Politics

'Making trans people into villains': Tories slammed over pledge to change legal definition of sex

MPs and LGBTQ+ charities have criticised the proposals as harming the trans community, as well as ignoring several critical issues relating to the safety of women and girls

Prime minister Rishi Sunak in Downing Street

Prime minister Rishi Sunak in Downing Street. Image: Simon Walker / No 10 Downing Street

The Conservative Party has promised to make changes to the Equality Act if reelected so that protections on the basis of sex apply only to biological sex. 

Prime minister Rishi Sunak said on Monday (3 June) thay he would end the “current confusion around definitions of sex and gender” as it relates to the Equality Act, adding that this change would protect the “safety of women and girls”.

The Equality Act 2010 states that it is illegal to discriminate against anyone due to protected characteristics such as age, sex, disability, religion, race, sexual orientation and others. The Conservatives have said they want to amend this act to refer only to “biological sex”, meaning trans people would be excluded.

The Tories explained that the Equality Act has not kept up with “evolving interpretations” of sex and gender since it was introduced in 2010.

Sunak said: “The safety of women and girls is too important to allow the current confusion around definitions of sex and gender to persist.

“The Conservatives believe that making this change in law will enhance protections in a way that respects the privacy and dignity of everyone in society.”

He also posted to X saying: “Biological sex matters. We’re protecting women and girls.”

Other MPs and LGBTQ+ charities, however, have criticised the proposals as harming the trans community, as well as ignoring several critical issues relating to the safety of women and girls.

“Currently releasing domestic abusers early from prison, overseen worst rape charging rates in decades, rape victims waiting up to five years to get to court while accused walks free and you don’t monitor them at all,” Labour candidate Jess Phillips wrote.

Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch has also stood by the proposals, telling The Times that “clarification” on sex and gender is needed, and that “public authorities and regulatory bodies are confused about what the law says and what to do”.

“Whether it is rapists being housed in women’s prisons, or men playing in women’s sports where they have an unfair advantage, it is clear that public authorities and regulatory bodies are confused about what the law says and what to do – often for fear of being accused of transphobia,” she said.

“Clarification is required. Not just to protect the privacy and dignity of women and girls, but also… trans people who were going about their lives in peace, until predators started exploiting loopholes in the law by calling themselves trans with no evidence beyond their self-identification.”

Badenoch added to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the party wanted to “reemphasise that sex in the law means biological sex”.

This is not the first time Badenoch has expressed her desire to redefine sex as legally meaning “biological sex”. In April 2023, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published a letter to Badenoch in response to a request for advice on amending the definition of “sex” in the Equality Act.

At the time, EHRC chair Baroness Kishwer Falkner replied that while there “is no straightforward balance”, legally defining sex as biological sex could “bring greater legal clarity” in several areas, such as making it easier to “exclude trans women from women’s sport” and from single-sex spaces.

Pledge to change Equality Act is ‘a distraction from the election campaign

Labour has hit back against any proposal to change the Equality Act, claiming attempts to amend it now are a “distraction” ahead of the general election. 

Speaking on Times Radio, shadow defence secretary John Healey said: “We will not want to amend the act, it’s not needed. It already provides a definition of a woman, and sex and gender are different.

“What is needed is clearer guidance for service providers, from the NHS to sports bodies, and in prisons, on what single-sex exemptions need to be, and the best way to be able to do that is in guidance, not primary legislation.

“The government has had 14 years to do that and it hasn’t. This, to be honest, is a distraction from the election campaign.”

LGBTQ+ groups have also disagreed with any proposals to change the Equality Act, with a spokesperson for Labour for Trans Rights telling the Big Issue that while the act “isn’t perfect”, the best course in the short term is to “keep the protections it provides in place”.

The group added that the proposal is a “really scary step up in culture war rhetoric from the government”, and would amount to “removing legislative protection against anti-trans hate”. 

“It’s no secret that the Conservative Party is going to make trans people into villains over this election, and it’s going to be very tough for our whole community,” they added.

“We’d ask that the Labour Party and other self-styled progressive parties resist the Tories’ wish to make this election a referendum on whether trans people should exist, and instead put forward a programme of equality and respect for all LGBTQ+ people.”

LGBTQ+ organisation Consortium, alongside others including Stonewall, Mermaids and TransActual, added in a statement that the Equality Act has “worked well for 14 years”.

“Under the act, trans people can legally access single-sex services based on their gender, and services can exclude trans people, whether or not they hold a Gender Recognition Certificate, if it is a proportionate thing to do to achieve a legitimate aim,” the groups wrote.

“We believe the thresholds that the Equality Act sets are a proportionate bar for services to address if they are to use these single sex exemptions. 

Violence affecting women and girls is a significant concern, including for many LGBTQ+ women. It is vital that there is sustained and meaningful investment to ensure there are services which meet the full diversity of need across the country. However, it is not necessary to re-define sex in the Equality Act for service providers to provide a range of services. This is something they do routinely already.”

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Support your local Big Issue vendor

If you can’t get to your local vendor every week, subscribing directly to them online is the best way to support your vendor. Your chosen vendor will receive 50% of the profit from each copy and the rest is invested back into our work to create opportunities for people affected by poverty.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
How political cartoonists influenced both Churchill and Sunak's crushing election defeats
Politics

How political cartoonists influenced both Churchill and Sunak's crushing election defeats

Rory Stewart: 'I assumed I'd die a heroic death in my early 30s'
Letter To My Younger Self

Rory Stewart: 'I assumed I'd die a heroic death in my early 30s'

Marginalised, sceptical and locked out of housing: Why young people didn't vote in the general election
Keir Starmer during the 2024 general election campaign
Democracy

Marginalised, sceptical and locked out of housing: Why young people didn't vote in the general election

What will be in King's Speech? Here's 5 things to look out for – from benefits to conversion therapy
King's speech

What will be in King's Speech? Here's 5 things to look out for – from benefits to conversion therapy

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know

Support our vendors with a subscription

For each subscription to the magazine, we’ll provide a vendor with a reusable water bottle, making it easier for them to access cold water on hot days.