The Nolan team based in Belfast are a group of BBC journalists well used to asking awkward questions. Nolan looks at the influence Stonewall has in public institutions across the UK. This 18 month investigation has already had significant impact behind the scenes in major public institutions. The podcast is the story of how it all unfolded.
A team of volunteers at Fair Play For Women have transcribed the main content from each of the ten episodes spanning over 6 hours of audio content. You can listen to the full audio here or read the condensed transcript below.
Episode 8: The Debate
Transwoman Debbie Hayton and non-binary person Owen Hurcum debate the issues in the podcast;
Debbie, how can you say as a trans person, you’re still as male as you were when you were born? “Because it’s biological fact here, Steven. There are two sexes, and our sex is dependent on. Basically, it’s what our body was designed for in the reproductive process. And it’s not just human beings. It’s animals. It’s even plants. Parts of plants can be male or female. And we’re as part of nature as any other species. I’m still as male as I was when I was born. It’s simply the surgery has helped me become more comfortable with my own body. That’s the only thing that changed”.
Owen, can someone just choose to change their sex, in your view? “All I’m saying is that the sex isn’t a binary. And whilst sex can be important for medical reasons, because obviously, there are medical conditions that affect people, a certain hormonal combinations more than others. But for me, it doesn’t really play into my existence. I don’t even know what my chromosomes are. If I went to a doctor’s and needed certain treatments based upon what chromosomes I have, then I’d find that out, and then that would be, I’d use that information for appropriate medical care. But as for sex is it hugely important in the broader world? No, gender is far more important.”
“Allowing somebody who identifies as trans into a changing room, that doesn’t increase any kind of danger. So if a 14 year old boy who was assigned boy at birth comes out as a woman she should be treated as such and should be allowed into those spaces because there is no increased risk” Owen Hurcum.
But for the girls who were born biologically female, all of a sudden their classmate, who up until yesterday was a boy, suddenly says they’re female too, and they’re standing in the school showers or naked in the changing rooms or doing whatever else they’re doing. That might present a level of discomfort. Where is the protection for the biologically born females?
“Sport is sex segregated because male bodies are different to female bodies. If we didn’t segregate, female people wouldn’t win very much. So we do segregate. And because we do that we should respect that segregation and to try and bend the rules is not helping, and it doesn’t help trans people to be honest, it just causes an unnecessary debate which pulls us all into dispute”. Debbie Hayton
“Well, I just see a vested interest. Stonewall are taking in huge sums of money for companies and then ranking them. There is a vested interest there, and it needs to be recognised. They’re not a neutral organisation when it comes to these things. They’re intensely lobbying government and taking funds from the government that they’re lobbying. And we are left in a position where the government is funding the people who are lobbying them, which I think needs investigation, external inspection of what’s going on and scrutiny because otherwise, who knows what’s happening” Debbie Hayton
[00:00:06.370] – David Thompson
Right, so we finally got two people who will debate trans issues for us, which is fantastic. We’ve spoken to Owen Hurcum before he’s the Mayor of Banger in Wales and Owen’s willing to come on and have a chat. Owen’s non-binary. And the other person we want to chat to is Debbie Hayton, who’s a trans woman. She’s a physicist, trade unionist and she’s really out spoken about this. They have really different perspectives on all this stuff, or maybe not really different perspectives, we’ll find out, but they certainly come from different sides of the sex/gender debate we’ve been hearing about, have you anything to say to that?
[00:01:06.490] – Stephen Nolan
Debbie, let’s start with you. We hear a lot about trans rights. What rights do trans people not currently have that they should have and need?
[00:01:16.690] – Debbie Hayton
Well, in terms of rights under the law, we’ve got substantial rights. We have the same rights as everybody else does. And then a few more, besides. There’s a protected characteristic which prevents us from being discriminated against on the grounds of gender reassignment and actually under the GRA. We’ve actually got the right, if we want to, to actually change our birth certificate, which is quite phenomenal when you think about it. The one aspect where things are perhaps lacking is specialist health care, mental health and gender services where I feel trans people are let down because people are facing huge long wait lists up to about three years now for treatment, which should be provided within 18 weeks.
