50.50: Feature

How 2022 will be remembered for trans people in the UK

Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill ended the year on a high note – almost. Here’s 2022 in trans history

Maysa Pritilata
23 December 2022, 3.33pm

Thousands march in London for Trans Pride parade, 9th July.

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Guy Bell / Alamy Stock Photo

One of 2022’s most significant – and positive – events for trans and gender-diverse people in the UK occurred right at the end of the year.

Yesterday, the Scottish parliament passed the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, making it easier and quicker for people to change their legal gender.

The new legislation introduces a self-declaration system for getting a gender recognition certificate (GRC), without the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria. The lower age limit has been dropped to 16, and the time an adult must live in their acquired gender before applying has been reduced from two years to three months, or six months for 16- and 17-year-olds.

The changes – which came after two days of intense government debate, scores of amendments and months of negotiating – apply in Scotland only.

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Westminster has hinted that it is considering blocking the bill under a never-before-used veto power – but this would be likely to inflame tensions in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to block an independence referendum, and would tie trans rights to the issue of Scottish autonomy.

The beginning of the year was also positive, with the first trans woman – Munroe Burgdorf – appearing on the cover of Cosmopolitan UK, for the magazine’s 50th anniversary issue in January. She posted on Instagram that she may be the first, but “will not be the last”.

In between those two points, 2022 was pretty eventful for the trans community – for better and worse. Here are some of the key moments.

Healthcare

Most measures this year have been negative, further restricting trans people’s access to gender-affirming healthcare, especially trans children.

In March, an NHS psychiatrists’ conference on trans healthcare for young people was cancelled at the last minute, after whistleblowers revealed that “extremist” anti-trans ideologues would be attending, including some with links to groups supporting forced conversion therapy for trans people. Four of the scheduled panellists were advisors to Genspect, and in December, Trans Safety Network found that NHS training materials promoted material from conversion therapy supporters, including Genspect.

In April, then health secretary Sajid Javid announced an inquiry into gender-affirming treatment for under-18s, following an interim report from the Cass Review. Dr Hilary Cass was commissioned in 2020 to research and redesign gender identity services for youth in the UK, including the Tavistock in London, the only dedicated gender identity development service (GIDS) clinic for children and young people. Three months later, the NHS announced that the Tavistock clinic will close, by spring 2023, to be replaced by a more “holistic”, regional system – though details are still missing.

The guidance also advised that social transition is only appropriate in cases of “clinically significant distress or significant impairment of social functioning”. To justify this, the NHS claimed that most trans youth are just going through a “phase”.

Following consultation on the new guidelines, trans youth charity Mermaids released a report revealing the long-term negative impact on parents and carers of trans children of a 2020 legal ruling against the Tavistock. (The ruling, initially in favour of Keira Bell, an ex-Tavistock patient who challenged the clinic’s use of puberty blockers, has since been overturned.)

We can expect additional changes to access and guidelines as the Cass Review completes its review of healthcare for trans youth.

Sport

Elite sports saw a pushback against participation by trans athletes, especially trans women.

In June, FINA, the world governing body for water sports, banned trans women from elite competition – a move supported by then prime minister Boris Johnson. A month later, culture secretary Nadine Dorris told UK sporting bodies to do the same, saying that “competitive women’s sport must be reserved for people born of the female sex”.

More restrictions followed. British Cycling suspended participation by all trans riders in April after trans cyclist Emily Bridges was banned from competing in the UK’s National Omnium Championships by world cycling’s governing body the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale). In July, the Rugby Football Union banned trans women outright from domestic rugby.

By contrast, grassroots sports made history when it came to trans inclusion. In April, on Transgender Day of Visibility, TRUK United football club became the first team in the UK (and possibly worldwide) to have 11 players on the pitch who were all trans women, in a match against Dulwich Hamlet in London. The match later featured in ‘Save Our Beautiful Game’, a documentary series by former Liverpool and England striker Peter Crouch.

TRUK United ended the year on a high note, winning its first tournament in December, the inaugural Power League Christmas Cup.

Elsewhere, grassroots football league Super 5 suspended fixtures after a boycott by Camden Bells FC and a number of other teams over the league’s decision to exclude a non-binary player.

And mixed-gender sport Quidditch officially changed its name to Quadball in July, partly to distance itself from author JK Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter universe in which Quidditch is played. Quadball encourages trans and non-binary participation, while Rowling is now notorious for her views on gender diversity and trans rights.

