The issue of the rights of transgender people is an increasingly debated topic, partly as a result of potential changes to the Gender Recognition Act [GRA], which is in the process of being reformed. In October 2018, the UK Government closed its consultation on proposals to reform the act by potentially making it easier for trans people to get their identity legally recognised.

The consultation outlined that since the Gender Recognition Act (2004) came into force, only 4,910 people have legally changed their gender. However, there are still a significant number of people who would like legal recognition but haven’t applied, according to the Government’s LGBT survey, which also examined the reasons for not applying, which included the current process being too bureaucratic, expensive and intrusive. The GRA extends across the United Kingdom, however, gender recognition is a devolved matter and consequently the Scottish Government ran a separate consultation on reforming the GRA between November 2018 and March 2019.

We are still waiting for the outcomes of both of these consultations, however in the meantime there is continuing debate over the pros and cons of possible changes to the law.

Those in favour of changes to the law, such as Stonewall, argue that reform of the GRA should mean that trans people should require no medical diagnosis or presentation of evidence to get their identity legally recognised. They also believe all trans people, including 16 and 17-year-olds, should have the right to self-determination, through a much simpler and more streamlined administrative process.

However it has been argued by some that such changes to the GRA could be negative and undermine women's rights and safety. Professor Rosa Freedman and Professor Rosemary Auchmuty argue that 'self-identification will allow anyone to access women’s spaces at any time, having self-proclaimed that they are a woman.'

The issue has sparked some strongly expressed views on both sides which has recently led to another dimension over whether people who express ‘gender critical’ beliefs are protected under the Equality Act.

This is after a woman called Maya Forstater alleges she lost her job for speaking publicly about women’s rights and gender self-identification; she is protesting this on the basis that gender critical beliefs are protected under the Equality Act 2010.

The outcome of the case is likely to be subject to appeals and escalation through the courts before a final decision is made which could take many months or longer. In the meantime the outcomes of the consultations on the reform of the GRA will be announced which will clarify the law on the issue of gender identity.

The CIPD will keep members up-to-date on developments in relation to these complex issues through our comprehensive information and advice to members on employment law. We will provide practical guidance to practitioners on the implications for employment and workplace practices of any changes to legislation and case law as soon as they become clear.

While we await the outcome of the Government’s consultation, it’s important employers understand and respond positively to LGBT+ issues, creating an environment where people feel able to be themselves, with support from their employer and without fear or discrimination or any impact on their career. Engage with your LGBT+ employee resource group if you have one, to understand any LGBT+ issues specific to your context and how staff can be better supported.

Read our factsheet for more information.

About the author

Ben Willmott, Head of Public Policy

Ben leads the CIPD’s Public Policy team, which works to inform and shape debate, government policy and legislation in order to enable higher performance at work and better pathways into work for those seeking employment. His particular research and policy areas of interest include employment relations, employee engagement and wellbeing, absence and stress management, and leadership and management capability.

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