What Next For Equality?

The fringe panel went amazingly.

This is a transcript of the opening remarks I gave to the joint Stonewall/LGBTory fringe event held at the 2013 Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.

What next for equality?

When the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act passed through Parliament, we called it Equal Marriage but this could not be further from the truth. The way the Act deals with transgender people shows this up all to clearly.

The Act requires married or civil partnered trans people to get the permission of their spouse if they want a Gender Recognition Certificate; which is the only means to legally change one’s sex. Unmarried trans people can apply for and receive a Gender Recognition Certificate after living as their acquired gender for two years, but married trans people are subjected to this “spousal veto”.

The reason married trans people need permission is to protect their spouses from ending up in a gay marriage. If gay and straight marriages were totally equal, this would be ridiculous, but the fact that straight people need protection is because upon entering a gay marriage, the straight person loses some of their rights and entitlements. The main one is that their rights to their partner’s pension is significantly reduced.

I have a pension from my time in the Civil Service. I left the service in 2004. My civil partner will not be entitled to any portion of that, should I die before she does. When we convert to a gay marriage, she will still not be entitled to any portion of it. If I had married a man, or if I had not applied for a Gender Recognition Certificate, she would be entitled to a portion of my pension.

This is simply wrong. There is no justification for this difference. There is no legal reason for this difference. It is discrimination, plain and simple.

The fact that we, as trans people, have to ask permission before we can exercise our rights is also indicative of the way society in general treats us. We are required to get permission from someone else before we can have our acquired sex recognised in law. We have to get a letter from a psychiatrist in order to get a gender recognition certificate. We have to get a letter from a psychiatrist in order to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

At every stage, we are required to seek the permission of someone else just to sort out the problem that plagues us. Apparently we can’t be trusted to make life-changing decisions on our own. Society treats us like children at best, and like jokes at worst.

It’s not hard to find evidence that society sees us as a joke. The BBC regularly broadcasts comedy shows featuring transphobic jokes. Netflix advertised its new series of “Arrested Development” by putting two of its male actors in dresses and inviting the viewer to decide who was their favourite “tranny”.

Asda sold birthday cards that glorified shouting at trans people in the street. Paddy Power ran TV ads encouraging people to seek out and expose trans women. Our existence is a joke to these people; something to laugh at while making a bit of quick cash.

This is ridiculous, indefensible behaviour and it must end.

Not only that but it is behaviour that is born out of homophobia, just as the spousal veto is. Transphobic jokes on the internet call trans people “traps”. They make out that trans people are there to trick normal-thinking straight people into becoming gay. The usual punchline being “Hey we had sex but surprise! You’re gay now!”

Transphobia stems from homophobia and, despite the recent change in the law, homophobia is alive and well. The name of this event is “what next for equality?” but it may as well be “business as usual” because our goals remain the same and we have a lot of work still to do.

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