The Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce and Spectrum hosted an event entitled ‘Rising through the Ranks: the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index and organisational change‘ on Thursday 4 May, which featured Rebecca Stinson (head of trans inclusion, Stonewall), Rob Childe (senior associate, Pinsent Masons), Claire Harvey (CEO of Diversity Role Models) and Jacqueline Newcombe (equality officer for Leicestershire Police).
Prior to the event, we had the chance to speak to Rebecca about the development of Stonewall’s landmark manifesto on trans equality in the UK, ‘A Vision for Change‘.
Could you tell us a bit about your professional background and becoming head of trans inclusion at Stonewall?
I trained as a barrister in law. I was most interested in gender identity recognition law and sex-by-deception casework, which is quite sensitive and complex. I focused on it in my master’s and that got me more interested in activism and campaigning and lobbying to change the law. As a result, I encountered Stonewall and took on a temporary role with them working with organisations in the north east.
That was only going to be temporary until I took on a PhD. However, the role that is now head of trans inclusion was made available and it was clear that I could make a larger difference doing that. I’m sure a lot of people will know Stonewall wasn’t trans-inclusive, so that was one of my major concerns. But seeing how the ethos and the values of the organisation had shifted dramatically encouraged me. It didn’t take much for me to decide that I needed to switch what I was doing in life and take up more of a lobbying role.
‘A Vision for Change’ is Stonewall’s new trans-inclusion manifesto. Can you tell us about the development of it?‘A Vision for Change’ has been my life recently! It’s an amazing project. It’s a project that was well underway before I joined Stonewall. It came about when Stonewall realised that they couldn’t be thoroughly trans-inclusive without consulting trans people themselves. That started to happen in 2014 when Ruth – our chief executive – went around the UK seeking audiences with trans people to find out whether or not Stonewall should be trans-inclusive to begin with.
After those initial consultations, it was clear that Stonewall had to do more consultative and collaborative work with trans communities. It appointed a Stonewall Trans Advisory Group, which has 18 individuals on it. They represent a diverse range of gender identities, and come from all different kinds of backgrounds and professions.
When I got involved, they had been working on putting together a document which set out aims and objectives – identifying issues that affected trans people the most in this country and identifying the way that Stonewall could support them to correct those issues and to make a difference. They wanted to make sure that trans people throughout the UK had a say just as much as they did, so we went out to consultation again in February 2017, which I had the privilege of being involved with and leading on. I got the chance to travel around – from Birmingham, Edinburgh and Perth and down to Cardiff – speaking to trans communities about whether or not ‘A Vision for Change’ worked for them – if it didn’t, why it didn’t, and what changes we could make. The overall reception was amazingly positive.
We published ‘A Vision for Change’ in April, just in time for Stonewall’s workplace conference. The vast majority of people who work in Stonewall have been involved in some way or another and it’s one of the few major projects which underpins Stonewall’s ethos and values. Pretty much everybody in Stonewall knows exactly what ‘A Vision for Change’ is, what’s in it and why it was so important. It’s been an absolute privilege to work on.
When it comes to the workplace, can you point to any standout examples from employers in relation to improving their working environments for trans employees?
One that we highlight regularly is Asda. They are a very large employer with over 160,000 employees. Asda embarked on their own trans consultation process with their own employees. They were able to create safe spaces where both their trans employees and those who weren’t trans could learn more about gender identity and how they can support their colleagues. It enabled conversations to take place where staff didn’t feel worried about saying the wrong thing. Ultimately, it allowed Asda to understand the needs of its trans employees as well as their allies, and how they could best implement policy and practices across the organisation.
What really worked was that huge consultation process. This engagement process means that Asda’s trans-inclusion policies – including how people should be addressed, pronouns, including how they should dress at work, including what to do if someone says something transphobic – are all led by trans individuals in the organisation. This is the way we want to role model how organisations should deal with trans inclusion. It’s about speaking to your own employees and making sure that your policies, your practices, work for your organisation. You have to make sure that your trans colleagues and employees are protected, cared for, understood and you also have to make sure that everybody else is aware of the issues, and is able to step up as an ally and support them in the workplace.
What Asda did was take it back to basics, sit down in a room and say, ‘How can we support you as an organisation?’ They have noticed that the number of staff coming out as trans in the workplace has increased dramatically because employees are feeling more comfortable. It means that people are able to have open conversations and it means that any employee now knows they are able to speak to their line manager about the fact that they are trans or about the fact that they may be transitioning at work. It’s a really good example of how an organisation should do it. They role model their own staff who are trans in videos and they are able to demonstrate complete openness and transparency in approaching trans inclusion. It’s a brilliant way forward.
Looking forward to the new government, do you think there are any critical policies or laws or education policies that they should prioritise so that they can support trans people?
There’s definitely quite a lot that any government needs to deal with. The issues around legal protections and recognition for trans people are vast, and they do include education policies: making sure that schools are supportive of families with children who are trans, young people who are transitioning at school. Policies need to be in place that tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, in addition to being able to support those trans children in school.
On top of those policies, we need to see reform in terms of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010. Both of them were groundbreaking pieces of legislation which are now outdated.
Our consultation with trans people and the resulting vision-for-change commitments demonstrate that we need to see trans people’s identities protected without the need for medicalisation, without the need for treatments, surgery and medical intervention. We need to see recognition without the need for justifying your identity before a gender recognition panel, which is ultimately arbitrary and derogatory. We need to make sure that trans people don’t face horrendous questions, from ‘What toys did you play with as a child?’ to ‘How do you masturbate?’ These kinds of questions are not just intrusive but demeaning. And, of course, people who aren’t trans do not have to justify the fact that they are not trans before a panel before they can obtain a birth certificate that identifies their true gender.
There’s also the spousal veto that ‘A Vision for Change’ recognises is a block to some people’s gender recognition, and suggests that that’s what needs to be changed.
The Equality Act is another groundbreaking piece of legislation which needs to be strengthened for trans people. At the moment the protected characteristic of ‘gender identity’ is worded ‘gender reassignment’. On a narrow interpretation of that law, only those who have undergone some kind of process to change their gender from either a man or woman to the opposite – man or woman – would be protected. That’s not the way I think it should be interpreted; it’s the language which Parliament used at the time. However, that’s the way it’s worded in the act and of course they used the term ‘transsexual’ in there as well, which again is quite demeaning and reverts back to medicalisation and the Gender Recognition Act.
Ultimately, what that piece of legislation needs to do is protect people whose gender identity does not conform with the sex that they are assigned at birth. That is far simpler and far easier if we have the protected characteristic changed from ‘gender reassignment’ to ‘gender identity’. That means that those who transition in a binary way from male to female or from female to male are protected. It also means that those who are non-binary and identify as something other than male or female are protected to the full extent of that piece of legislation as well. And of course it is an enormous piece of legislation that protects people in the workplace, that protects people in education. What needs to happen is to protect those people from discrimination. We can’t achieve that while the legislation stays the way it is. And of course I would urge the new government to make sure that they review that piece of legislation and think about a consultation process so that trans people can tell the government exactly what would benefit them and what would protect them. At the moment it’s outdated. We need to also tackle education policy around making sure that trans people are included at all levels of education. It’s one of those things that is going to take a long time but it is a priority for all trans people.
* Rebecca Stinson is the head of trans inclusion at Stonewall.
* In consultation with GIRES (Gender Identity Research and Education Society), LSE has developed ‘Transitioning at work: guidance for staff and managers‘ and its ‘Policy on trans staff and students‘.