In last night’s debate in parliament on defining ‘sex’, the discussion centred on the protection of women and girls and single sex spaces, particularly domestic abuse and sexual violence support services and public toilets.
We are the largest provider of LGBT+ support services for LGBT+ victims of domestic and sexual abuse in the UK, as well as supporting people in our community who experience abuse that only happens to us – anti-LGBT+ hate crime and conversion practices, to name just two.
We sit alongside women’s organisations, supporting victims of abuse and seeing the consequences of it. Women (both cis and trans) and LGBT+ people change our behaviour because of threats to our safety, we change how we walk through the world, how we present ourselves, in an attempt to keep ourselves safe. Abuse and violence changes who we are able to be in public and often at home, and reduces our freedom to live our lives.
Informal policing, harassment, and abuse of gender non-conforming people in single sex spaces, particularly toilets, is on the rise. Much of that is affecting butch cis women, and creating such fear in trans communities that people are risking their health to avoid needing to use toilets. The arguments we heard last night are not about protecting all women – they are about protecting people who conform to one particular expression of womanhood.
Harassment and abuse against trans and non-binary people is also on the rise – with a 74% increase in demand for our services from trans and non-binary victims of abuse and violence over the last 6 months. When we think about power, we need to remember that there is a responsibility on our leaders to recognise the real-life consequences of empowering those who wish to harm a minority group.
The debate last night tried to pit women’s rights, even lesbian and gay rights, against trans rights, using single sex spaces as a blunt tool in that argument. Women’s services should exist – they are important, hard-won spaces – and many have run for a long time with a trans-inclusive approach. LGBT+ services should also exist – though they currently account for under 1% of total support available. Trans and non-binary victims of abuse should be able to choose the service that is right for them, at the right moment, whether that is an LGBT+ service, one based on their gender, or one open to all. This can and is already being achieved within services.
It is not the Equality Act which is failing us, it is the unwillingness of a Government to address the root causes of abuse and violence against LGBT+ people and women and girls.