[00:01:55.930] – Stephen Nolan
Do you concur with either one?
[00:01:58.570] – Owen Hurcum
Yeah. I’d broadly concur. I think an additional thing to add would be that non-binary people such as myself, don’t have the same legal protections as trans people in that regard. For example, while I could change my birth certificate, I couldn’t change it to reflect the fact that I’m non-binary, because this government doesn’t legally recognise non-binary as a gender. But I do broadly agree with Debbie. And again, the unequal access to health care and the wait times that we face is definitely a huge challenge.
[00:02:26.770] – Stephen Nolan
What specifically about health care, Owen, is required.
[00:02:30.910] – Owen Hurcum
Well, for many trans and non-binary people, the gender dysphoria that we feel or the gender euphoria we feel when we present in certain ways, we need to get to that stage. We need to rectify that dysphoria by having physical surgeries or physical treatments such as HRT or lower or bottom surgery, some people call it. In terms of that kind of thing, and that can be hugely beneficial for a trans person if they have this and it can really improve our mental health because a lot of trans people will be suffering huge mental health consequences of going through puberty that doesn’t match their gender. And so having access to these surgeries and treatments can be life saving for trans people. And we know and I know personally, people who have unfortunately taken their own life because of the waiting list for these treatments because of the mental health damage caused by going through the puberties or being bullied because you don’t look right, you don’t look like the gender that you’re saying that you are, that you actually are. And so access to these treatments is vital. And that’s why the waiting times and the gatekeeping is such a huge hurdle and struggle for our community.
[00:03:37.690] – Stephen Nolan
Should children, Owen, be able to access treatments without parental consent?
[00:03:43.090] – Owen Hurcum
I mean, the treatments that can be offered to trans children, they’re always completely reversible, and I think children should be able to access it. I mean, no one is advocating that an eight year old should be able to go along and get surgery. That’s not how it happens. People should be on the onset of puberty. If they are trans, they should be able to have puberty blockers. There is no health detriment to taking these. They’re completely reversible and we can’t be gatekeeping against trans children, in case their parents aren’t favourable of the trans community and that way they’re forcing their children to go through a puberty that doesn’t match them. That can be, as I said, hugely detrimental to the individual’s mental health. So, when I say trans children should be able to access treatments, no one and certainly not me, is advocating for surgeries or HRT or anything like that for trans children. All I’m saying is they should have the option to access relevant treatments, such as speaking to a specialist, having support in changing their names and engaging socially in that transition as well as puberty blockers, which again, as I said, are completely reversible and don’t cause any long term damage.
[00:04:49.450] – Stephen Nolan
Well, Debbie, has there been enough research, substantial research into puberty blockers?
[00:04:55.450] – Debbie Hayton
Well, there hasn’t because this is all very new. To actually take children and stop puberty, delay puberty is a very new approach that we’re taking, it’s experimental, it’s uncontrolled. The same drugs have been used for cancer treatment for years in adults, and they’ve also been used for precocious puberty where children who are three, four, five years old start going through puberty, but then the drugs are withdrawn as soon as it’s advisable. To actually put children onto puberty blockers, the anecdotal evidence that we’ve got suggests that is, it has been described as a treadmill on to cross sex hormones and then you’re setting children up for a path through life and they’re effectively making decisions before they even know what it means to be an adult.
[00:05:40.690] – Debbie Hayton
And the implication on children is huge. Firstly, we don’t have any long term research on the consequences of puberty blockers, about how puberty develops the brain, it develops the body, it develops all your bones, other aspects of you. But, secondly, it’s just that we’re putting children in a position where effectively, and essentially, they’re making decisions about their future fertility before they know what it means to be an adult, before they know what it means to have your own children. And I think that’s wrong. I think it’s unhelpful and it’s unwise, and we shouldn’t be doing it.
[00:06:19.510] – Stephen Nolan
Why are you not as concerned, Owen?
