Transgender issues should never be treated as a mental health problem, according to a radical parliamentary report published on Thursday that demands a complete overhaul of the legal protections for transgender people in the UK.
The House of Commons women and equalities committee said the government should introduce a non-binary gender option on passports, require all police officers to undergo transphobic hate crime training, and ensure transgender people cannot be excluded from single-sex institutions such as women’s refuges.
The report also insists transgender prisoners should be allowed to serve their sentence in a prison that is appropriate to their gender, says 16- and 17-year-olds should be allowed to switch their legal gender, and calls for an explicit ban on anti-transgender hate speech.
“I can think of no group that suffers more discrimination than trans people,” committee chair Maria Miller told BuzzFeed News. “We must think about the human rights of every single person who lives in our country, and at the moment the human rights of trans people are not fully protected.”
Miller, a former Conservative equalities minister, said it was also time to move away from an arrangement where individuals are only allowed to legally switch gender if they gain a legal certificate through the approval of a “quasi-judicial system” in which “a panel of doctors and lawyers decide on your gender for you”.
Instead, the committee concluded the government should swiftly follow the lead of Ireland, Malta, and Argentina and move towards a system of gender self-declaration, making it easier for adults to transition without going through a legal system that often requires them to have publicly lived in a different gender for several years.
Miller also said people with gender dysphoria who wish to have surgery should no longer be treated as mental health patients on the NHS: “Having support for trans people located in mental health services is a relic of the past. In many ways it has been treated in a similar way to other LGB issues decades ago: We shouldn’t be treating trans people as if they have a mental health problem or as if they have a disease.”
“There is clear evidence that public attitude is well ahead of the law,” Miller concluded. “Almost half the population accept that gender is fluid and is not as simple as male or female. There will be a minority of people who might be uncomfortable about that, but parliament is there to represent the way that society is today.”
Among the committee’s many recommendations is a call for greater funding for transgender treatment from the health service, including making more staff available to help transgender people who want to have gender confirmation surgery and ensuring patients have their first assessment within 18 weeks.
Official forms should no longer ask for an individual’s gender unless necessary and that information should not be stored as standard, according to the committee. Instead they say the UK must “follow Australia’s lead in introducing an option to record gender as ‘X’ on a passport”, although this would require fresh legislation.
Following the deaths of multiple transgender women in men's prisons, the report says transgender criminals should not be placed in solitary confinement purely because of their gender.
"There is a clear risk of harm (including violence, sexual assault, self-harming and suicide) where trans prisoners are not located in a prison or other setting appropriate to their acquired / affirmed gender," the report says.
The committee also calls on the government to investigate why there have been no prosecutions of people who abused confidential information about a transgender individual's gender, and said courts should ensure people are not inadvertently identified as transgender against their wishes.
Christine Burns, a leading expert in transgender issues who has helped shape previous legislation, told BuzzFeed News she broadly welcomed the recommendations, including a proposal to ensure same-sex institutions – such as women's rape crisis centres – do not exclude transgender people on the basis of the gender they were assigned at birth.
"We should always legislate on the basis of good evidence and there simply is no evidence of this mythical beast of trans people abusing other women," she explained. "Quite the reverse. The vulnerable people tend to be the trans people getting abused by all and sundry, so there’s a real need for trans people having access to shelters."
She also said the government's proposal to make it easier to gain legal gender recognition would cut paperwork and costs: "It’s a profoundly conservative proposal, doing away with red tape. One of the things that has concerned me is that probably only half the people who are eligible for gender recognition certificates have actually applied for them because of the perception of how intrusive the process is."
But Burns, who has written two books on trans equality issues, insisted the main issue remained the shortage of NHS funding and staff for transgender people: "Because the sector has been starved for generations you also have to build up the capacity of specialists to provide treatment. The GIC [gender identity clinic] in Charing Cross has about 3,000 people at any one time. That’s gone up in leaps and bounds in the last 10 years. They’re running to keep up."
In response to the report the government has pledged to make transgender issues "a priority" and consider all the committee's recommendations.
Education and equalities minister Nicky Morgan said "transgender equality is now a regular topic of public debate" due to increased publicity in the media and she is "determined to tackle discrimination against transgender people wherever it exists so that all members of our society can live their lives free from persecution, and able to fulfil their potential".