After another week of having to explain again to managers and HR staff what gender critical beliefs are and are not, I thought it would be helpful to put together this primer in case it is of use to others. The term ‘gender critical’ covers a range of views and I don’t speak for everyone, and nor am I a spokesperson for SEEN. But I think the views I explain here are fairly representative of those I have met in SEEN.
1. Sex and gender/gender identity are different things
Stonewall define transgender as “An umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth”, so they are not the same.
2. Everyone has a biological sex
Sex, whether you are male or female, is your biology and is observable and measurable. Everyone has a biological sex that is fixed from the point of conception and recorded at birth. A small proportion of people have one of the rare medical conditions known as Differences of Sexual Development (DSD), but people with DSD’s are still male or female.1
Everyone (whether or not they believe in the concept of gender identity, and whatever their gender identity is, if they have one) can experience sexism, bullying and harassment or discrimination on the basis of their sex. This may be the sexism that a woman faces due to stereotypes about her sex, or the sexism a transwoman (someone registered male at birth who considers themselves to have a female gender identity) faces because they do not follow the sex-based stereotypes associated with their sex.
Sex is a protected characteristic. Sex is also the basis of the protected characteristics of sexual orientation (opposite-, same- or both-sex attracted) and maternity and pregnancy (which only applies to women).
It is vital that we are able to talk about sex when relevant to our employment and that our employers provide us all with the sex-based protections in place in law.
3. Some people believe they have a gender identity
Gender identity is defined by Stonewall as “A person’s innate sense of their own gender, whether male, female or something else, which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned at birth.” Gender identity cannot be observed or measured.
Some people believe in the concept of gender identity, and some people do not. Some people that do hold this belief, consider that their gender identity does not match their sex, and they may describe themselves as transgender or non-binary, cisgender, or something else.
Gender reassignment is a protected characteristic. Someone with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment may hold a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), or they may not. Either way, no one should face bullying, harassment or discrimination because their gender identity does not match their sex.
Belief in the concept of gender identity may also be a protected belief under the Equality Act. No one should face bullying, harassment or discrimination due to their belief in the concept of gender identity.
However, a belief in gender identity should not be assumed or imposed on employees. The civil service has a duty to remain neutral both for its staff and for those we serve.
4. Some people have Gender Critical beliefs
Those with gender critical beliefs do not subscribe to the concept of gender identity. They think that gender identity must not be conflated with or used to replace sex in law, policy, guidance or elsewhere. If there is a need to segregate men and women for reasons of privacy, dignity, safety or safeguarding it is sex that should be used (and which is permitted under the Equality Act), not self-identified gender identity.
Gender critical beliefs are a protected belief under the Equality Act. Noone should face bullying, harassment or discrimination due to their lack of belief in the concept of gender identity.
Although I do not hold a belief in gender identity, this does not mean I do not acknowledge the existence of transgender or non-binary people. My lack of Christian faith does not mean I deny the existence of Christians. Of course Christians exist, but their existence does not prove the existence of a Christian God. Equally, my lack of belief in innate gender identity does not mean I deny the existence of transgender or non-binary colleagues. Everyone should be treated with respect. But someone’s beliefs about their own gender identity do not override the protections written into law on the basis of sex, nor my (lack of) belief.
So to me, gender critical beliefs are simply about expecting my employer to apply the sex-based protections afforded to us all in law, and not imposing a belief system on me that I do not share.