[00:06:22.030] – Owen Hurcum
Yeah, I mean, I sympathise with that position, and I understand the need for further long term study, and I completely support the idea of doing more studies, and there might be better alternatives in the future. But what we do have long term studies on is the detrimental effects that trans people have to their mental health if they go through a puberty that doesn’t match them. We’re saying that we’re putting them on a treadmill to HRT and stuff, that’s not necessarily the case these children can…
[00:06:48.070] – Stephen Nolan
Does this not mean the children who are currently taking the puberty blockers are guinea pigs? If you’re appreciating there’s no long term study?
[00:06:56.590] – Owen Hurcum
No, I’m not saying they’re guinea pigs. What I’m saying is that this is the best treatment available. No one would be saying to other treatments that we do that it’s the best treatment available. But of course, if another treatment comes along, that treatment will be available to replace it. But right now, the long term studies we do have on trans children and puberty strongly indicate that going through a puberty that doesn’t match one’s gender is hugely detrimental. I mean, we’ve got the highest suicide rates of teenagers and young adults of any community, and we’ve got huge detrimental effects on people’s mental health, people’s self confidence, self esteem, and all that by going through these puberties and the blockers haven’t shown to be specifically dangerous and therefore, but what has been shown to be specifically dangerous is going through that puberty that doesn’t match. And therefore, I would say that the most ethical and logical thing to do would be to describe these puberty blockers, and we can always if there is a new drug that comes in the future, do studies on that. But all I’m saying is the detriment is by forcing children through a puberty that doesn’t match them.
[00:08:04.330] – Debbie Hayton
I would challenge Owen on his assertion that transgender identified children have a particularly high suicide risk. But where I would agree with him is in children and young people generally about the poor provision we have for mental health services. Children and adult mental health services are under-resourced, undervalued, and children have to wait a long time for them. I’m a keen advocate of trans rights, and I’m also a keen advocate for the statement that trans rights are human rights, and here is an aspect where we should be campaigning for greater access to provision for mental health services for children and young people, however they identify and that would benefit transgender identified children alongside everybody else. Because at the moment the provision is woeful and, as with other aspects, it’s been criticised in the past, to hand out some drugs in the place of proper counselling, psychotherapy and psychiatry, elsewhere has been criticised. And here is somewhere where it’s no answer as well
[00:09:12.070] – Stephen Nolan
Debbie, is it the case that there’s now a lot broader interpretation of what it means to be trans? So help us understand your situation and how that differs from other people who call themselves trans?
[00:09:25.750] – Debbie Hayton
Trans simply is something which anybody can self identify into. We can all declare ourselves to be trans, and then we’re trans. What does it mean to be trans? Either it means to be somebody who is gender non-conforming, or it can be somebody whose situation is such that they feel they need to take severe and make serious physical changes to their bodies. In the past, different groups were treated separately. We used to have transsexuals who the assumption was you had gender reassignment surgery, you went through surgeries. Then there were transvestites who presented themselves differently. Unfortunately, that became a pejorative. It was something which people were ridiculed for. What we’ve done is just combine everything under one umbrella, for better or for worse. I’m not saying whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but we need to be aware that trans is a very, very broad umbrella which doesn’t just involve people who go through gender reassignment surgery. It’s anybody who wants to be trans, and I don’t see a problem with that. As long as we understand what the term means.
[00:10:30.670] – Stephen Nolan
Debbie, you were born male?
[00:10:32.830] – Owen Hurcum
[00:10:33.610] – Stephen Nolan
Do you think someone, Debbie, can identify as a different gender all of a sudden and literally be that gender or do you think a transgender person, even if they have the surgery are literally a different sex?
[00:10:48.670] – Debbie Hayton
No, we’re not a different sex. I’m still as male as I was when I was born. It’s simply the surgery has helped me become more comfortable with my own body. That’s the only thing that changed.
