Maria Miller, the chair of the Commons Women and Equalities committee, has come out in support of degendering passports, drivers licenses and other official documents. Credit where credit is due, despite being a Tory MP she voted in favour of same-sex marriage and has voted generally positively in relation to LGBT issues. This step forward will be important for two groups of people who are often marginalised in our society: women and transgender people.
This will not be a massive pat on the back for the government as Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has said that his party had been pushing for this change during the days of the coalition. Indeed Mr Farron said that “it is frankly ridiculous that even on something this small the Tories have refused to act over the last few years”. Whether or not this is true matters as it shows that the Tories are not really concerned about the rights of trans people as this move, if proposed under the coalition, would have been easily passed in the same may marriage equality was.
If what Farron says is true it points to the Tory leadership’s mindset of constantly playing politics, even though these basic issues have such a huge symbolic importance to people all over the country. But let’s be clear that this could easily be Farron playing politics in order to curry favour with the LGBT community as he, despite being a liberal, abstained on the same-sex marriage vote because of his Catholic beliefs.
Trans issues are not being spoken of enough in Britain, and this is a prime example of transgender people being ignored by politicians until it became politically expedient. Don’t get me wrong any progress is welcome irrespective of who is in power, but it’s important to repeat that such a simple gesture could have been achieved without years of delay.
In any case, why is the fact I’m male on my passport? Surely it doesn’t matter what gender I am, and is irrelevant to my travel experience. I’m fine with my gender being on documents that such information may be relevant, for example if a doctor was incorrectly trying to treat me for cervical cancer, but why should my ownership of a penis be noted on a document to get on a plane? It is a harmless change and if it was introduced before the 2015 General Election it would have been so uncontroversial that it would have received cross party support. On a purely political note, the Tories could have actually used this legislation in the election to target transgender voters, much how the party endeavoured to appeal to the young with things like gay marriage.
Miller also made an important point about sex discrimination. By removing the gender of a person from these kinds of documents, it will be harder for employers to discriminate against women, especially in recruitment. Again this is good but this Tory government have shown that are very hit and miss when it comes to women. Of the 331 Tory MPs elected in May, only 68 or 20.5% are female; granted this is higher than the 47 female MPs (15.5%) returned at the 2010 election but it is still much further behind the SNP (35.7%) and Labour (42.7%). Also, it’s worth pointing out that this government doesn’t believe the Secretary of State for Women and Equalities is a serious job as it is currently held by Nicky Morgan, who has to perform these duties whilst also being a constituency MP and being the Secretary of State for Education.
On every level this policy should have been enacted a long time ago because it sends an important message to women and trans people. We live in a society that doesn’t care whether you are a man or a woman. We live in a society that doesn’t care whether you are transitioning or not. We live in a society that doesn’t care what part of your transition you are in. We are all citizens, equal before the law, and there should be no legal documents that perpetuate, whether deliberate or accidental, discrimination against any group of people.