Comment Writer Minnie Life discusses the recent High Court ruling on the Bell v Tavistock case and argues that the ruling will have a detrimental effect on young transgender people
Content Warning: This article mentions of transphobia, violence, mental health, and gender dysphoria
It is no secret that the UK has a deep-rooted and systematic problem with transphobia. From, what seems to me, Piers Morgan’s constant tirade of seemingly transphobic bigotry, to Rosie Duffield and J. K. Rowling appearing to dress up transphobia as concern for women’s rights, this discrimination is everywhere and it is unrelenting. According to UK Charity Stonewall’s Trans Report, two out of five transgender people in the UK have experienced a hate crime due to their gender identity in the past 12 months. Additionally, one in four trans people have experienced homelessness in their lifetime, and one in eight have been physically attacked by colleagues or customers in the workplace during the last 12 months. This is unacceptable, and the most frightening thing about it is that the rate of transphobia is not decreasing, instead, it is on the rise. In October this year, the BBC stated that reports of transphobic hate crimes have quadrupled in the past five years. To me, this is clearly an indicator that the UK is failing its transgender population. And sadly, last week, our transgender population were failed once again.
On the 1st of December, the High Court ruling for the highly controversial Bell v Tavistock case was announced. This was a case brought against the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust by Keira Bell, who believed she should have been challenged more over her decision to transition from female to male as a teenager. Bell has since begun the process of detransitioning and identifies as a woman. After Bell’s testimony, the High Court ruled that ‘it is highly unlikely that a child aged 13 or under would be competent to give consent to the administration of puberty blockers’ and that ‘it is doubtful that a child aged 14 or 15 could understand and weigh the long-term risks and consequences of the administration of puberty blockers.’ This was a huge blow for the trans community. Many young trans people seem to experience high levels of gender dysphoria once they reach puberty, therefore many take puberty blockers to prevent this process from happening. Now that the High Court has ruled that teenagers under the age of 16 are unlikely to be able to consent to this administration, young trans people in this country are now left in an extremely vulnerable situation. The GIDS (The Gender Identity Development Service) has since suspended with immediate effect new referrals of hormone therapy for under-16s. This means that now over 3000 children in this country are being denied access to healthcare that they depend on.
This ruling is expected to have worldwide ramifications, especially in the United States where Republican lawmakers are already trying to place restrictions upon these kinds of treatments. To me, this is utterly shameful, and it breaks my heart to think about the young people who will suffer as a consequence of this ruling.
Of course, many welcomed this decision, seeing it as a way of preventing harm against our nation’s young people. To these people, this was a detransition ‘success story,’ something to hold up as an example of why every transgender person in the UK should not be allowed access to the treatments they need because they might ‘regret’ it. Whilst care and consideration should be given to those who choose to detransition, their cases absolutely should not be used as a means of discrediting trans people who choose to transition or undergo any other form of gender-affirming medical treatments. In reality, only around 1% of those who do transition state that they experience some kind of transition-related regret or express a desire to detransition . Therefore, the myth that every trans person who does take medical action will come to regret it, is exactly that, a myth. In the words of British transgender public figure, Shon Faye ‘detransition shouldn’t be anymore of an influence on access to trans healthcare than abortion regret should be on access to pregnancy termination.’ We cannot take the devastating and traumatic experiences of a small minority and exploit them to prevent others from accessing vital legal rights they so desperately need.
Another alarming aspect of the reaction to this ruling is the fact that some (including the lawyer of Keira Bell) are now arguing that ‘the promotion of transgender issues on social media should be subject to safeguarding measure.’ This is apparently because the role of social media and its promotion of trans rights can encourage young people to seek medical treatment for their gender dysphoria. To me, this attitude is appalling, and echoes the disgraceful sentiments of the infamous Section 28, a law passed in 1988 (and repealed in 2003) by the Conservative party that prevented ‘promoting the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.’ This law was hugely damaging to the LGBTQ+ community, as children of all sexualities were kept from being taught to accept people for who they are, further encouraging homophobic behaviour in the classroom and beyond. The fact that those opposed to trans rights are trying to spin this same narrative, hiding bigotry behind concern for children’s welfare, is quite frankly terrifying. It is absolutely not the case that talking about transgender people in a respectful manner and promoting their rights should be safeguarded from children. Children of all ages need to be taught about gender and sexuality and how to respect everyone on this spectrum. I personally do not see the controversy in this at all, and it shocks me that anyone feels that this is something that is up for debate.
This detrimental ruling is sadly not the first setback for trans rights to occur in this country in 2020. Back in September this year, the government failed to adequately reform the Gender Recognition Act (known colloquially as the GRA), which meant that no process of self-determination of legal gender identity was brought in (which is already in place in counties such as Norway and Argentina). This means that the process is still highly medicalised, meaning a full medical diagnosis is required for any process of changing your legal sex. This is problematic at best for trans people in the UK, considering the fact that waitlists for an NHS diagnosis and the necessary consequential treatments are extremely lengthy. If you combine this issue with the Bell v Tavistock case making treatments even more inaccessible for the UK’s trans population, you see that it is abundantly clear that the legal, cultural, and medical atmosphere in this country is extraordinarily hostile towards the transgender community.
In my mind, enough is enough. We cannot continue to stand by and watch our trans peers suffer in this way. We need to be directly calling out transphobia wherever we see it; online, amongst our friends and family, in schools, in the workplace, in the media. I could go on and on. This bigotry is everywhere, and it is not being adequately tackled. Worse than that, this bigotry is seemingly being actively encouraged by vast swaths of the population, who appear to frame it as concern for child welfare or a belief in women’s rights. If we do not face this problem as a country head-on as soon as possible, things are only going to continue to worsen. So, wake up, it is time to get to work. It is time to fight back.
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