Image by Yuichiro Chino
Artillery Row

Make the Equality Act clear

Dissenting politicians have embarrassed themselves

On 12 June 2023, MPs gathered in Westminster Hall to debate two parliamentary petitions relating to the Equality Act 2010 and the definition of sex within it. On the one side we had feminists and women’s rights campaigners supporting the first petition, organised by Sex Matters, which asks for clarity in the law and to define “sex” to mean biological sex. On the other side we have Trans Rights Activists (TRAs) who submitted the second petition; they argue the opposite and ask for the government to “commit to not amending” the Equality Act 2010. Fun fact — the TRAs haven’t always been so keen to keep the Equality Act in its current state. Not long ago they were lobbying hard to remove the rights of women to single sex spaces. Let’s not allow facts to get in the way of a good debate, shall we.

Clarity in the operation of the laws and policies that govern the country are essential. The debate would not be happening if it weren’t for the fact that the application of two pieces of legislation, namely the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010, have clashed in recent years. See two opposing results in the judicial review cases brought by campaign group, For Women Scotland.

MPs did their utmost to keep confusion rather than clarity at the core of legislation

Debates in parliament on this topic are always a joy to watch, not least for the fact that prior to circa 2018 most politicians (save a brave few) would avoid this topic like the plague. I watched the whole thing with interest, but I had no idea how entertaining it was going to be.

The debate kicked off with the indomitable MP Tonia Antoniazzi. Only a few minutes into her speech we had our first taste of what was to come from MPs supporting the TRAs position — enter stage left, Layla “I can see someone in their soul” Moran, who contested the debate happening at all because people are scared that this should be talked about. Moran seemed to have no concern that many women are scared that this hasn’t been talked about enough. Because of the lack of clarity they can’t know for sure which services and spaces are female and which include males who say they are female.

Maybe Moran can teach us to see into someone’s soul — then we would all be safe …

What transpired from there was a delightful display of TRA bingo, with MPs on their side doing their utmost to keep confusion rather than clarity at the core of legislation. I have to say they did an absolutely wonderful job of it, too; they present as rather a befuddled bunch.

We had everything from people born with disordered sexual development being referred to as “intersex” and used as an example of how sex is on a spectrum; weaponization of suicide; misinformation about women’s rights defenders calling all trans people “predators”; claims that trans people will never ever be able to go to the toilet again (or shopping, in fact); references to the American far right; and an alarming amount of these MPs don’t seem to know that it is the “Equality” and not the “Equalities” Act … which I’d say is a rather important point, when you are trying to foster trust from the public, that you know what you are talking about.

There were some right humdingers in there. Take this from Luke Pollard MP:

When we talk about biological sex, we are talking about the sex assigned at birth. That means that there is a real complication and a potential assault on people with intrusive medical tests to look at their biological sex at birth …

You what now, Luke? Parents be warned! When your baby is born, the observation of their sex is complicated and possibly assault. Maybe in the not-too-distant future, Luke will petition to amend the criminal law to include this type of assault. After last week, I believe anything is possible.

Then came all-time favourite TRA MP Lloyd Russell Moyle: “Survivors’ Network in my constituency … has for over 30 years decided to take a trans-inclusive approach to how it treats women’s spaces. That has been done through working out what the local need is for the service provision.”

How is it that you have two children, do you think?

Oh, dear Lloyd, you totally forgot to mention that Survivors Network are currently being sued for that exact policy, and that consultation after consultation evidences that women want single sex spaces.

Lloyd also proclaimed, “The real issue — the injustice — is about the woman who will turn up tonight at Brighton, be told that there are no spaces in the refuge and be put into hostel accommodation with rapists down the corridor who have only just come out of prison.”

Ok, Lloyd, let’s break that down — the local Women’s Aid provider in Brighton lost the service in 2021 because it wanted to retain single sex spaces in the refuge. Secondly, because of the lack of clarity in the Equality Act, male sex offenders have been let into women’s refuges. Russell-Moyle appeared to have forgotten which side he was batting for at this stage, but I’d like to thank him personally for proving the point of the need for clarity so well.

The crown for by far the most flourishing, and quite frankly funniest, statement goes to none other than MP Kirsty Blackman:

I have no idea what my chromosomes are. I assume that they are probably XY, but I do not know — I have not got a clue what they are. I have a fair idea of what my genitals look like and how they compared with how other people’s look …

Oh, Kirsty, where to start … how is it that you have two children, do you think? I sincerely hope you didn’t have to get the genital police out to check where their father’s penis was meant to go; that would have been awkward all round.

Thankfully, not all was lost. There are still MPs who aren’t confused, who know that sex is biological and that to observe it as such is not an “assault”. MPs acknowledged that women do consistently want clarification on their single sex spaces — and thankfully we can all be reassured that the rest of the evening passed without anyone else mentioning bewilderment at their own genitals.

It was glorious to see Jess Phillips nail her colours to the mast and stand up for women — she joined the wonderful Tonia Antoniazzi, the brave Rosie Duffield, the courageous Joanna Cherry, and let’s not forget Cherry’s face palming mate Neale Hanvey.

The speeches in defence of women’s rights were reasoned and evidence based, but to be fair their work was done for them. MPs on the TRA side presented a picture of a world based in profound confusion and outlandish notions. I can sympathise as to why they would want to retain the muddled status quo. After last week’s display, I can only imagine how hard it must be for them to make laws based on reality. A fair few of them clearly live in a world far, far removed from it.

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