As the government launches a consultation on the Gender Recognition Act, seeking to streamline how transgender people register their new identities, some would say the move has been long overdue.
But not Dr Nicola Williams, spokeswoman for Fair Play For Women, who argues changes to the law could compromise female-only spaces. Here, she tells Sky News that sex-based rights in the UK could become impossible to enforce.
I’m a scientist, so facts matter to me. The group I run, Fair Play For Women, uses hard data and proven facts to defend women and their rights.
As a scientist, I have always worked in a male-dominated profession, but I never thought of myself as in a disadvantaged position as a woman. I knew that women were underrepresented in my area, but I felt empowered. I took it for granted that women’s rights had been secured, and I had so many opportunities my grandmother didn’t have.
As a lesbian, I am naturally sympathetic to other minority groups fighting for their rights. Initially when I heard people talking about problems with transgender rights, I wondered what on earth people’s problem could be.
A lot of people likened the situation to the fight for gay rights, and I just thought “why can’t people live and let live?” I fully support the right of trans people to live free of fear and discrimination just the same as everyone else.
This isn’t the same as the fight for gay rights, however. When I looked at the facts more closely I could see this was very different. There was a fundamental conflict between the demands some trans lobby groups were making and the rights of another vulnerable group – women and girls.
Of course if someone wants to live as though they are the opposite sex, that’s their choice and I fully support their right to do so.
But if someone who still has their full male anatomy wants the right to enter women’s changing rooms, or refuges, or to compete against women and girls in sports, and women have no choice about that, that takes away women’s most fundamental right: the right to say no to male-bodied people entering our spaces.
In Britain there is a fierce debate around this. The government has just opened a consultation to decide whether the law should be changed to make it easier for someone to change the legal sex on their birth certificate.
Some trans campaigners want new rules that would mean any man who simply said “I am a woman now” could legally become female, getting along with it unchallenged access to women’s changing rooms, hostels, NHS wards and other female-only spaces.
Organisations are already running ahead of the law and defining women as anyone who says they are one. It’s already happening informally, the law change will cement it in place.
This would punch a huge hole in the hard-won system of women’s legal rights which allow us to say no to male-bodied people being in our spaces. There would be no official way to tell who was male for purposes of single-sex overnight sleeping accommodation, for women’s refuges, or for single-sex sports.
Our sex-based rights will still exist on paper but will be impossible to use on the ground.
Yet I was shocked that women who spoke up about this were threatened and harassed. A trans activist was convicted of the assault of a 60-year-old woman who had gathered with others to attend a meeting at which they could discuss the potential impact on women and girls of such a change to the law.
More recently, a meeting organised by another group, Woman’s Place UK, to discuss the law changes was targeted with a bomb threat which is now under investigation by the police.
Ordinary women who ask questions about these things on social media are routinely threatened with violence, told they deserve to be punched, or worse.
The right to male-free spaces when vulnerable, the right to our dignity and privacy when we undress, and the right to fair competition in sport matter to lots of women and girls, yet hardly anyone in Britain realises those rights are under threat, and already hanging by a thread.
Women are not being informed, and the small number of women who do speak up are being violently silenced. That’s just not acceptable in a democracy.
We at Fair Play For Women believe this issue needs to be discussed rationally, on the basis of the facts. Data isn’t “transphobic”. Evidence isn’t “hateful”. Facts are just facts, and the plain fact is that the proposed policy of “self-identified sex” would have a huge impact on women and girls.
You can watch Dr Williams speaking about the issues in her interview with Sky News here
Or watch the full in-depth news report by Sky
Fair Play For Women will be running a public awareness campaign throughout the Summer. You can sign up here to receive updates, information and guidance on how to fill in the consultation.