In Depth

How Britain is failing transgender people

First ever parliamentary report on transgender equality criticises legal, healthcare and criminal justice systems

Britain is failing its transgender population, a landmark government report has concluded.

In its first ever report on transgender issues, the Women and Equalities Committee says transgender people continue to suffer under the legal, healthcare and criminal justice systems.

Activists argue that greater awareness of rights – thanks in part to high-profile celebrities - has not yet translated into widespread acceptance and protection by the state.

Committee chairperson Maria Miller warned that the UK still has a long way to go to ensure equality for transgender people.

"In a country where we pride ourselves on having strong equality laws and a strong understanding of human rights, people will be surprised when they read the report to see how many problems trans people still experience in their day-to-day lives with discrimination," she said.

Campaigner Tara Stone told the BBC that the transgender community has immense distrust in state institutions. "They feel they have been institutionally abused - by the NHS, the police, the government. They then resist engaging with those institutions, meaning they become even more isolated," she said.

Healthcare

The NHS bore the brunt of the MPs' criticism, with the health service accused of failing in its legal duty to provide equal access to services. The report highlighted unacceptably long waiting times for treatment and a lack of understanding and sensitivity from doctors as well as outright discrimination.

"The casual, sometimes unthinking transphobia of primary care, accident and emergency services and inpatient surgical admissions continue[s] to be striking," James Barrett, president of the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists, told The Guardian.

Prison laws

The report also highlighted the clear risk of harm, including sexual assault and suicide, when transgender inmates are sent to prisons that do not match their gender identity. It cited the cases of Vicky Thompson and Joanne Latham, two transgender women who died last year while in male jails. Their deaths prompted the government to re-examine its policy.

Criminal justice

Despite suffering high levels of abuse, many transgender people are reluctant to engage with the criminal justice system due to fear of exposure and extremely low conviction rates, the report said.

Neil Chakraborti, from the Leicester Centre for Hate Studies, told MPs that many were forced to normalise their everyday victimisation. "They thought, 'This is just something I have to put up with. What is the point of telling anybody because they are not going to do anything about it?'"

What did MPs propose?

The report made 30 separate recommendations, including that gender be based on self-declaration instead of a "medicalised" assessment. MPs also called for the age limit for obtaining official recognition of a new gender without parents' consent to be reduced from 18 to 16.

Additionally, it was suggested that a new "x" category on passports be created to allow people to identify as neither male nor female, with the government moving towards non-gendering all official records.

LGBT charity Stonewall has welcomed the report and its recommendations. "The fact that this inquiry even took place is hugely important and it's clear from the report that the committee has really listened to the diversity of voices who gave evidence," it said in a statement.

"We now look forward to working alongside the government, trans communities and allies across the UK to ensure that these recommendations translate into concrete actions from the government."

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