Equality Watchdog: UK Can Bar Transgenders From Single-Sex Services If 'Justifiable'

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A woman holding a sign  - Sputnik International, 1920, 05.04.2022
The United Kingdom, along with many other nations, has faced a polarising debate over whether trans women should automatically be allowed in single-sex spaces, particularly changing rooms, housing shelters, toilets, etc.
Transgender people can be legitimately excluded from single-sex services if there are "justifiable and proportionate" reasons such as health or privacy concerns, said the UK human rights watchdog Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in its new guideline.
While the commission emphasises the impermissibility of any discrimination, it points out that trans people can be excluded from single-sex services if it is a "proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim".

"This could be for reasons of privacy, decency, to prevent trauma or to ensure health and safety", the commission's guideline read. "When deciding whether to use an exception, providers of a single-sex service must take a number of factors into consideration. These include the rights and needs of all users, including trans people".

According to the EHRC, the guideline refers to venues like hospitals, retailers, hospitality facilities, and sports clubs, having an ultimate aim of imposing policies that are "both legal and balance the needs of different groups".
Among the single-sex services listed in the guidelines are single-sex wards in hospitals and nursing homes, separate male and female changing rooms. The EHRC also mentioned sports sessions, particularly those involving a high degree of physical contact or those that may prompt religious concerns.

"Where rights between groups compete, our duty as an independent regulator is to help providers of services and others to balance the needs of different users in line with the law", said ERHC chief Baroness Kishwer Falkner. "Organisations are legally allowed to restrict services to a single sex in some circumstances. But they need help to navigate this sensitive area. That is why we have published this guidance – to clarify the law and uphold everyone's rights".

While the guidelines were welcomed by many as a step towards balance and protecting everyone's rights, LGBTQ+ rights organisation Stonewall lambasted them as potentially breaching the 2010 Equality Act.
"Far from clarifying how the single-sex exemptions in the Equality Act should be used, the EHRC's latest non-statutory guidance is likely to create more confusion. It appears to go against the core presumption of the act, which is that inclusion should be the starting point, and shifts the focus towards reasons trans people, and specifically trans women, can be excluded", a Stonewall spokesperson said as cited by The Guardian.
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