Labour will lead on reform of transgender rights – and we won’t take lectures from the divisive Tories

We will modernise, simplify and reform gender recognition law. Our policies won’t please everyone but we will do what’s right

It’s a sad reflection on just how little in the way of positive vision the government now has to offer the British people. Even the word “debate” is a misnomer; a hint of the calculating cynicism the Tories now bring to such issues.

I won’t beat around the bush – the reason for Anderson’s interest is the opportunity to stoke division. Arguments about the boundaries between sex and gender-based rights now rank among the fiercest in politics. Both sides argue – rightly – that they advocate for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. This should encourage a degree of care from responsible politicians. Responsible politicians would understand that this isn’t a debate to exploit, it’s people’s lives. Who they are and who, all too frequently, they suffer violence for being. Responsible politicians would put that well beyond electoral opportunism. But this is a different and desperate Tory party.

The tragedy is that transgender rights do need reform and leadership. When the last Labour government passed the 2004 Gender Recognition Act and the 2010 Equality Act, we broke new political ground. The former enabled trans people to legally change their gender for the first time. Meanwhile, the latter protected them – and millions of people covered by one of nine protected characteristics – from discrimination and harassment. Taken together, they are one of Labour’s crowning achievements, not just of the last period of government, of any period.

But now, in 2023, we have a much better understanding of the barriers trans people face. That is why Labour has committed to modernising the Gender Recognition Act. Changing gender is not a decision anyone makes lightly. The process is intrusive, outdated and humiliating. So we will modernise, simplify and reform the gender recognition law to a new process. We will remove invasive bureaucracy and simplify the process.

However, the law must also protect legitimate applications. Last year, the Scottish National party’s cavalier approach to reforming gender recognition laws seemed to be more about picking a fight with Westminster than bringing about meaningful change. The safeguards that were proposed to protect women and girls from predators who might abuse the system were simply not up to scratch. As a result, the Scottish government is still picking up the pieces, with trans rights no further forward.

We will not make the same mistakes. The requirement to obtain a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria remains an important part of accessing a gender recognition certificate. That’s especially the case now that gender dysphoria is no longer classified – and stigmatised – as a psychiatric disorder. It can help refer trans people into the NHS for support services – nearly a quarter of trans people don’t know how to access transition-related healthcare. Requiring a diagnosis upholds legitimacy of applications and confidence in the system.

The current process also requires a panel of anonymous doctors to decide something of momentous significance, based on reams of intrusive medical paperwork and evidence of any surgery. This is demeaning for trans people and meaningless in practice. A diagnosis provided by one doctor, with a registrar instead of a panel, should be enough.

No doubt for the likes of Mr Anderson, even this will prove too much. Like so many in his party, he now seems keen to attack Labour’s commitment to women. Well, we take no lectures from him, or any Conservatives. Certainly not when rape charges and prosecutions are so appallingly low and the gender pay gap is widening.

Moreover, let me be clear: we are proud of the Equality Act and will oppose any Conservative attempt to undermine it. We will protect and uphold it in government, including both its protected characteristics and its provision for single-sex exemptions.

We need to recognise that sex and gender are different – as the Equality Act does. We will make sure that nothing in our modernised gender recognition process would override the single-sex exemptions in the Equality Act. Put simply, this means that there will always be places where it is reasonable for biological women only to have access. Labour will defend those spaces, providing legal clarity for the providers of single-sex services.

These policies will not please everyone. They will be attacked from all sides, in good faith and bad. But responsible politics is not about doing what is easy, it’s about doing what is right. And about refusing to descend into the gutter where the Conservatives wish to take us. Everyone deserves to be accepted, without exception and treated with respect and dignity in society.

So, Mr Anderson, you can keep your culture wars. Labour’s commitment to trans people and women is not up for debate.

  • Anneliese Dodds is Labour’s shadow secretary of state for women and equalities