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Emma Viola Lilja
Girls & Women

Transphobic Media Under Fire From UK Equalities Minister

It’s way past time we stamped out transphobia.

Already, there’s a political consensus in the UK — leaders from every major party represented in parliament have issued statements supporting the rights of the transgender community.

But there’s an obstinate holdup to progress: the British press.

Except now, politics is knocking at the door — and Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt, also the minister for women and equalities, has hit out at transphobic headlines.

Take Action: Urge Leaders to Step Up for Women’s Rights and Health

Labour MP Sandy Martin asked Mordaunt in parliament on Thursday, on International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, how she would ensure the British media understood that “transphobia is unacceptable.”

“I would be very happy to send that message from this despatch box today,” Mordaunt responded. “It is absolutely critical, as we consult and discuss sensitive issues, that it is done in a climate of respect, empathy, and understanding.”

“Anything that runs counter to that must cease,” she added.

It’s a message the British press would do well to heed.

The Sun, the most circulated newspaper in Britain, reported on a crackdown on trans bullying in schools with the headline “the skirt on the drag queen goes swish swish swish” on Nov. 17, 2017.

Then the front page of the same paper ran an “offensive headline” on March 22, 2018, that labelled Hannah Winterbourne, the UK’s highest ranking transgender soldier, and her new husband Jake Graf, as “tran and wife.”

Read More: 5 Reasons We're Psyched for This New TV Show Exploring Gender Identity in 2018

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband compared the press coverage to the “moral panic” when it came to writing about homosexuality in the 1980s.

“[Transgender rights are] a relatively new issue for people to get their heads around because it’s been so hidden,” Miliband said on his “Reasons to be Cheerful” podcast in November. “The whole question of gender identity, and people who feel the sex they were born with doesn’t reflect their true identity — the tabloids are playing on people’s lack of knowledge about this to stoke up a kind of moral panic.”

Last year, British Prime Minister Theresa May spoke up for the transgender community at the Pink Awards.

“We are determined to eradicate homophobic and transphobic bullying,” May said in October. “We have laid out plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act, streamlining and demedicalising the process for changing gender because being trans is not an illness and it should not be treated as such.”

The 2004 Gender Recognition Act allows a sex change on legal documents — but it’s an arduous, expensive, and invasive process, including two years of “reflection” and psychiatric treatment. A reformed act would allow self-identification, following a model in the Republic of Ireland that consists of one simple form that takes just weeks to process.

But reforms are yet to emerge. Indeed, campaigners argue that the delays are due to a number of changes to the women and equalities ministerial position — there have been three occupants of the post in the last year, and each has been handed the role as an additional post. Despite pressure for the role to become an official cabinet position, it still sits in addition to the minister’s preexisting responsibilities.

First, Justine Greening, also education secretary at the time, promised a consultation on the issue in July 2017, but resigned in January and was replaced by Amber Rudd. Rudd, who was also home secretary, then resigned in April after the Windrush immigration scandal, and the role was handed to Mordaunt.

The consultation still has not happened, although Mordaunt has reaffirmed that it is due soon.

“The Government Equalities Office will publish a consultation on the Gender Recognition Act shortly,” she said this week. “Our national LGBT survey received over 100,000 responses and we are using these results to shape the questions in the consultation.”

Read More: 5 Young Trans Activists Are Changing How The World Thinks About Gender

Maria Miller, the chair of parliament’s women and equalities committee, has also this week hit out at the government’s lack of response to the 33 recommendations suggested by her team in 2016 — including reforms to the Gender Recognition Act.

“Why has it not been done? I think having three secretaries of state in such a short period of time is unfortunate, and minister for women and equalities has become the fastest-changing cabinet post of all cabinet posts,” Miller said at the Trans Equality Event in parliament on May 15. “I think that has probably caused a lot of the delay.”

Now, the government has suggested that the consultation will be launched before parliament breaks for summer recess on July 21.

Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals to end extreme poverty, including Goal No. 5 for gender equality — for all genders. You can join us by taking action with us here.