[00:10:59.050] – Stephen Nolan
How can you say as a trans person, you’re still as male as you were when you were born
[00:11:03.970] – Debbie Hayton
Because it’s biological fact here, Steven. There are two sexes, and our sex is dependent on. Basically, it’s what our body was designed for in the reproductive process. And it’s not just human beings. It’s animals. It’s even plants. Parts of plants can be male or female. And we’re as part of nature as any other species.
[00:11:27.790] – Stephen Nolan
Have you had surgery, Debbie?
[00:11:29.530] – Debbie Hayton
[00:11:30.190] – Stephen Nolan
[00:11:31.390] – Debbie Hayton
I’ve had gender reassignment surgery. So which has remodelled my genitals.
[00:11:36.130] – Stephen Nolan
So you’ve had a penis turned into a vagina.
[00:11:38.890] – Debbie Hayton
A neo vagina. Should we say, yes
[00:11:41.050] – Stephen Nolan
So if you’ve now got what you’re describing as a vagina, how are you as male as the day you were born?
[00:11:46.450] – Debbie Hayton
Well, I think it’s the question: does gender reassignment surgery, change your sex? And the argument you can present against that was if a man was kidnapped off the street, drugged and had gender reassignment surgery performed on him against his will, would he then become female as a result? And when you work through arguments like that, you come to the conclusion that, no, cosmetic surgery doesn’t change your sex.
[00:12:10.198] – Stephen Nolan
[00:12:11.290] – Owen Hurcum
Yes, I take, umbrage, to a few of the things there. First of all, I didn’t introduce it, so no hard feelings, but my pronouns are they/them. As I said, I didn’t say that at the beginning, so that’s fine. For me, if you’re born a gender and then you have reassignment or declare yourself trans, have you changed gender? I would say, yeah, the surgeries can help, but that’s not what changes someone’s gender. It’s the declaration. And for your example of somebody getting kidnapped on the street and having reassignment surgery, no, they wouldn’t have changed their gender because they haven’t said that they’ve changed their gender. It’s not in the head, it’s not who they are. Changing their gender, being trans is part of who you are internally. And of course, surgeries and reassignment and hormones can all help with that outward expression and make somebody more comfortable in their body. But, yes, you can change your gender and that’s how you declare yourself, it’s not a surgery you get.
[00:13:01.750] – Stephen Nolan
But there’s a difference, Owen, between gender and sex. The question is, can you change your sex?
[00:13:07.870] – Owen Hurcum
Yeah, sex isn’t binary for a start, there aren’t two sexes. You’ve got intersex people. You’ve got a whole different smorgasbord of chromosome combinations that make up the intersex community.
[00:13:19.210] – Stephen Nolan
Intersex people, some people would argue, is a very unusual medical condition. Can someone just choose to change their sex, in your view?
[00:13:28.930] – Owen Hurcum
No, I mean I’m not advocating for that. All I’m saying is that the sex isn’t a binary. And whilst sex can be important for medical reasons, because obviously, there are medical conditions that affect people, a certain hormonal combinations more than others. But for me, it doesn’t really play into my existence. I don’t even know what my chromosomes are. If I went to a doctor’s and needed certain treatments based upon what chromosomes I have, then I’d find that out, and then that would be, I’d use that information for appropriate medical care. But as for sex is it hugely important in the broader world? No, gender is far more important.
[00:14:05.290] – Debbie Hayton
But what gender are we? Isn’t it true that there are 7 billion genders on the planet? What we shouldn’t be doing is pigeonhole people into boxes.
[00:14:14.290] – Owen Hurcum
No one’s being pigeonholed into boxes. We’re choosing to identify ourselves based on who we are with groups of gender. Of course, no one is saying that every single woman on the planet is the same as every other woman or every other man is the same as every other man. You ask one guy what it means to be a man, he’ll say something completely different to another guy. No one’s disputing that. And there are 7 billion different ways of expressing one’s gender, for sure. I’d agree with that.