Government and policy

Holyrood has taken a significant step forward with its Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill – but it’s been a different story in Westminster.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) hatched a trans-inclusion plan that would have allowed trans people employed by the 58,000 businesses under its jurisdiction to self-identify their gender. But it was scuppered by the very people who should have been supporting it.

In July, it was revealed that equalities minister Kemi Badenoch and Marcial Boo, head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), had written to the FCA in late 2021, pressuring it to drop the plan, which it did. FCA employees said the FCA was “spineless” and had bent to pressure from transphobes.

Anti-trans feeling really came to the fore during the Tory leadership contest in the summer.

Badenoch weaponised trans rights during the contest – as did her fellow contenders Rishi Sunak, Suella Braverman and Penny Mordaunt, with tensions boiling over when Mordaunt was accused of being too progressive. In August, both Sunak and Liz Truss, who came out on top, denied that trans women are women. Truss led the UK for all of 44 days before resigning in disgrace.

The new government was quick to begin changing policy, announcing that decisions on where to send trans women prisoners would now be based on their genitalia rather than gender identity.

Conversion therapy ‘ban’

Throughout 2022, a battle has been fought over whether a legal ban on conversion therapy in England and Wales would cover trans people.

In January, the EHRC released a statement arguing that trans people should be excluded from the ban, garnering criticism from multiple LGBTQ+ groups.

A leaked Downing Street briefing paper in late March showed that the government was in fact planning to drop proposed legislation banning conversion therapy for all LGBTQ+ people. Hours later, ministers were forced into a climbdown – but stood by their decision to exempt trans people from protections under the proposed legislation.

At least 120 LGBTIQ+ groups pulled out of Safe To Be Me in protest. The government-organised gathering had been described as “the first-ever global LGBT conference in London”.

There was also opposition within the Tory Party. In July 2022, gay MP Peter Gibson resigned as a parliamentary private secretary, while Mike Freer, who is also gay, left his post as minister for export and equalities. Gibson’s resignation letter cited “the failure to include trans people in the ban on conversion therapy” while Freer felt the government was “creating an atmosphere of hostility for LGBT+ people” – wording reminiscent of the infamous “hostile environment” pledge made by Theresa May as home secretary.

In September, the trans-exclusionary LGB Alliance was taken to court by trans charity Mermaids to challenge its charitable status. The LGB Alliance, revealed this month to be based in the Tufton Street nerve centre of the UK’s biggest right-wing lobbying organisations, had previously met with equalities minister Kemi Badenoch to oppose the ban on conversion therapy.

Attitudes

Unsurprisingly, the UK fell in an annual ranking of LGBTQI+ rights, moving from 10th to 14th place in the Rainbow Europe index by advocacy group ILGA-Europe. It had held the top spot only seven years ago.

In June, Stephanie Davies-Arai, founder of Transgender Trend, which opposes gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth, received the British Empire Medal. The same month, a YouGov poll found a dip in support on some trans issues compared to 2018.

On 9 July, an estimated 20,000 attended Trans Pride in London, and on 16 July, over 20,000 people marched in Brighton Pride, one of many similar events held around the country.

Later that month, SNP MP Joanna Cherry was elected chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. She has publicly defended conversion therapy for trans people, removing protections from hate crime for trans people, the LGB Alliance, and JK Rowling.

In August, then attorney general Suella Braverman claimed that it was “lawful” to discriminate against trans children in schools. She said schools could deadname and misgender trans pupils, prevent them from accessing toilets, sports teams and dormitories, or from wearing uniforms that match their gender, and stop them joining single-sex schools. She also likened education on gender identity as “indoctrination”. Experts have insisted that these practices would contravene the 2010 Equality Act.

In October, staff at charity Mermaids were subjected to a wave of abuse, including doxxing and death threats. And the Home Office revealed that month that hate crimes against trans people had reached a record high, increasing by 56% in a year.

Trans people in media

Bergdorf wasn’t the only trans person to win mainstream recognition in the media. A key TV moment came in April, when trans teen Yasmin Finney portrayed Elle Argent in the Netflix series Heartstopper.

In August, award-winning writer and performer Travis Alabanza published ‘None of the Above: Reflections on Life Beyond the Binary’.

And last month, the Books Are My Bag Readers' Awards saw Shon Faye, a trans woman, win the non-fiction award for ‘The Transgender Issue’, while Juno Dawson, also a trans woman, won the Fiction Award for ‘Her Majesty’s Royal Coven’.

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