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Transgender councillor criticises proposed change to Cambridge City Council equality policy amid toilets row


By Josh Thomas, Local Democracy Reporter


Mens and womens toilets
Mens and womens toilets

There are concerns Cambridge is “taking a step backwards” - but council says it is ensuring legal compliance

There is “disappointment” and fears Cambridge is “taking a step backwards” after the city council proposed a revision to its equality policy, following a row over transgender people’s access to public toilets.

In 2010, Sarah Brown, then a Cambridge city councillor, proposed an amendment to the council’s policy, which would abolish the single-sex exemptions for public facilities. Since then, self-identifying trans women have been allowed to access women-only facilities including toilets and changing rooms.

In July, Ann Sinnott, who represented Petersfield at Cambridge City Council, stood down from the council saying their policy allowing self-identifying trans-women to access women’s facilities was in breach the Equality Act 2010.

The city council has now responded and proposed amendments to the policy including replacing references to “gender” with “sex” and replacing references to “transgender” with “gender reassignment” or “transsexual people”. The council says these changes would mean the policy is consistent with the law.

Amendments to the policy also make explicit that the council has discretion to apply the “single sex exemption” in the Equality Act 2010 in very exceptional circumstances.

This exemption enables public bodies to exclude transsexual people from single sex spaces, facilities and jobs where this is a “proportionate means to achieve a legitimate aim” and where there is “clear evidence” this is necessary.

Sarah Brown, who is transgender herself, said she was “disappointed” the council had re-worded its policy, and said she was worried this meant the council would be able to “discriminate” against trans people. Despite assurance the policy would not affect “the rights of transsexual people”, she asked whether this would mean transgender people would need to have ID before using public toilets.

Sarah said: “Despite agreeing that trans women are women and trans men are men, the Labour council has decided it now wants the right to discriminate against us. This is disappointing and worrying. Should we now carry our passports if we want to use the Lion Yard loos?”

Lib Dem councillor Zoe O’Connell, who is also transgender, said that, for eight years, Cambridge had had one of the country’s “most progressive policies”. She said she was worried the new policy would be a “step backwards”.

Cllr O’Connell said: “Liberal Democrats gave trans people eight years of some of the most progressive policies in the country, marked by harmony and acceptance. Now Labour says it wants the right to discriminate. This is a step backwards.

“Instead of asking how they can best protect trans people, they are asking how they can best play it safe in the face of rampant transphobia which is making the lives of trans people a misery up and down the country.”

A spokesman for Cambridge City Council said: “These changes do not alter the levels or type of services offered for transsexual people, but instead seek to ensure legal compliance.”

Cllr Anna Smith, executive councillor for communities, said the council is committed to equality.

Cllr Smith said: “Cambridge City Council is fully committed to equality. The update to the Single Equalities Scheme lists the many brilliant projects we are working on across the council to ensure equality and access for all those experiencing discrimination.

“When it was pointed out that the wording of our Comprehensive Equalities and Diversity Policy was not entirely consistent with the Equality Act, we immediately sought legal advice and have, as a result, made amendments to the policy. These amendments reflect specialist legal advice to ensure that the wording of the policy is consistent with the 2010 Equality Act.

“The council is committed to ensuring Cambridge continues to be a safe and welcoming place for all members of our community, and ensuring everyone has equal access to council services.”

A report detailing the council’s latest Single Equality Scheme strategy is set to go before the environment and community scrutiny committee on October 4.



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