The new police rules on searching anyone Trans, “Annex F”, that I wrote about at the weekend were up for discussion in parliament yesterday. LibDem MP Julian Huppert was kind enough to question the Minister about the topic, even though the minister did not mention Annex F at all in his opening statements.
The debate is online both in video format (The section on Annex F starts around 15:21) and in text format. (This link may become outdated as it’s the rapidly-prepared text version, I shall update it when the permanent version is available.
Here’s what Dr Huppert said on the topic, edited for length:
There is an assumption in the code that gender is binary, and that what must be done is to establish the personâ€™s gender. However, there are a number of intersex conditions, for example, and people who would describe themselves as being somewhere between male and female, which is increasingly recognised in various bits of official documentation.
Surely we are not actually interested in establishing gender. As the police said last night, we are interested in establishing the gender of the officer who should search them; we do not actually care to categorise that person by gender. I am also interested in how much consultation there was on the measures with groups that represent people from the transgender community. I suspect, from the people to whom I have spoken, that there was little.
To go through the details, annex F3 looks at gender recognition certificates. A person who possesses a gender recognition certificate must be treated as their acquired gender. That is very clear, but there is an issue, because the current training providedâ€”certainly to the British Transport police and to the Metropolitan policeâ€”specifically states that a gender recognition certificate should not be asked for. … Under paragraph 3(c) of annex F, rather than asking them what preference they have and how they should be dealt with, it would be simpler to ask who should deal with them, which I think would be a better approach.
Section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 makes it an offence to disclose information about gender recognition certificates, except in certain circumstances. There are cases of gender recognition certificates having been demanded inappropriately at various events; Pride was one example. I am worried that what is being said to police is that if they establish this, they should out the person with whom they are dealing to any other police officer who deals with them.
Finally, paragraph 7 of annex F explains what should be done when a person has elected which gender they consider themselves to be, but is not treated as being of that gender. There is nothing that I can see in the rest of the codeâ€”perhaps the Minister can point it out to meâ€”that says what should be done when someone whose gender is very clear is not treated as being of that gender. Why are we saying that it is all right not to treat somebody who is transgender as being of the gender that they use to describe themselves?
Having made a number of criticisms of annex F, I should say that I am quite pleased to see that there is an annex F and that the issue has been taken seriously. I just wish that the final outcome had been more perfect.
And it seems that his remarks went down well with other MPs, as Labour’s David Lammy in the subsequent speech stated:
I want to associate myself with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Cambridge. I took the Gender Recognition Act 2004 through Parliament and it was there that I came across the transgender community and learned about the sensitivity of the issue and the discrimination that this small minority group faces in broader society. I hope that the Minister will answer all the questions that have been raised.
Unfortunately, the questions were not answered by Nick Herbert, Conservative Minister for Policing. My guess is that this was due to not having the information and not expecting any questioning on the topic until rather shortly before the meeting rather than any true reluctance:
[Dr Huppert] asked a number of detailed questions on annex F, which is designed to provide additional guidance to the police service on the conduct of searches involving members of the public who appear to be transsexual or transvestite persons. We consulted various lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups.
My hon. Friend asked a number of other detailed questions, but I do not really have time to respond now. I am happy to write to him, but I hope that I can reassure him about how we have represented such a vulnerable section of the community.
I have a couple of issues with that. Mr Herbert states it is guidance on searches of people who appear to be Trans in some way. That’s not actually the title of the section, although it seems that about half way through the notes they change tack away from the “how to deal with someone of uncertain gender” towards “how to deal with trans people”. The former, more generalised approach seems more appropriate but the slip here may be revealing.
Secondly, they apparently consulted with “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups“. Regular readers of my witterings will know this sort of thing annoys me, because he’s saying that it’s likely they went to talk to some LGB organisation and the draft guidelines, which are near impossible to find, probably hadn’t seen a Trans person before this weekend. Dr Huppert described the paperwork as “not quite in the locked filing cabinet, and there was no sign on the door saying, Beware of the leopard, but it was tending in that direction” I hope he was merely giving a holding answer.
As far as I’m aware, the committee only had to look at and comment on the codes and had no power to approve or disapprove them, so there was never really any real chance of getting changes at this point. However, even if nothing comes of this particular exchange it’s cast some light on the issue and it should make ministers and officials increasingly aware of Trans issues, which is good in the long run.
The minister has promised to write to Dr Huppert with more details and if I’m able to get a copy of that response I shall be sure to pass it on.