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What Tory gender laws changes would mean in hospitals, prisons and women’s sport

The Conservative Party has announced that it would change the Equality Act to protect “biological sex” and tighten up rules around access to single-sex spaces if it wins the general election.

Announcing the changes, the party said the Equality Act had “not kept pace with evolving interpretations and is not sufficiently clear on when it means sex and when it means gender”.

Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch said the current definitions had caused “confusion”, adding: “Whether it is rapists being housed in women’s prisons, or instances of men playing in women’s sports where they have an unfair advantage, it is clear that public authorities and regulatory bodies are confused about what the law says on sex and gender and when to act – often for fear of being accused of transphobia, or not being inclusive.”

Under the current Equality Act, brought in by the Labour government in 2010, protections covering single-sex spaces do not differentiate between someone born female and someone who is transgender.

But the Conservative Party has promised to change existing laws to ensure the protections apply specifically to biological sex.

Here are what the changes proposed by the Conservative Party would mean in practice:

Prisons

Under current regulations, someone who is transgender is usually housed in the prison population that is in line with their acquired gender, provided they have a gender recognition certificate and are living as their declared gender.

Exceptions are made on a case-by-case basis, for example if they are found to pose a serious risk or be at risk from a particular prison population.

This is because, under the Equality Act, it is illegal to discriminate against someone based on their gender identity, including if they are transgender.

The changes proposed by the Conservatives would see transgender individuals housed with others of the same biological sex, and ministers have argued this would protect women-only prisons from being populated with male-born prisons convicted of sexual offences.

Statistics published by the Ministry of Justice showed that there were 268 transgender prisoners recorded in 2023, up from 230 the previous year.

Of these, 203 identified as a transgender female, 41 as a transgender male and 14 as non-binary, while 10 self-identified differently or did not provide a response.

The majority of those identifying as transgender were in prisons that aligned with their biological gender, with five transgender females in women’s prisons and zero transgender males in men’s prisons.

Women’s sports

Currently, the Equality Act does allow for the separation of men and women when it comes to sporting activities and for those convening sporting events to exclude transgender people from participating in “gender-affected activity” to ensure fairness and safety for other competitors.

When it comes to sport, the main concern is that male athletes have some advantages over female athletes in terms of their size, testosterone levels and other factors. As a result, many sports bar transgender women from competing if they have high testosterone levels or have experienced male puberty.

The Government has claimed its changes would make it easier to prevent transgender females from participating in women’s sports, but it is unclear how this would operate in practice.

The current guidance from Sports England is that individual sports should develop their own rules regarding participation for transgender athletes in line with the Equalities Act.

It proposed that sporting bodies could either include transgender athletes with restrictions on testosterone, restrict the female category to only those who were registered female at birth, or create an additional universal category not dependent on sex or gender.

Toilets and changing rooms

Under the Equality Act, service providers can operate single-sex and separate-sex services – such as toilets and changing rooms – when they have a good reason.

They must not discriminate against someone because of the protected characteristics of sex or gender reassignment. There are, however, certain circumstances where transgender people can be excluded if the service provider can prove they have a legitimate reason.

One example would be if a leisure centre chooses not to allow a transgender woman into a family changing room, citing privacy concerns. They would be required to justify why this was deemed necessary.

These rules currently only apply to people who have not legally changed their gender, but the new regulations proposed by the party could see these disapplied in certain circumstances in favour of their assigned gender at birth.

The changes would also make it easier for service providers to justify policies which exclude transgender people based on their gender at birth.

Hospitals 

Current official NHS guidance states that transgender people should be “accommodated according to their presentation: the way they dress, and the name and pronouns they currently use” regardless of whether they have legally changed their gender.

It also recommends that they be afforded more privacy through curtains or by placing them in a side room if it makes them more comfortable.

However, Health Secretary Steve Barclay announced in April that the Conservatives planned to make changes to the NHS constitution requiring hospitals to protect single-sex wards and recommending that transgender people should be put in single rooms.

Under the latest changes announced by the party, hospitals would be likely to face a new requirement to consider only biological sex when deciding in which ward to accommodate a patient.

Election 2024

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer have been out on the campaign trail since the Prime Minister announced a surprise snap election on 22 May. i‘s general election live blog follows all the twists and turns of the election period from all the major parties.

The Tories have been busy announcing policies which include a new national service policy, a “triple lock plus” for pensioners and a crackdown on fly-tipping.

Labour have spent most of the first full week of campaigning battling headlines over their candidates, including Diane Abbott and Faiza Shaheen who claimed to have been blocked from standing. Abbott has since been given the go-ahead to run for the party in her seat.

Keep up to date with the 2024 general election in our extensive coverage, on everything from the main parties’ environment pledges and who is odds on to become the next prime minister, to the seats still without a candidate and what Labour and the Tories’ tax pledges mean for your money.

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