The UK’s transgender community erupted in fury earlier this week at the news that a body established by government was planning to record on a single database the pre- and post-transition status of trans men and women.
News of the controversy first broke through a post on “Trans Youth takes on the world”. This revealed how the UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency, in an effort to comply with its obligations under the Equality Act 2010, was proposing to re-structure its database to hold “legal gender” – or possibly “birth gender”, which is far from the same thing – as well as “identified gender”.
Unfortunately, their consultation process appears to have been conducted without actually consulting with any trans community organisations.
This drew condemnation from those who pointed out that not only was this approach offensive and deeply upsetting to many, but it also, potentially, breached the Gender Recognition Act 2004. Others noted that the HESA’s decision to reduce the categories that could be recorded in their new structure effectively erased intersex identity altogether.
Strong feelings were expressed on various forums around this issue, suggesting that the proposal will be an expensive failure: it will cost money to implement; and it will fail in its primary purpose of monitoring equality because the vast majority of trans individuals will simply refuse to comply with it.
A spokesman for HESA said: ”The 2012/13 HESA student and staff records are proposed to undergo a number of changes related to the Public Sector Equality Duty which falls on Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) under the Equality Act 2010. The specific changes and additions were proposed by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) – the organisation responsible for advancing equality and diversity in further and higher education.
“The change of name of the GENDER data field to SEX is also in line with advice and practice from the Information Standards Board and the Information Authority who collect information about Further Education.
“The concept of ‘legal’ sex in the HESA staff record relates to HEIs requirement to code staff as Female or Male for HMRC tax purposes.”
He later added that the HESA had had no intention of giving offence, and that they were open to hearing representations from individuals who might be concerned about these changes.
An individual who recently shredded her old birth certificate, is Sarah Brown, Lib Dem Councillor in Cambridge, last year voted one of the most influential trans activists in the UK.
She said: “There are ways to carry out equalities monitoring of the trans community without appearing to put on pressure or cause upset. A far better body to provide advice is the Equalities and Human Rights Commisison or a trans organisation.”
This expolosion – of pure anger – on the part of many in the trans community illustrates two truths. First, is the importance of the mantra “nothing about us without us”, which was initially popularized within the disabled rights movement.
HESA appears genuinely shocked and ready to listen: it would have been so much better if they had listened before.
Second is akey difference between trans and other minority groups, as reflected in the Gender Recognition Act. While some individuals towards the “gender queer” end of the spectrum may not be especially bothered by gender identity, for others it is the raison d’etre for all the pain and grief they have undergone throughout transition.
Thus, a significant section of the trans diaspora have, as their primary aim, invisibility. Out and proud in principle: but in practice, in local communities, ordinary everyday men and women.
Best practice in this area, if minorities ARE to be monitored, seems to be by means of anonymous data collection. It is to be hoped that the HESA get this – or they are about to spend a load of public money on a wholly pointless – and misleading – exercise.
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