[00:14:36.850] – Owen Hurcum
However, it is true. There are groups, gender groups of people. So you will have people who identify as male and people who identify as female. You will have people like myself who are non-binary, and you’ll have micro labels within that community. And these are helpful in outwardly expressing who we are fundamentally in terms of our gender and how we wish to engage in the world through that lens. And so, yes, there are 7 billion different expressions of people’s genders, for sure. But I don’t think every single person on the planet has their own gender. We’re in gender groups. And that’s why we form these communities.
[00:15:08.710] – Debbie Hayton
Who decides what the gender groups are?
[00:15:10.870] – Owen Hurcum
We do. If you’re a woman and you know you’re a woman, then you declare that ‘I am a woman’ and you meet up with other women and you go ‘oh, we’re all women, cool.’ This is a group. It’s same with you a guy. And if you’re non-binary, like I am, you struggle for a bit with your internal identity growing up, and then you find other non-binary people and you go, ‘oh, I fit into this, this is how I understand myself’.
[00:15:31.090] – Stephen Nolan
At what age, Owen, can you decide which gender group you are?
[00:15:35.290] – Owen Hurcum
Well, I think people know what gender group they are from really young ages. I mean, people can question it and no one’s saying that you can’t have questions. But there are people who know their gender, who know fundamentally what gender they are from, like, five, six, seven.
[00:15:48.310] – Stephen Nolan
So at the age, someone becomes a teenager, for example, can someone born biological male, if they get to the age of 14, can they decide to go into a female changing room?
[00:15:59.290] – Owen Hurcum
Well, I mean, if they’re self ID’d as a woman, then as every single country in the world that has self ID has shown, there is no increased risk by allowing that to happen. And I think this is a false argument. If a 14 year old biological boy who declares himself a boy wants to go into a female changing room unless we’re policing every single public toilet, every single changing room anywhere, that can happen. All I’m saying is the argument that people…
[00:16:24.610] – Stephen Nolan
I’m talking about a biologically born boy, age 14, saying, suddenly, I’m now female, I’m now changing in the girl’s changing room.
[00:16:36.790] – Owen Hurcum
What I’m saying to that is the idea that this could lead to any risk, because this is always how this question leads on to has been disproved by countries that allow self ID. And moreover, the crime of going into a changing room and assaulting or attacking or videoing or whatever, that’s the crime. Allowing somebody who identifies as trans into a changing room, that doesn’t increase any kind of danger. So if a 14 year old boy who was assigned boy at birth comes out as a woman she should be treated as such and should be allowed into those spaces because there is no increased risk.
[00:17:08.890] – Stephen Nolan
There may or may not be an increase in risk, I haven’t seen the statistics, but there may be a level of discomfort among people who are born biologically female, and obviously this works the other way around as well. But born biologically female all of a sudden their classmate, who up until yesterday was a boy, suddenly says they’re female too, and they’re standing in the school showers or naked in the changing rooms or doing whatever else they’re doing. That might present a level of discomfort. Where is the protection for the biologically born females?
[00:17:43.510] – Owen Hurcum
The protection is that if the person in question does anything in the changing room that causes discomfort that can be reported, but there’s nothing to stop somebody who was born biologically female who’s a cis female, being creepy or perverted or causing discomfort in a female-only changing. And the idea that trans people are inherently going to cause discomfort is based upon the idea that we aren’t who we say we are and that we’re only doing it for nefarious means, which is not the case, and I think safeguarding and reporting should be in place where it is everywhere.
[00:18:13.030] – Stephen Nolan
I’m saying something different. I’m saying let’s presume there is nothing creepy going on. Let’s presume there’s nothing perverted or anything like it sexual going on that still might present a level of discomfort among biologically born females who are just used to not being naked in front of biologically born males. Where’s the protection for them?
[00:18:38.230] – Owen Hurcum
Well, then we should look at how we construct changing rooms, and maybe the idea that it’s a big open space isn’t best. Have separate individual changing cubicles, so no one has to see anything they don’t want, because I’m sure when I was growing up I had classmates who wouldn’t get changed for swimming unless there was one of the free shower cubicles, for example, when we had swimming lessons, that was nothing to do with any trans or non-binary people in the change room, I wasn’t out back then. It’s simply because some people don’t like to be naked around other people or have other people naked around them.
