By Jacob Dean
Content warning: homophobia, transphobia, sexual assault and discrimination
Like many in the LGBTQ community, this LGBTQ awareness month has reminded me how far the recognition of our rights has come in such a short time, and how far society still has to go in recognising all those falling under our umbrella as equal. At the moment, Trans people are at the forefront of the struggle, particularly in terms of their lack of equal access to healthcare and unnecessary delays in the legal transition process. However, this does not mean that as Cis people in our community we should be complacent, as the surge of right-wing populism across the West poses a threat to us all. In particular, the under-reported erosion of protections for LGBTQ people in the USA and the implementation of explicitly LGBTQ-phobic policies across Europe mark a worrying turn for how we are going to be treated going forward.
“Women like me die waiting for the exact same medicines that bald men get from the GP to treat hair loss”. This stark summary of the frustration felt by trans people in the UK was written by actress and YouTuber Abigail Thorn in her recent coming out statement and it perfectly encapsulates how unnecessarily obstructive the UK’s legal system is in helping trans people gain legal recognition for their transitions. The primary piece of legislation governing the legal status of trans people is the Gender Recognition Act of 2004. Given the fact that this Act (first put before the Commons in 2003) was drafted at a time when our country’s understanding of trans identity was radically limited in comparison to now, it is no surprise that the “onerous and extensive process of applying for a GRC [Gender Recognition Certificate] can be a huge deterrent for some trans people. The steps and length of time required means that many simply do not apply, and as such, do not have their new gender recognised fully by the law” as put by Tammy Knox in the Family Law Journal. The Gender Recognition Certificate mentioned in the article is issued by the Gender Recognition Panel, comprised of legal and medical members. In addition to the requirement to have lived as their identified gender for at least 2 years, further burden is placed on trans people by intrusive questions by the Panel concerning their surgery and questioning the validity of their identities.
Even this deeply flawed legal process is being chipped away at by the recent High Court decision in R (on the application of) Quincy Bell and A -v- Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust and others which, if the Tavistock Trust’s appeal against the ruling is unsuccessful, will impede the ability of trans children to receive puberty blockers without the approval of a judge. Additionally, a statement by the Equality Minister Liz Truss in April last year provoked widespread fear among the trans community that they would be denied access to spaces reserved for their identified gender and banned from transitioning if under the age of 18. In addition to this state-sanctioned harm to trans people, societal bigotry against them is once again rearing its ugly head, most notably in the form of notable author J.K Rowling’s transphobic manifesto casting doubt on the validity of trans identities and implying that continuing to allow transwomen into women’s spaces somehow poses a danger to women and girls. Clearly, the image of the UK as immune from any serious transphobia due to its progress in accepting trans people is overly favourable at best.
While trans people are certainly facing a unique form of oppression, it is not just them that are fearing a future where the legal protections they have gained will be eroded. They and other members of the LGBTQ community across the West are increasingly worried that the rise in right-wing populism is bringing such a future into the present. One notable example of this is the recent declarations made by towns in Poland (comprising nearly a third of the country) which claim that they are free of “LGBT ideology” which, although an unenforceable and symbolic move, adds further fuel to the LGBTQ-phobic fire slowly sweeping the West. This move draws parallels with Section 28 which in England, Wales and Scotland did not allow local authorities to “intentionally promote homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship” from 1988 until 2000 in Scotland, 2003 in England and Wales and 2010 in Kent with the passing of the Equality Act. In Hungary, the rights of trans people to be legally recognised as their identified gender was removed by the right-wing government of PM Viktor Orbán and President János Áder. This is a trend that has been seen across Europe, in a survey conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights “at least 43% of respondents said they have faced discrimination compared to 37% in 2019 and this goes up to 60% for trans people. Around 58% of the people interviewed admitted they have experienced some form of harassment compared to 45% in the previous survey while 5% have been physically or sexually assaulted”. In the US, the situation appears to be similar with former President Trump’s last-ditch effort to repeal anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people before begrudgingly relinquishing his position. In comparison to many countries across the world, however, this precarious position is still favourable. 72 countries across the world criminalise same-sex relationships, with the death penalty being in force in 8 countries.
Reversing the recent trend of attacks on LGBTQ rights while continuing to fight for them will not be easy. It will continue to require the combined efforts of all those who identify as members of our community and our allies. We cannot become complacent, or fail to challenge injustice when we see it. Only by standing up for what is right, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be, can we move towards a world in which everyone can be themselves.
 Gender Recognition Act 2004
 Tammy Knox, Gender Recognition Act consultation and the potential impact on trans families –  Fam Law 6
 Peter Dunne, The UK Transgender Equality Inquiry –  Fam Law 888
  EWHC 3274 (Admin)
 Local Government Act 1988, s 28
 Equality Act 2010
Image: Sara Rampazzo, Unsplash