Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the United Nations Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, is known for his enthusiastic promotion of self-identification of sex. This includes an intervention to the Scottish parliament in late 2022 in support of their Gender Recognition Reform bill which would have made it a simple matter for anyone to rewrite their birth certificate. Victor sees no issues with this. Another UN expert, Reem Alsalem the Special Rapporteur on Violence and Women and Girls, made an intervention expressing concerns about the GRR bill and its likely impact on those of us born female.
In early March we wrote to Victor asking to meet him on his planned visit to the UK from Monday 24 April to Friday 5 May. We explained why we wanted to meet, what we wanted to discuss, and that we had previously responded to two of his consultations. We heard nothing until 21 April, the Friday before the visit began, when we received an email inviting us to a 45 minute meeting in London at a set time on 4 May. Five groups were on the same email, and we discovered that a sixth was also invited. We were told only one representative per group was permitted. Fortunately one of us was able to make the date and time offered. Fair Play For Women accepted the invitation but asked for a longer meeting, which was not granted. One of the other groups, Lesbian Labour, did the same. No response. Fair Play For Women asked again, explaining that the various groups had different concerns as we represent different constituencies (women, children, same-sex attracted people, political and non-political groups, a human rights group). No reply. We emailed again, and on our third request the meeting was split into two 45 minute sessions, separating out three groups representing lesbians and gay men, so that our meeting was for four groups instead of seven.
We shared our meeting with Labour Women’s Declaration, Safe Schools Alliance and Sex Matters. Given how little time we had, each group prepared a one-page briefing (here’s ours) saying what we wanted Victor to know, and to consider for his visit report. In our introductions we each talked through the main points. Ours were:
Key points for the Independent Expert’s report on his UK visit
Sexual orientation and gender identity are separate characteristics which need to be addressed separately in order to create good policies and to tackle discrimination.
Gender identity cannot be treated as if it were sex. Sometimes sex, male or female, is what matters. In those cases, self-identification of sex based on gender identity is not an acceptable option.
Single-sex spaces, services and sport are important for both sexes, but especially for women and girls. Trans-identifying males (transwomen) do not belong in female-only spaces. This is not because of their gender identity but because of their sex, which is male.
Inclusion of trans-identifying males leads to exclusion and self-exclusion of females.
There are intersectional issues. Some religious and cultural groups do not permit females to be in mixed-sex spaces. When a trans-identifying male is in a female space, those women self-exclude.
Lesbians are disproportionately affected by male inclusion in the women’s category in sport because lesbians are over-represented in team sports.
Self-ID of sex is not compatible with safety, privacy, self-determination and fairness for females.
The discussion was cordial but it was clear that Victor starts from a different position, one he defended in the meeting, saying “my evidence is different” and “I have met lesbians who disagree with you”. We did not expect a meeting of minds. We did see some interest, particularly when Tanya of SSA spoke about the experiences of young lesbians being bullied and encouraged to consider males as lesbians, and when Lynn of LWD spoke of older lesbians being frozen out of political life.
We regard this as the beginning of a process. We have to raise our concerns, in writing and in person when the opportunity arises. That may not take us far, but it is the necessary first step. Even when it seems not to change anything, we know that keeping quiet is worse. We were glad to have this meeting. We hope to continue the dialogue with Victor.