[00:19:06.190] – Owen Hurcum
So the question isn’t so much, is it going to cause discomfort for people in a changing room if a trans person uses that change room? They might just be uncomfortable in a situation that forces them to be naked around other people or have other people naked it around them. And I think the solution to that is not only gender neutral spaces for people who want to use them, but mainly communal spaces in changing rooms isn’t something that we should be putting our children through.
[00:19:31.510] – Stephen Nolan
[00:19:32.230] – Debbie Hayton
I agree with some of what Owen’s said there. I disagree with the fact that we can segregate change rooms according to how people feel about themselves. Neither do we segregate change rooms according to people who are supposedly potentially dangerous or not, we don’t do that. We segregate because there’s two sexes and our bodies form one pattern or the other. So there’s two different types of body and people feel uncomfortable in the presence of the other. And yeah, as a father of a daughter, I’d be concerned if there were biological boys sharing this space with her. Where I do actually agree with Owen is on the line of extra provision of gender neutral, single use provision. And here again, is where I come back to about trans rights being human rights, in that I think we should be campaigning for additional private provision for anybody who doesn’t want to share with their own sex because you don’t have to be trans or non-binary to not want to share communal spaces with other people of your sex. So I think there should be extra provision for everybody.
[00:20:36.010] – Stephen Nolan
How does this work, Debbie, with sport?
[00:20:40.150] – Debbie Hayton
With sport it’s been really quite tricky. And there’s been various high profile cases recently about this, where the IOC has tried to demarcate sport according to testosterone levels. But we were left in the ludicrous situation where a New Zealand weightlifter who was 20 years older than the other competitors was able to compete at that level or go forward to that level because of all the advantages of the male puberty and the very fact that you keep your testosterone below ten nanomoles per litre or whatever the arbitrary level is doesn’t unwind all the massive advantages that people had when they went through a male puberty.
[00:21:18.790] – Debbie Hayton
So there again, you know, my views are quite clear on that, that sport is sex segregated because male bodies are different to female bodies. If we didn’t segregate, female people wouldn’t win very much. So we do segregate. And because we do that we should respect that segregation and to try and bend the rules is not helping, and it doesn’t help trans people to be honest, it just causes an unnecessary debate which pulls us all into dispute.
[00:21:50.890] – David Thompson
Well it’s good that we’re having this discussion guys today because it’s quite difficult to have a discussion on this sometimes. So thanks both for taking part in it. Stonewall, you broadly agree with, Owen, how would you feel if it was a different organisation that you didn’t agree with that had this level of access to public bodies?
[00:22:07.450] – Owen Hurcum
Well, there are organisations that have this level of access to public bodies that I disagree with, and LGB Alliance has been given charity status. They are involved in consultations with the government and all that.
[00:22:20.110] – David Thompson
Exactly, but the point is LGB Alliance were involved in a consultation with the government, which is a normal process. What Stonewall did was entirely different in that the public bodies paid the money to Stonewall and Stonewall were advising them on their policy, so it’s a much greater level of access than LGB Alliance, for example.
[00:22:37.030] – Owen Hurcum
I understand that and I understand some people do have umbrage with Stonewall, but fundamentally, Stonewall is about promoting equality, and that should be what the government are getting involved with and are paying and using, and that’s their aim.
[00:22:47.410] – David Thompson
Stonewall was about promoting its vision of equality. But other groups obviously disagree with Stonewall’s vision or Stonewall’s policies, but they don’t seem to have the same influence with government.
[00:23:00.370] – Owen Hurcum
Yeah, again, I understand that. But Stonewall’s vision of equality is literally just equality between everyone, regardless of their gender or sexuality. And I think that’s a good vision to have.
[00:23:10.870] – David Thompson
But as we discussed today, though, it’s obviously much more complicated than that. And I think basically the difference in perspective between yourself and Debbie comes down to whether sex or gender is more important. And Stonewall are very firmly on the side of the debate where your gender identity is more important. So that’s a very specific vision that Stonewall have for how they would like the law to change. So why would Stonewall be given access to government, that other groups who that oppose that don’t?
