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30 March 2015

The Trans Manifesto 2015: what do transgender people want from our politicians?

The Trans Manifesto, launched today by the LGBT Consortium, aims to draw attention to the areas where trans individuals face inequality.

By Ashley Cowburn

Trans campaigners are today urging all parliamentary candidates in the general election to pledge their support for the Trans Manifesto. 

The manifesto and online forum, launched today, allows users to view which candidates have indicated their support for the Trans Manifesto, and those who have declined it. The manifesto – which includes reviewing the decade-old Gender Recognition Act – is the result of conversations between 15 UK trans groups and was launched to draw politicians’ attention to areas where trans individuals face inequality. 

Helen Belcher, a trustee of the LGBT Consortium and who also sits on the parliamentary forum on gender identity, said that over the last few years trans issues have become more obvious within the mainstream. “My view about four or five years ago was that protection trans people had in the law exceeded the societal understanding of trans issues but it wouldn’t take very much for that situation to be reversed,” she adds. “I think we’re now at that point. People now understand a lot more about trans issues because of the general publicity. The law is trying to progress, but it’s not progressing anything like as fast as the social understanding.”

At the tail end of 2013, trans groups met and agreed three core statements of the manifesto:

1. Respect trans people as equal citizens with equal rights.

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“There is a feeling that trans peoples’ rights are sometimes subsidiary to those enjoyed by others. The passing of same-sex marriage legislation means that trans people who married in England, Scotland and Wales no longer need to end their marriage should they wish to seek gender recognition. However in England and Wales the process requires the written consent of the spouse — the so-called spousal veto. Married trans people in Northern Ireland still have to end their marriage prior to gender recognition. The Equality Act seemed to reverse some of the protections previously enjoyed by trans people, with some controversial exemptions specified.”

2. Empower trans individuals to be authorities on all aspects of their own lives.

“Provision of healthcare to enable trans people to transition to their new gender has been enshrined in case law since 1997, but many see the NHS process, usually provided through Gender Identity Clinics, as demeaning. The process of gender recognition requires medical reports, meaning that many have no alternative to the NHS process. However recent statements from NHS leaders indicate an acceptance that people who live with long-term conditions, such as gender dysphoria, quickly become experts with knowledge that matches or even exceeds that of medics. The gender recognition process also indicates that the state owns your gender, with trans people having to convince the state to change it. Those who don’t see themselves as male or female (non-binary people) are also becoming more visible, but those two genders remain the only ones recognised in law and in government statistics and documents.”

3. Develop diverse, representative, realistic and positive portrayals of trans individuals.

“Trans people feel that media coverage has often been exploitative and sensational, rather than reflecting their real lives or issues that they face. Representations of trans women dominate, leading to the relative invisibility of trans men and non-binary people. Government could take a lead in de-exoticising trans people by including images of and stories from trans people in publications that don’t necessarily have any trans focus.”

There is one vital element missing from the manifesto: health. Belcher says that it is still an overarching need for the trans community, but “the Department of Health said they can make statements but they have no budgetary power – they make no policy decisions for the NHS. So, that’s why health hasn’t appeared in the manifesto commitments.”

Paul Roberts, CEO of the LGBT Consortium, added that the manifesto is an exciting initiative for the upcoming general election. “[The Manifesto] shows that trans rights are increasing in importance. We’d urge everyone to contact candidates in their constituency and ask them for their support of the three principles.”

Update (30/03/2015): Emily Brothers, the first openly transgender parliamentary candidate has welcomed the launch of the Trans Manifesto. Brothers said to the New Statesman that Labour will build on the Gender Recognition Act 2004 by commissioning a comprehensive review of trans law and policy.

Brothers added: That landmark legislation [Gender Recognition Act]  was amazingly powerful for some people like me, affirming our gender as we always felt it. Even though we’ve made some progress on this agenda, its right to look at whether policy in this area is fit for purpose and has kept-pace with developments in other countries.”

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