Trans women face being banned from single-sex spaces under plan to make legal definition of sex 'biological'

5 April 2023, 10:41

Kemi Badenoch has proposed changes to the legal definition of 'sex' under the 2010 gender equality act.
Kemi Badenoch has proposed changes to the legal definition of 'sex' under the 2010 gender equality act. Picture: Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

The legal definition of "sex" could be re-written to mean "biological sex" in move to stop trans women being allowed into single-sex spaces such as women-only hospital wards.

Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch wrote to the human right's watchdog for parliament in February, asking to revise the wording of "sex" under the 2010 Gender Equality Act in what she described as a "technical and contested area of law".

She wants to overhaul the Equality Act to create a legal distinction between people who were born as women and those who have switched genders to become females.

Ms Badenoch says the change was prompted after Scotland's vote to reform the Gender Recognition Act, which she said "led to questions being raised" around the 2010 act.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published a response to her request yesterday, wherein it said this alteration to the definition could result in "greater legal clarity" for single-sex spaces.

However, it also told the government to consider the "possible disadvantages for trans men and trans women” by making the alteration.

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Such an amendment under the Equality Act could lead to a ban on trans women competing alongside "biological" women in sporting events.

Reception to the proposed change has been divisive, with LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall contesting the proposal, as it said it "risks opening yet another chapter in a manufactured culture war that will see little benefit to women, cis and trans alike".

In its reading of the EHRC response, Stonewall said the letter offered "no substantive evidence of demand for this work" and showed the group did "not see a world where cis women are desperate to exclude trans women from their spaces".

Meanwhile, the gender critical campaign group Sex Matters has welcomed the suggested change.

The proposed move falls in line with Rishi Sunak's rhetoric around the issue, as he previously said he believes "biological sex really matters".

Reactions to proposed gender equality laws in recent years has been divisive for different campaign groups.
Reactions to proposed gender equality laws in recent years has been divisive for different campaign groups. Picture: Alamy
A case involving a convicted transgender woman sparked debate back in January this year.
A case involving a convicted transgender woman sparked debate back in January this year. Picture: Alamy

However, calls from Ms Badenoch to change this legal definition has caused confusion amongst social media users, as many have suggested sex always referred to biological sex.

One user said: "'Sex' always meant biological sex and until their recent semantic shenanigans no-one would have questioned this."

Whereas another said: "Biological sex is concrete. Gender is an abstract part of the self concept."

So far, reports suggest the move is being backed by Downing Street.

If implemented, it could allow single-sex groups, such as lesbian groups or women's book-clubs, to exclude trans women from their meetings, as well as employers to restrict advertised roles for women to only mean "biological" women.

The EHRC's chair, Kishwer Falkner, said it "could bring clarity in a number of areas, but potential ambiguity in others."

"Our response to the minister’s request for advice suggests that the UK government carefully identify and consider the potential implications of this change," she added.

"There is a clear need to move the public debate on issues of sex and gender to a more informed and constructive basis. This would be welcomed by the many who do not take the polarised positions currently driving public debate.”

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