trans rhetoric, arguing that sex is immutable and gender identities not valid, has also been gaining baseless and concerning credibility, at the expense of both trans people’s civil liberties and women’s and children’s rights”

The report goes on to say “The ‘gender-critical’ movement, which wrongly portrays trans rights as posing a particular threat to cisgender women and girls, has played a significant role in this process, notably since the [consultation on updating the GRA] …. In parallel, trans rights organisations have faced vitriolic media campaigns, in which trans women especially are vilified and misrepresented”.

Such attacks have included groups trying to roll back the rights of trans people encouraging supporters to lobby public bodies to remove ‘gender’ from their equality policies and replace it with ‘sex’.

There has been a sustained attack on Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme, which gives advice, support and resources to employers on meeting their statutory requirements under the Equality Act 2010 and provides support and tools for organisations to improve their practice beyond the legal minimum. There have been repeated false claims that Stonewall is misinterpreting the Equality Act’s protected characteristic of gender reassignment in its advice to organisations. Stonewall’s advice is based on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Equality Act Code of Practice, which was reaffirmed by the High Court in May when it threw out an attempt by one of the co-founders of the anti-trans LGB Alliance to launch a judicial review against the EHRC’s guidance.

Attacks are being coordinated to undermine support for Stonewall’s work on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender plus (LGBT+) equality at work.

The tactics being used by those campaigning to roll back the existing rights of trans people, particularly the vilification of trans women, are almost identical to the tactics seen around the time of Section 28, when gay men were portrayed as sexual predators and a danger to children to spread fear and mistrust.

Conference recognises that recent years have seen a concerted international campaign against trans people and there is growing evidence of this being linked to the far right and religious-right groups – movements dedicated to undermining women’s rights, who see transgender rights as a way to get greater support for their anti-abortion, anti-LGBT+ views.

Conference notes that:

1)The Southern Poverty Law Centre in the United States (US) reported that in 2017, at an annual right-wing, fundamentalist event called the Values Voter Summit, transphobia was discussed as a tactic to be deployed, because rallying against homosexuals was not working any more, One of the far-right panellists said: “Trans and gender identity are a tough sell, so focus on gender identity to divide and conquer…trans activists need the gay rights movement to help legitimize them…If you separate the T from the alphabet soup, we’ll have more success”.

2) The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation’s study on the evolution of extremism in the first 100 days of the Biden Administration found that “Transphobia has long been one of the most major and ubiquitous narratives around which the far right mobilises… Transphobia should be recognised as a security concern.”

3) Some anti-trans individuals and groups in the UK have links with far fight and religious-right groups in the US and elsewhere

4) Targeting a minority, and spreading false information to provoke hatred and distrust by preying on people’s fears, are classic far right recruitment tactics

UNISON’s position is clear: trans women are women, trans men are men and non-binary identities are valid. Conference recognises, however, that UNISON now needs to become more visible and more vocal in promoting Trans equality inside and outside of the union, and that the women’s self-organised group has a crucial role to play.

Conference therefore calls on the National Women’s Committee to work with the National LGBT+ Committee and other parts of the union as appropriate to:

1)Explore ways to increase the visibility of UNISON’s work to promote and support equality for trans women

2)Promote Trans ally training widely within the women’s group

3)Encourage women members and branch groups to urge employers to join the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme if they are not already members

4)Promote materials to help women members, and branch and regional groups, counter the gender critical narrative and provide information on the links between the gender critical movement in the UK, the far right and the religious- right

5)Continue to support the reform of the GRA