[00:23:39.010] – Owen Hurcum
I do understand the question. I think the reason that Stonewall should be given access is because they, on the most part, accurately reflect and respect and have the support of the community that they are trying to alleviate out of a position of being discriminated against. And that’s why I think that they should be involved.
[00:23:56.950] – David Thompson
But, Debbie, do you not welcome Stonewall’s renewed emphasis because Stonewall were an LGB group up until relatively recently, and then they began to campaign for trans rights. Do you not welcome Stonewall’s campaigning on that issue?
[00:24:10.390] – Debbie Hayton
It was 2014. Until 2014, Stonewall never had anything to say about trans rights, and it was a frustration. But they have come in, and I think reframed the debate on trans rights from one on actions, how we can interact with society, on our rights, for treatment, on our rights, to our rights, to interact with other groups and reframed it in terms of identity. And identity is such that it’s impossible to measure objectively. It’s impossible to compare identities.
[00:24:47.230] – David Thompson
So you don’t think that their involvement has been helpful for trans people from your perspective?
[00:24:52.330] – Debbie Hayton
I think Stonewall have contributed to the environment we’re in now where different groups professing different identities are in conflict with each other. Because if we ever get into a debate of identity and we’ve got one here, it’s who wins is who is the most powerful group, who has got the most friends, who has got the most supporters. Not who is right, or whose ideas, again come back to what I said before, will support everybody involved to get, not necessarily what they want, we can never all get what we want, but get what we need.
[00:25:32.170] – David Thompson
And Owen, on Stonewall, do you think Stonewall have got it right in terms of, they have argued a certain interpretation of the law. Do you think that it’s right? Do you think that, as they say, gender identity is protected by the Equality Act, for example?
[00:25:44.290] – Owen Hurcum
I would agree with Stonewall that gender identity should be protected. Gender reassignment, as the current wording, is ambiguous at best and negligent at worst.
[00:25:54.970] – David Thompson
But that’s generally not how law works, because when legislators lay down the law, they use specific terminology. And unless there’s case law to demonstrate how that’s changed or some kind of court ruling or change in legislation, what was actually legislated for was a protection of gender reassignment, not gender identity.
[00:26:12.610] – Owen Hurcum
Again, the current wording of the law, while I would personally advocate for it to be changed to not be so ambiguous, there is valid interpretations out there that it does cover gender identity and obviously wanting to protect trans and non-binary people Stonewall are pushing for that interpretation.
[00:26:27.370] – David Thompson
Well, the EHRC who are the statutory body who govern equality law say that gender identity is not covered in the Equality Act.
[00:26:35.170] – Owen Hurcum
Yeah, the wording Equality Act is, of course, gender reassignment, and that’s why I’d say it’s ambiguous and should be updated. But I do support Stonewall in their pushing for this interpretation because I would say that there’s just as a valid interpretation as others, because the wording of the Equality Act when it talks about gender reassignment, it doesn’t specify if that’s a physical reassignment or not, it’s not behind the scenes or it’s not upfront to be saying that gender identity is protected because, again, the Equality Act while it says gender reassignment, it doesn’t specify that has to be simply a social reassignment or a physical one, and if it’s a social one, that is the same thing as gender identity, because the social reassignment would just be somebody saying I’m trans. So it’s not inaccurate to say that the law covers it in the way that Stonewall are presenting it.
[00:27:22.390] – David Thompson
But gender identity covers lots of, a multitude of gender identities, which were in no way considered under the Equality Act. So when Stonewall said to organisations that gender identity is a protected characteristic, and they list gender identities as non-binary as genderqueer as two spirit. Those gender identities were not considered when that legislation was created.
