A brief introduction to trans rights and statutory interpretation

In the law of England, Wales, and Scotland, trans women are usually entitled to be in women’s space. There is no right to “single-sex spaces” in the sense the trans-excluders mean, women’s spaces excluding all trans women. To understand why, some explanation of the Equality Act 2010 and how statutes are interpreted is necessary.

I will refer to particular provisions of the Act. You can click the links if you want to follow my argument more deeply. The deeper you go, the more difficult and unclear it gets, as if the law is fractal: complexities can always be added. A hate site, which says what trans-excluders want to believe however easily refuted that is currently claims (link to web archive) “A male-to-female transitioner does not access the single-sex protections of females. They do not become female for the purposes of the EA2010.”

That there is no broad right to “single sex [No Transwomen!] space”, only women’s services which include trans women, is clear from Schedule 3.

Paragraph 26 allows separate services for women and for men, and paragraph 27 allows services for one sex only. Both give fairly obvious reasons, such as, if a woman might reasonably object to a man’s presence. It does not list loos, changing rooms, women’s shelters, but leaves that to the judge. Judges are expected to be reasonable, even though a lawyer might claim a client’s expectation is “reasonable”, because unreasonable clients are an excellent source of income for lawyers.

Then paragraph 28 allows trans people to be excluded, if that is a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. There would be no point in having a separate provision if trans women were excluded as “men” from women’s services. The explanatory notes, while not binding, indicate what the drafters of the Act were thinking: they suggest that a “male to female transsexual person” could be excluded from a group counselling session for female victims of sexual assault- under paragraph 28, not 26 or 27.

That is clear enough. No further argument is necessary. Unfortunately, the trans-excluders have a certain amount of confusion to sow, and ignorant transphobes on facebook may refer to certain sections as a gotcha.

The first problem is that the headings are “separate services for the sexes” and “single-sex services”, and there is a reference to “persons of one sex”. Trans-excluders then go to the interpretation section, which my legal training tells me is usually towards the end of an Act (but the beginning of a statutory instrument- the kind of weirdness that means you need a law degree to understand this stuff.)

s212(1) says “’man’ means a male of any age” and “’woman’ means a female of any age”. That means that children are protected from sex discrimination too, not that trans women are “males” therefore “men”. Because this is a complex statute, there is also an “index of defined expressions” at schedule 28, which says that “Sex” is defined at s11. It does not define sex for all purposes, just “in relation to the protected characteristic of sex”, that is, for the purposes of sex discrimination claims. In those claims, one is either a man or a woman.

In the myths and desires of trans excluders, you cannot change sex and trans women are “male”, or “men”. So this provision makes them very happy. No Transwomen! Cue lots of excited sharing on facebook by non-lawyers who know no better, and articles by lawyers who should.

However then we look at s7, which protects trans people. It refers to “gender reassignment” but then to “reassigning sex”, and “changing… attributes of sex”. It refers to “transsexual persons”.

I have a gender recognition certificate, and so the Gender Recognition Act s 9 says my gender becomes the acquired gender (female) and my sex becomes “that of a woman”.

The law, and the English language, hopelessly confuse the concepts of sex and gender. When a form asks for “gender”, a transphobe is misinterpreting it if s/he says “I have no gender” (as some of them do). Practically, the form means “sex”. And, they might claim “reassigning sex” is not possible, but the Act envisages that it is.

Parliament can do anything. Unfortunately, the standard quote to illustrate this was in Dicey, Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution: “Parliament can do everything but make a woman a man, and a man a woman”. But that is not binding either. Besides, law does not make me a woman. I am a woman by birth. Law simply recognises that.

Acts of Parliament do not include superfluous provisions. I have not looked into the minutiae of their spurious arguments, but I suppose a transphobe might claim that paragraph 28 allows them to exclude trans men, as well as trans women, from women’s services. So we need to turn to human rights.

The case of Christine Goodwin says that for “a post-operative transsexual”, her right to privacy means she should be treated as a woman. It is obvious, and easy, to extend this to trans men too. I extend it to people from the moment we decide to transition. This is not quite so clear. I would start with the fact that the Equality Act protects us from discrimination from that moment, and pretty soon seek Counsel’s opinion. This is going far farther than a lay person could argue. The law is complex: complexity also makes money for lawyers.

I have seen a trans-excluder argue that we’re not entitled to privacy if they can tell we’re trans women. That’s why lesbians get misgendered in women’s loos.

There is no right to services excluding all trans women, in law. There may be a right to exclude a particular trans woman from a particular space, if there is good reason for it.

Trans-excluders may then get onto quote-mining. The Forstater case said Corbett v Corbett was still “the common law”. Well, that’s obiter dicta– legal Latin for incidental speech, which is not precedent.

Quote-miners could look at a report and quote, delightedly, that Stonewall are saying what they want the law to be, not what the law is, but in effect Stonewall are right. They explain the law for lay people to understand.

In 2020, there was at least $4bn sloshing about the world, to pay for trans excluder campaigning. The legal cases against trans people will be pressed hard. But trans women are usually entitled to go into women’s spaces. Any other interpretation is merely silly.

I said the law applies to England, Wales and Scotland. I had not been certain that the relevant bits did not apply to Northern Ireland so I looked at the “Extent” section, just before the schedules. That’s what a lawyer would do. More on the Equality Act.

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