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  • Dan Snipe

Failure of the Equality and Human Rights Commission

Over the last few years, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has taken a stand in an ongoing struggle for trans justice. This struggle has two key groups, trans people, wanting to participate in society and be treated with respect, and gender criticals, those who think that trans people wanting to live their lives is the end times cometh.

The EHRC is Great Britain’s national equality body who claim their job is to help make Britain fairer. They say they do this by safeguarding and enforcing the laws that protect people’s rights to fairness, dignity and respect. Many trans people would currently struggle to relate to that definition.

Since 2020 the Chairwoman of the ENRC Board has been Baroness Kishwer Falkner, who recently made headlines for comments she has made about trans people and over 40 complaints made by 12 current or former staff members at the EHRC who have found the environment at the EHRC to be increasingly toxic. Since Falkner assumed her role, the EHRC has participated in several attacks directed towards the trans community, usually under the guise of ‘protecting cis women's rights’.

The EHRC has its own Commission in Wales who have historically worked to progress the rights of LGBTQ+ people. However, the Wales Commissioner is ultimately at the whim of the rest of the board of the EHRC. Many trans people in Wales will struggle to see exactly what benefit the EHRC in Wales has delivered for them. Since the start of Falkner’s tenure, we can see just how the EHRC has attempted to harm not just the trans community, but the LGBTQ+ community.

Going back to 2021 one of Falkner’s first acts as EHRC Chair was to withdraw the EHRC from the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme, sending a clear message to LGBTQ+ people about the potential believes of the Board. This was followed by the involvement of the Board in a letter from gender critical academics at several universities (including Welsh universities) asking for their universities to be investigated for infringing on their right to hold and share these beliefs.

This all led up to the EHRC and their support of the Employment Appeal Tribunal of Maya Forstater. If you have the displeasure of knowing anything about what Maya Forrester has gone on to do since her case, you will know that she busies herself with trying to find any instance of trans joy and crushing it. The EHRC believed that the original Employment Tribunal had ‘got this case wrong’. The line from Falkner was that the EHRC is there to ‘stand up for the rights of everyone’. Stonewall and Mermaids both argued that Forester's beliefs were harmful to trans people, so it remains unclear as to how the EHRC with their continued actions are really standing up for the rights of trans people.

Falkner has also written a letter to the Scottish government demanding that they pause their plans for introducing reforms in the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill. The SNP’s motion to progress the rights of trans people was met with backlash from the usual transphobic suspects. At this point, the EHRC’s decision to side against dignity for trans people should come as no shock.

The EHRC were asked to give advice on the government's desire to change the definition of sex in the Equality Act of 2010. The Equality Act has been in place for 13 years this year and I don’t think anyone has been aware of a mountain of historic complaints about how trans people have used same sex spaces for all this time?

In a response letter to the government's decision to ban conversion therapy for sexuality a few years ago, a decision that excluded the banning of conversion therapy for trans people, the EHRC didn't suggest that conversion therapy should be banned for all as they didn't understand the definition of 'conversion therapy' due to their being no legal definition. Surely the EHRC exists to be savvier than that?

This continued narrative is supported by Falkner meeting with groups such LGB Alliance and Fair Play for Women but there seems to be a lack of meeting with organisations who may give a different perspective on the lived experience of trans people. There are many other examples of bias from the EHRC Board that are clear to find should you wish to go and look.

Pride Cymru were among one of the Queer organisations to criticise the EHRC’s treatment of Trans people. Stonewall Cymru have also stated that several of the EHRC’s decisions concerning LGBTQ+ rights should receive criticism. They have highlighted decision after decision that would impact the rights and safety of LGTQ+ people in Wales.

The EHRC’s Wales Commission have a disappointing response for trans people. Having read the minutes for February 2023 the Welsh representatives agreed that the definition of sex to mean biological sex could be harmful towards trans people but that they also have the interests of cis people's rights in mind too. Giving Trans people their rights and addressing their concerns does not undermine the safety of cis women.

Where is the opposition to this behaviour? It certainly doesn’t seem to be coming from Keir Starmer and the Westminster Labour Party. They have had nothing but chance after chance to stand up to the barrage of hatred the community has faced from the Tories over the last few years. Yet Labour, time after time, have declined the invitation to be the opposition and in recent weeks have changed their position to be far too similar to the Tories.

The EHRC were against the SNP’s attempts to progress the rights of trans people and it can only be predicted that they would make similar attempts to disrupt the Senedd if Wales attempted the same. But that should not stop us from calling on all our elected representatives to stand up more for our community. The EHRC is still yet to be investigated properly for its allegations of discrimination. This is not just a worry for trans individuals, but for individuals of all oppressed groups. We will end with a question. What is the point in an Equality and Human Rights Commission that has failed to stand up for equality and human rights?



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