Wednesday 8 July 2009

Time for T

It took over thirty years, but finally, in 2004, the British Parliament passed the Gender Recognition Act, and at long last, it was ‘time for T’.

After years of struggle by trans activists – notably Stephen Whittle, Christine Burns and Claire McNab, of Press for Change - transsexual people in the UK, who have undergone gender re-assignment, and swear to remain in their ‘acquired gender’, are allowed, under certain conditions, to change their birth certificate.

This was not so much the granting of new rights as the restoration of rights that were withdrawn in 1970 by the notorious ruling of Mr Justice Ormrod in Corbett versus Corbett, known as the April Ashley case.

It is well-documented that prior to that ruling unofficial changes were made to the birth certificates of transsexual people who had transitioned (or ‘changed sex’ as people called it in those days), some of whom went on to marry.

The stunningly beautiful April Ashley (whose birth certificate had not, in fact, been amended) had the misfortune to marry an eccentric aristocratic, who, when they divorced, argued that the marriage was null and void because his former wife was still a man. The judge agreed, and transsexual people endured three decades of discrimination, only relieved in 1999 by an amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act which protects the employment rights of those about to undergo, who are undergoing, or who have undergone, gender re-assignment. Before that, many Trans people were dismissed by their employers once they began to transition.

The 2004 legislation isn’t perfect, and there are various anomalies, principally its implications for married couples, which I won’t go into now: maybe another time, because it would be relevant to raise it here, at some stage.

The point I want to make is that many Trans people in the UK can now complete their transition, and get on with their lives. Not so in the US, where the struggle for Trans rights continues in various States, and hence there are two Transgender resolutions at this year’s General Convention of The Episcopal Church, one from the Diocese of Michigan, the other from the Diocese of Massachusetts, calling on the Church to support secular civil rights legislation. In addition, there are three other resolutions which call on the Church to end discrimination in relation to gender identity and expression. More of all this, I hope, in another post, but the message is clear: at this year’s General Convention, Trans Christians and their allies are hoping and praying that it will soon be ‘time for T’.

Christina Beardsley


  1. Whilst the GRA may seem to have been a huge leap forward, which admittedly it was compared to what we had before, it still leaves trans people pathologized in the legal sense. Something no other minority community is. Add to that the database that they insist you become a part of and one wonders why we are fighting ID cards! What the GRA was to address was a legal matter, and indeed it has but in a clinical and narrow way.

    Trans people are still considered mentally ill by the medical establishment and now, with the GRA, this has been set into the UK's legal structure as well.

    What should have been a purely legal matter has been set up as an access-only-through-psychiatric-control matter. The premise was wonderful, the way it was implemented was not.

    With a gathering storm over the still inclusion of GID in the DSM, which has been slowly gaining momentum since the early 90's, particularly in the US, where trans people seem more willing to put their necks on the line, the GRA will soon be seen as yet another set of fiery hoops that trans people have to negotiate before they can access their full human rights and I don't suppose for one minute that the trans activists in the States will quietly acquiesce to the kind of control that we have over here.

    Given the American peoples fierce independence and sense of personal liberty, I doubt anything as restrictive as the GRA will suffice. But as usual, they will have to battle it out with the commonplace traditionalism and "family values" in order to achieve their goals, so compromise, such as was committed for the GRA, will be the order of the day, at least at first.

  2. Statutory Instrument 1102, the Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999 was a brilliant piece of legislation, although it chickened out of the thorny issue of GOQs.

    Even now however, it is ill-understood by many public bodies including the MoD and NHS, as I found out when applying for a position with our local PCT, after leaving the Royal Navy which couldn't make its mind up about how to treat me.

    The problem is that trans issues are simply not understood in terms of gender presentation, but in terms of sexuality. And as long as we cling to the binary gender system of man/woman, this will always be the case.

    True equality doesn't come from recognising our differences, as so many clerics claim, but from looking past those differences and seeing simply a child of God; a human being. Not a woman, or a man, or a European, or an African, or a transsexual, or a Lesbian, or a Feminist or a, well you get the point :)