[00:27:46.510] – Owen Hurcum
I just cycle back to the point that Stonewall are right to say that gender identity is protected, specifically because the Equality Act doesn’t define gender reassignment as being specifically a physical reassignment or specifically outside of specifically not including people who self ID themselves as trans, even though the government don’t legally allow self ID. So I would say that obviously, we do need to have the Equality Act upgraded, so it’s less ambiguous because obviously people have different interpretations of it. And I do think Stonewall should be pushing for that, but I don’t think they’re inaccurate to claim that gender identity is protected within it, purely because of the scope of ambiguity that is worded within the legislation.
[00:28:31.730] – Debbie Hayton
Well, I think we need to come back to what the Equality Act actually does. The Equality Act protects us against less favourable treatment, and it does so by perception as well as by inactions. So, for example, the Equality Act protects me from being dismissed from my job denied goods and services because of gender reassignment. But you don’t actually have had to go through gender reassignment to benefit from that. It’s whether it’s in the mind of the person doing the discriminating. That’s what matters.
[00:29:02.870] – Debbie Hayton
So I would say that nobody should be treated less favourably. We don’t need to protect something such as gender identity, which it can’t even be defined, gender identity without looking to circular reasoning or looking to sexist stereotypes. What we should be saying is everybody has a right not to be treated less favourably because of how they present themselves. And we could do that without changing the protected characteristic. We just need to make clear that if people choose to express themselves in ways which are not characteristic of their sex, for example, and there again, I’m going back to sexist stereotypes. Then in that case, they shouldn’t be treated less favourably. But that’s what the Equality Act does. It doesn’t give extra rights. It protects us against discrimination, and as long as we keep a focus on that, it makes sense. It’s when we then take the Equality Act into pretending it does something that it doesn’t, that’s when we get into such a mess. So, yes, leave it as gender reassignment, which is a process, it’s action, it’s an activity. But make it absolutely clear within that that people whose gender expression is atypical for their sex, we shouldn’t be discriminating against them either, they shouldn’t be treated less favourably. So perhaps gender expression could become a protected characteristic. But gender identity, it’s not tangible in the same way. So I don’t see how you can protect it.
[00:30:26.390] – Stephen Nolan
Owen, we’re covering a whole breath, obviously, of subject matter today. One of the other things we’ve been looking at in the podcast is the Stonewall Index that lots of companies sign up to. How do you think it’s an index with value if Stonewall is marking it and it’s their index, and then there are courses that you buy off Stonewall if you don’t quite make the grade? How’s that index got an integrity about it?
[00:30:57.950] – Owen Hurcum
Well, this is sort of going to get into my stance on capitalism, which isn’t a good one and, no, I don’t think courses should be charged for promoting equality, but Stonewall have to be able to drum up their finances so that they can continue to support and so that’s why they charge for courses. I don’t necessarily see it as a conflict of interest.
[00:31:16.130] – Stephen Nolan
But why shouldn’t someone else do the marking? If they’re selling the courses, why do they not keep an arm’s length distance, then, from the scoring to companies who are then told they need to buy the courses or they can buy the courses? You can see a conflict of interest, can you not?
[00:31:34.490] – Owen Hurcum
I mean, I can see a conflict of interest in everything that requires a monetary transaction because it ultimately benefits one person. But we’re not talking about that. What I can say is Stonewall know how to campaign, know what they’re talking about in terms of supporting LGBTQ+ people in organisations, and they can provide training on that. And I don’t think it’s an overt conflict of interest to be doing that, personally, no.
[00:31:58.430] – Stephen Nolan
Do you, Debbie?
[00:31:59.930] – Debbie Hayton
Well, I just see a vested interest. Stonewall are taking in huge sums of money for companies and then ranking them. There is a vested interest there, and it needs to be recognised. They’re not a neutral organisation when it comes to these things. What concerns me most, though, is the curious relationship they have with government. There’s been recent freedom of information requests that say they’ve taken 3.1 million of public funds over the last three years. They’re intensely lobbying government and taking funds from the government that they’re lobbying. And we are left in a position where the government is funding the people who are lobbying them, which I think needs investigation, external inspection of what’s going on and scrutiny because otherwise, who knows what’s happening.