In The South

Government announce action to improve LGBT+ equality

Besi Besemar July 23, 2017

♦ Proposals to streamline process for changing gender to be put forward in new consultation
♦ Nationwide LGBT+ survey launched to inform government policy
♦ Deferral period for giving blood reduced for men who have sex with men

Justine Greening MP
Justine Greening MP

The Minister for Women and Equalities Justine Greening, has announced ahead of the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality on July 28, new measures to deliver greater equality for LGBT+ people all over the country.

Proposals to streamline and de-medicalise the process for changing gender will be part of a broad consultation of the legal system that underpins gender transition, the Gender Recognition Act.

Currently individuals need a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and have to provide evidence that they have been in transition for at least two years before they can apply to legally change their gender.

Justine Greening also announced the launch of a national survey that will ask the 1.5million LGBT people in the UK to share their views on public services to help inform Government policy.

Justine Greening MP said: “This government is committed to building an inclusive society that works for everyone, no matter what their gender or sexuality and today we’re taking the next step forward.

“We will build on the significant progress we have made over the past 50 years, tackling some of the historic prejudices that still persist in our laws and giving LGBT+ people a real say on the issues affecting them.”

Since Parliament voted for the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, there has been significant progress on LGBT+ equality. In 2013 the law was changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. Earlier this year, Turing’s Law was passed, posthumously pardoning men who had sex with men for these now abolished offences. And the recent election saw the highest number of openly LGB MPs voted into Parliament. Today’s announcement looks to build on this progress.

The LGBT+ survey, launched today, will allow the Government to understand the experiences of LGBT+ individuals across the UK. This will help identify ways to improve public services for LGBT+ users, including in health and education, and to understand how individuals might face discrimination. The survey will run for 12 weeks until 15 October.

The Government has also announced that the deferral blood donation period will be reduced from 12 months to three months for men who have sex with men, increasing the supply of donor blood available for life-saving operations. These reductions are based on the most up to date scientific evidence and medical advances, which will offer more people the opportunity to donate blood without affecting the safety of the blood supply – helping to increase the supply of donor blood and save lives. Further work on more personalised risk assessment is also under way to allow as wide a pool of donors as possible while maintaining the safety of the blood supply

The UK has one of the safest blood supplies in the world. These rules are in place to keep blood donors and the patients who receive their blood safe. The UK Government will now work with NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) to implement the changes to deferrals for sexual behaviours from early 2018, and submit evidence on the other recommendations on blood donation announced today to a wider European evidence evaluation.

Alex Phillips
Alex Phillips

Alex Phillips, Blood Donations Policy Lead at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “We’ve long fought for an evidence-based blood donation policy, and are therefore delighted that the lifetime ban on former and current sex workers donating blood will finally be lifted.  This is a victory for science over stigmatising assumptions.

“The lifetime blood donation ban on anyone who works or used to work in the sex industry in the UK is based on preconceptions rather than evidence, and the rules needed reviewing to fit the facts.

“We know from our research that the majority of sex workers take great care of their sexual health, with 98% of sex workers we asked rating their sexual health as very important, 76% having a sexual health check up every three months, and 98% knowing their HIV status.”

Commenting on the policy for men who have sex with men, Alex said: “We’re pleased to see a further reduction in the deferral period for men who have sex with men and we welcome this progress.  

“However, we urge the government to invest in gathering more robust scientific evidence on the risk of transmission of blood-borne viruses from men who engage in oral sex with men. We know from clinical and epidemiological experience that the risk of HIV from oral sex is extremely low, but this review has missed the opportunity to gather the robust evidence needed to update the policies.”

“The decisions announced today will enable more people to give blood, while maintaining the safety of the blood supply. We hope this paves the way for more progress as further evidence becomes available, and we’re now urging the government to continue to regularly review the deferral periods in line with the latest evidence.”

Ethan Spibey
Ethan Spibey

Ethan Spibey, Founder, FreedomToDonate, added: “Today’s announcement from the Government marks a world-leading blood donation policy for gay and bisexual men and the other groups previously restricted. I’m so proud that the work of FreedomToDonate and our supporters will help ensure more people than ever before are allowed to safely donate blood.

“I began this campaign because I wanted to repay the donor who saved my granddad’s life after a major operation and this announcement means I’m closer than ever to doing that, with the invaluable help of our team of volunteers, and the charities and organisations FreedomToDonate represents.”

The consultation on the Gender Recognition Act, to be published in the Autumn, will look to improve the recognition process and reduce the stigma faced by the trans community.

Proposals will include:

♦ Removing the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria before being able to apply for gender recognition. The current need to be assessed and diagnosed by clinicians is seen as an intrusive requirement by the trans community; and

♦ Proposing options for reducing the length and intrusiveness of the gender recognition system.
It will aim to relieve the bureaucratic and medical burdens for those who choose to change their gender.

Suzanna Hopwood, a member of the Stonewall Trans Advisory Group, said: “I am really pleased that the Government is making good on its commitment to review the Gender Recognition Act. Reform is one of the key priorities in our vision for removing the huge inequalities that trans people face in the UK. The current system is demeaning and broken.

“It’s vital that this reform removes the requirements for medical evidence and an intrusive interview panel, and finally allows all trans people to have their gender legally recognised through a simple administrative process. That’s what we’ll be calling for during this consultation, and I’m looking forward to seeing the law change soon after.”

Ruth Hunt
Ruth Hunt

Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of Stonewall added: “We’re pleased the Government recognises there is still more to be done to ensure all lesbian, gay, bi and trans people are accepted without exception, and welcome the announcement of new measures to tackle some of the remaining inequalities. The consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act is hugely encouraging.

“The 2004 Act was ground-breaking in giving trans people a way to have their gender legally recognised, but the process is in dire need of reform. We need a simple process which isn’t medicalised, intrusive or demeaning. We would urge the Government to ensure that all trans communities are consulted and to act quickly on their concerns.

“Change to the blood donation rules are also welcome. However, while this is an important move, it’s vital that this is a stepping stone to a system that doesn’t automatically exclude most gay and bi men. We would like to see individualised risk assessment, and are encouraged that the Government and NHS Blood and Transplant Service are committed to exploring how to do this. And we welcome the Government’s intention to better understand the inequalities LGBT people face in Britain to identify key areas for future action, and to ensure that this Government maintains the UK’s impressive record as a world leader on LGBT equality.”

James Morton
James Morton

James Morton, Scottish Trans Alliance Manager, said: “We welcome that the UK Government has now followed the Scottish Government’s lead in accepting that the Gender Recognition Act needs to be urgently reformed. This is long overdue as the UK has fallen far behind the gender recognition procedures in more than a dozen other countries, including our closest neighbour, Ireland.

“The current UK process to change the gender on a trans person’s birth certificate is a humiliating, offensive and expensive red-tape nightmare which requires them to submit intrusive psychiatric evidence to a faceless tribunal panel. The gender on their UK passport, driving licence, medical records and other identity documents already get changed by self-declaration at the very start of a person’s transition. Birth certificates simply need to be brought in line with the process for all other UK identity documents.

“Changing the gender on their birth certificate to match their other identity documents is important primarily to uphold trans people’s privacy and dignity but also to ensure that their pensions, insurance policies, civil partnerships and marriages are all administered correctly.

“Making it easier to change birth certificates will not affect how trans people access single-sex services because they can already use their self-declared gender recorded on their passport or driving licence as identification. It will also not affect access to NHS medical gender reassignment services. It is a serious criminal offence punishable by imprisonment to lie on a statutory declaration when self-declaring gender so the process will not be open to misuse.”