Call for single-sex spaces examples ‘will not create transphobic comments’

Kemi Badenoch has appeared to suggest gender-neutral toilets at a school could see young girls avoiding using those shared facilities and ending up with urinary tract infections.

The women and equalities minister rejected a claim the launch of her call for examples of incorrect guidance being used around single-sex spaces is part of “culture wars”, insisting it will not invite transphobic comments.

Giving an example, she suggested a school could feel they were following guidance on toilets being gender neutral, but could be basing that on policy analysis by an organisation not looking at equality law.

“If I were to give an example of a school that had gender-neutral toilets and young girls there didn’t want to use the same toilets as boys, so they weren’t going to the toilet at school and got urinary tract infections.

“This is obviously a terrible thing but the school thought they were following a guidance because they had used some policy analysis that was by an organisation that wasn’t looking at the equality law.”

Speaking to Times Radio she said there had been “a report, and this was confirmed by doctors, that there were girls who were not using the toilet in some schools and getting urinary tract infections because they didn’t want to share their toilets with boys”.

She branded that situation “a scandal” as she rejected the term “culture wars”.

But Labour’s Bridget Phillipson said Ms Badenoch “does love nothing more than a culture war”.

The shadow education secretary told Times Radio: “It is so transparent what she is doing.

“She is pitching to Conservative members for the leadership contest to come in the Conservative Party, and frankly our country deserves a lot better than it always being about the Conservative Party.”

The launch of the women and equalities minister’s “call for input” comes a day after the Health Secretary announced plans to overhaul the NHS Constitution to “ensure that biological sex is respected”.

The Department of Health and Social Care said on Tuesday that it is “defining sex as biological sex” with the new document, which underpins NHS care.

Proposed changes will also ensure hospital patients in England have the right to request to be treated on single-sex wards, with transgender people placed in rooms on their own.

The department said businesses and other organisations can legally provide single and separate-sex services including toilets, changing rooms, and female-only fitness classes “which exclude transgender people of the opposite biological sex who do not have a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC)” and that in some cases those with such certificates can also be excluded.

But the minister said some organisations have been “afraid of backlash if they are seen to get it wrong”, with cases where organisations believe they are required to allow access to such services to self-identifying transgender people.

She said: “Single-sex spaces are essential for ensuring privacy and dignity for women.

“I do recognise, however, that the law in this area is complex, and I know that some organisations are confused and afraid of backlash if they are seen to get it wrong.

“So I am asking people to submit real-world examples of organisations using incorrect guidance, so that our policymaking continues to tackle any confusion and we ensure single-sex spaces are maintained.”

Gendered Intelligence, a charity which describes its aims as increasing understanding of gender diversity and improving the lives of trans people, branded the minister’s call “an attempt to bully organisations who support transgender people”.

“More to the point, trans people, like anyone else, deserve basic human dignity.

“It’s sad to see that trampled by a minister who ought to advocate equality for all.”

Asked if transphobic comments could be a consequence of her appeal for examples, Ms Badenoch told Sky News: “This is one of the things that happens every time the Government tries to bring clarity into this space, there’s criticism that this is about transphobia.”

She said she wants people to get in touch if they think the guidance in their institution is wrong, adding: “Let us know, we can have a look at it, in particular public institutions, and then we can provide clarity.

“That’s not going to create transphobic comments, this is sending an email saying here is the guidance, this is what’s wrong and then we can see if there’s something we can do.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) states that there are circumstances under the Equality Act where a lawfully established separate or single-sex service provider can exclude, modify or limit access to their service for trans people, but that it must be shown that doing so is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

As Britain’s equality regulator, the EHRC published its single-sex services guidance in April 2022, which it said aimed to help providers make lawful decisions about any services they offer to women and men separately by explaining the permitted sex and gender reassignment exceptions in the Equality Act 2010.

The EHRC’s guidance advises organisations such as hospitals, retailers, hospitality and sports clubs to put in place policies that are both legal and balance the needs of different groups.

The call for input runs on the Equality Hub website for eight weeks from Wednesday and covers Great Britain.

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