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The Legal Rights of Transgender People – Part 1

The generally accepted process of being assigned a gender comes from our sex at birth. You are born, the doctor or midwife announces whether you are a boy or girl, and you go through life without questioning it. Well, that’s what most of us do anyway. However, there are those who feel that the gender they were assigned at birth does not fit how they perceive themselves, which leads to these people considering gender reassignment procedures.

Activists state that the law should not force people to carry an identity marker that does not reflect who they are. According to these groups, recognizing peoples’ self-identified gender in the law is not asking governments to acknowledge any new or special rights; instead, it is a commitment to the core idea that the state or other actors will allow people to decide who they are for themselves. Also, achieving the right to legal gender recognition is crucial to the ability of transgender people to leave behind a life of marginalization and enjoy a life of dignity.

While the debate surrounding the topic of gender transitioning has raged for a great many years, with valid arguments on both sides of the table, this article’s aim is to simply present facts about current legislation surrounding non-discrimination towards transsexuals, taking the UK’s Equality Act of 2010 as our main focus.

What is Gender Reassignment Discrimination?

One of the situations covered by the Equality Act is that, in most cases, it is unlawful to be discriminated against simply for being a trans person. This includes one-off actions as well as established rules and policies. Furthermore, the discrimination doesn’t need to be intentional for it to be unlawful.

Nevertheless, there are some circumstances where being treated differently as a result of gender reassignment is lawful, which we will cover in the follow-up to this article.

You don’t need to have undergone specific treatment or surgery to be protected from gender reassignment discrimination, which means that you can at any point in your transition process – from proposing to reassign your gender to undergoing a process to reassign your gender to having completed it.

According to the Equality Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person a transgender person so long as they have proposed to change their gender or have done so. For example, a group of heterosexual men who are refused entry into a restaurant while dressing as women are not protected from discrimination since they don’t identify as transgender. On the other hand, a person who identifies as other than their gender assigned at birth cannot be turned away.

It is also unlawful for someone to be discriminated against on the basis of perception. To return to our restaurant example, this means that you cannot be turned away simply because the owner thinks you are a transgender person. You also cannot be discriminated against for associating with a transsexual person or someone who is wrongly thought to be a transsexual.

Intersex people (the term used to describe a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definitions of female or male) are not explicitly protected from discrimination by the Equality Act, but you must not be discriminated against because of your gender or perceived gender.

For example, if a woman with an intersex condition is refused entry to a women-only swimming pool because the attendants think her to be a man, this could be sex discrimination or disability discrimination.

In the second part of this article, we will look at the various types of discrimination that the Equality Act protects transgender people from, and circumstances where certain forms of discrimination might actually be legal. We hope that you will join us there.

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