OPINION: Transgender asylum seekers to lose fundamental legal protection for human rights post-Brexit

by Maddie Grounds | Immigration Advice Service
Tuesday, 30 July 2019 09:03 GMT

A person walks past an EU and a British flag in London, Britain, April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The protection of trans rights, currently enshrined in EU laws and treaties, is set to be dismantled once Britain leaves the union

Maddie Grounds is a political correspondent and content writer for the Immigration Advice Service, the UK’s organisation of immigration solicitors.

Amidst the continuing chaos of the UK’s current political climate, one community that anxiously waits for Britain’s Brexit future is the LGBT+ community, especially transgender individuals seeking refuge in the country.

Whilst the protection of transgender rights is currently enshrined within EU laws and treaties, these legislative safety nets are set to be dismantled once Britain leaves the union.

This includes Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which states that, “discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited”.

The decision to abandon this Charter comes at a time when transgender individuals continue to be subject to overt hostility, ridicule and societal rejection. In 2017, a British transgender woman was granted asylum in New Zealand on humanitarian grounds after enduring years of torment and hate crimes whilst living in the UK.

With horrific instances of discrimination like this already occurring whilst EU legal protection is still in place, the future absence of this law leaves transgender human rights in a worrying state of insecurity.

Whilst LGBT+ individuals will still be afforded the protections outlined within the Equality Act 2010, there is no guarantee that the non-discriminatory rights within this act will be preserved. The Equality Act may be amended and/or discarded by government when no longer under the scrutiny of the EU.

As a matter of fact, in 2011, the coalition government attempted to scrap key parts of the Equality Act as part of its “Red Tape Challenge” to reduce what it deemed excessive “bureaucracy”. Therefore, concern towards what the future may hold for LGBT+ individuals, and particularly trans people, is not without cause.

One investigation by the University of Bristol alluded to the potentially disastrous outcome of this on trans individuals since “EU law is the justification for including transgender identities within our currently equality framework”.

For trans asylum seekers, a loss of legal protection combined with the intensification of scrutiny by the Home Office offers little hope that the safety of a transgender individual will be prioritised. Already, there have been too many reports of invasive and traumatic experiences suffered by LGBT+ individuals during the asylum process.

One report by the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group titled “No Safe Refuge” investigated the treatment of LGBT+ applicants for asylum in UK detention centres, exposing the shocking abuse carried out by interviewing officers.

Those who fail to provide the most intimate and private aspects of their lives are deemed illegitimate, void of receiving any compassion regarding the sensitivity of their issue. Not to mention the fear of being targeted by fellow detainees or interviewing officers through sexually motivated acts of physical or verbal abuse.

It is hardly surprising that transgender asylum seekers continue to feel isolated and anxious throughout the asylum process and – if successful – when living within British society itself. The promotion of antagonistic policies has defined the last decade, with prime minister Theresa May’s “hostile environment” seeking to make the UK as difficult as possible for migrants so they return back to their home countries.

The principles of EU human rights legislation must be incorporated within British law to ensure the protection of trans individuals. This includes adjustments to the Equality Act 2010 and Gender Recognition Act 2004 which ought to see ‘gender identity’ upheld as a protected characteristic.

This, combined with a culture change towards supporting LGBT+ people, is essential to allow stigmatised groups such as transgender asylum seekers to feel safe and secure in the country that saved them from persecution.