A photo of Carla Denyer holding a mug

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) wrote to the equalities minister Kemi Badenoch earlier this week in response to a request for advice on the definition of ‘sex’ in the Equality Act. In its letter, the EHRC argues that ‘sex’ should be defined in what it describes as ‘biological’ terms. This means that an individual’s sex would be defined in law as that which they were assigned at birth.

The letter has been highly controversial and has attracted significant criticism. LGBT+ rights charity Stonewall said the EHRC’s letter “risks opening yet another chapter in a manufactured culture war.

The charity said: “This correspondence from the [EHRC] fails to recognise that the Equality Act 2010 has successfully supported businesses and service providers to challenge discrimination for more than a decade, and offers no substantive evidence of demand for this work. At Stonewall, we work with hundreds of employers week in week out. They would say that the Equality Act is working well and do not see a world where cis women are desperate to exclude trans women from their spaces.

“The EHRC is right to consider how trans men miss out on provisions and protections, but it is fundamentally wrong to imply that trans women do not experience sexism, which cuts far beyond biology. We would expect the EHRC to make further reference to some of the challenges defining ‘biological’ sex, how these measures would interact with the Equality Act’s protection for people who are ‘perceived’ to hold protected characteristics, and consider rights for intersex people.

“Rather than finding a way forward on this discussion, this move risks opening yet another chapter in a manufactured culture war that will see little benefit to women, cis and trans alike.”

Among those to criticise the EHRC’s letter is the Green Party of England and Wales’ co-leader Carla Denyer, who accused the EHRC of having ‘biases shaped by government’. She Tweeted: “This letter from @EHRC is very concerning. Some things to be aware of: 1. EHRC is a QUANGO and its commissioners are political appointees, so its direction and biases are shaped by government. This has always been the case but with the current [government] the impact is becoming clearer. 2. Earlier this year major LGBT+ and human rights groups raised concern that EHRC is deviating substantially from the @UN standards set for national human rights organisations globally.” 

She continued: “The EHRC letter is full of holes. It creates an idea of “legal lesbians/legal gays” – there’s no such thing. It assumes discrimination based on perception of a characteristic is not possible, when this is established law. It forgets that intersex people exist.”

And she concluded: “The EHRC letter to Badenoch *does not* constitute a change in the law. Trans people continue to be protected by the Equality Act this week as much as they were last week. But I’m worried they may be at risk of more discrimination from people who now think it’s OK. It’s not OK.”

PS. We hope you enjoyed this article. Bright Green has got big plans for the future to publish many more articles like this. You can help make that happen. Please donate to Bright Green now.

Image credit: Matthew Phillip Long – Creative Commons