2010 Equality Act
The Equality Act is the law that protect trans people from discrimination. All employers and service providers are bound by the law, so it applies when you are:
- at school, college and university
- at work
- using public services such as hospitals
- buying or renting property
- using the services of businesses (as a consumer)
- the member or guest of a private club or association*
Why are you protected as a trans person?
Trans people are protected under the Equality Act because they are recognised as having a “protected characteristic”.
A protected characteristic is the part of someone’s identity or experience that is used as a reason to treat them unequally in society.
The protected characteristic that covers trans people is called “gender reassignment”.
On the official government website gov.uk, it is also defined as “being or becoming a transsexual person”. However, we find that fewer trans people identify with the term transsexual these days.
Although gender reassignment is usually understood to be a medical term, the protected characteristic “gender reassignment” refers to the social process of transition. You do not have to be under the supervision of a doctor to qualify.
It has been argued that there is limited legal protection for some non-binary or genderqueer people because of the way gender reassignment is defined by the law.
The protected characteristic gender reassignment has the expectation that the process is permanent.
What is discrimination?
You might recognise the term discrimination, but you might not realise that the Equalities Act defines two main types.
The following definitions of discrimination have been taken from the gov.uk website. We have added some explanations and examples to what they mean for young trans people below each definition.
Four different types of treatment are considered unlawful under the law:
- direct discrimination
- indirect discrimination
Young people in education DO NOT have protection from harassment under the Equalities Act. However your school has a legal duty to tackle bullying so you still have rights under a different piece of law.
Direct discrimination: treating someone with a protected characteristic less favourably than others because they have the protected characteristic.
Direct discrimination means that you are treated differently and worse because you are trans. An example of direct discrimination could be a teacher refusing to use your chosen name or pronoun or not being allowed to use the toilets that match your gender identity at work. If someone refused to serve you in a shop or restaurant, that would also be direct discrimination.
Indirect Discrimination: putting rules or arrangements in place that apply to everyone, but that put someone with a protected characteristic at an unfair disadvantage.
Indirect discrimination might be trickier to spot. While direct discrimination means you are treated unfairly because of being trans, indirect discrimination means that you are put in a difficult or uncomfortable situation by rules that are meant to apply to everyone but have a negative impact on you because you are trans.
For example, if you are a trans boy who goes to a girls school, you might be expected to wear a skirt because that is the uniform policy that applies to everyone. This is indirect discrimination because it does not take your being trans (your “protected characteristic”) into consideration and it had a negative effect on your ability to go to school.
What is harassment?
Harassment: unwanted behaviour linked to a protected characteristic that violates someone’s dignity or creates an offensive, intimidating, hostile, degrading or humiliating environment for them.
In education, young people are not protected from harassment on the basis of the protected characteristic gender reassignment.
The idea of having dignity means that a person should be treated well and with respect and has an unquestionable right to be valued. If someone is telling transphobic jokes or making transphobic comments, spreading gossip about you, persistently asking you inappropriate questions about being trans that make you feel uncomfortable, their behaviour could be harassment.
Harassment also covers being trolled online, being made to feel isolated or excluded, or being made to feel emotionally or physically unsafe.
The law you can rely on in these situations is the Education and Inspections Act 2006. It states that maintained schools must have measures to encourage good behaviour and prevent all forms of bullying amongst pupils.
What is victimisation?
Victimisation - treating someone unfairly because they’ve complained about discrimination or harassment or helped someone else to do so.
Public Sector Equality Duty
The 2010 Equality Act introduced a Public Sector Equality Duty. This means that public bodies such as the NHS, schools, prisons and other organisations that receive public monies have to stamp out discrimination, make sure all groups have equal opportunity to access services and foster good relations between different groups.
Schools’ obligation to end discrimination of pupils and staff comes from their Public Sector Equality Duty.