Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Business Case for Transgender Awareness Training

One of the arguments often put up for not undertaking Transgender Awareness Training is that there are too few trans people to justify the costs. The is a good argument but unfortunately, since the Equality Act 2010, it is not longer a valid justification.

The Public Sector Equality Duty requires public bodies to pay due regard to the need to
  • Eliminate Discrimination, Harassment and Victimisation
  • Advance Equality of Opportunity 
  • Foster Good Relations
Its the phrase Due Regard that provides public bodies with the basis for the argument that the numbers involved does not justify the cost. All organisations do have to consider the size of the community with a particular protected characteristic and then make value judgements regarding the extent of efforts to comply with the duty.

However when it comes the the Trans community, the Equality Act has fundamentally changed the way we need to look at the size of communities when assessing the need for Transgender Awareness Training.

Across the UK we know that about 12,500 trans people have presented themselves at gender clinics and that the number is growing at a rate of about 11% pa. However that really is the tip of the iceberg. and the change in definition of the protected characteristic of Gender Reassignment means that we now have to look beyond this small group.

The original definition of Gender Reassignment included anyone who was planning to undergo, was undergoing or has undergone a medically supervised process of gender reassignment. This restrictive definition meant that anyone not receiving medical treatment for their condition was not protected, even though practically no one would actually be able to determine who did and who did not quality without questioning them.

The Equality Act 2010 changed that definition to a Personal Process which, according to Equality and Human Rights Commission advice, includes anyone who has started cross dressing or has gone to a GP or counsellor for advice about. their condition.  More importantly the trans person needs only to have started the process to be protected under this characteristic.  So someone most people would define as a transvestite or cross dresser, who occasionally cross dresses in private, would still be protected against discrimination.

Why is this important?  Well first this increases the number of people protected by the Act to about 500,000.  Now imagine that a housing department or association sends an operative to a tenants house and when they arrive the tenant is cross dressed.  Because they are in their home, they may not have make up on or a wig or may even have a beard or stubble. - they may look like a man in a dress.

 If this trans person is then treated in a discriminatory way or comments are made that are interpreted as harassment, or the operative mentions this to neighbours who then harass the trans women - you have a claim on your hands which at best is going to be expensive in management time and reputation.  Transgender Awareness Training would most likely have prevented this problem. 

Of course often people don't discriminate directly against a trans person, its their children, partners, parents friends who get discriminated against or bullied. My partner, my children and step children have all had to face uncomfortable comments, bullying and harassment just because they are Associated with me, and they are protected under the Equality Act as if they had the protected characteristic of Gender Reassignment themselves. 

But what if that tenant was not transgender - but were just dressed up for a party or had put on their wife's dressing gown to answer the door. Well if someone were to discriminate or harass them believing that they were trans, the Equality Act now provides that if someone is discriminated against because they are perceived to have a protected characteristic, they will be treated as if they have that protected characteristic.

Finally when some people realise that I am, trans, they don't get it. They see me as a "bloke in a dress" and the harassment or discrimination I receive is not because they see me as a trans woman but because they see ms as a gay man. If that happens I am still protected because I am protected in respect of my perceived sexual orientation.

What this all means of course is that when delivering Transgender Awareness Training we cannot completely separate Gender Reassignment and Sexual Orientation. Estimates suggest that about 6% of the population are Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual and when we add to this all the people who are perceived to be LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender), or are family or friends of people who are LGBT - well that's probably close to a quarter of the population.

With those numbers, any assessment of Due Regard means that it is an issue that cannot be ignored. Unfortunately there are some people who because of their extreme religious beliefs or because of their deep seated homophobic or transphobic views, feel that it is OK to discriminate against and harass LGBT people and because in the recent past their discrinatory behaviour and views were supported by legislation, Transgender Awareness Training is essential.

Over the past decade their has been a huge amount of legislation to not just protect Trans people from discrimination, but to encourage the public sector to actively engage with Trans people and create a more inclusive society. The problem is that while we may have changed the law, changing attitudes is a much longer and more difficult process, one that can only be achieved with effective levels of Transgender Awareness Training.

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