The States of Jersey have passed regulations this week that expand the island’s anti-discrimination legislation to encompass sex, gender reassignment, sexual orientation and pregnancy and maternity (together called the “(Sex and Related Characteristics) (Jersey) Regulations”). The new regulations, due to come into force on 1 September 2015, provide protection for the island’s LGBTQ citizens.
Although we are behind most western jurisdictions in having some form of equality legislation, I am so proud that Jersey has not only put legislation in place but has gone further than its closest neighbor, the UK, in the protections it has given to our community. In addition to protecting transgender islanders, Jersey also now protects all those who do not identify with the gender binary of man or woman.
Firstly, Jersey has recognized that there are more than two sexes. The island’s regulations explicitly protect intersex people as well as men and women from discrimination under the protected characteristic of sex.
This is an important inclusion that recognises a small and often misunderstood section of society. It makes clear the distinction between intersex and transgender people – a common misconception – and it allows those who were born neither biologically male nor female and who identify as intersex to do so, knowing that they do not have to choose from the binary if they do not want to and they will still be protected from discrimination under the law.
It was a really good day when I found out that the government had listened to what Trans* Jersey had to say, taken it on board and included intersex people in the draft legislation. It will make future discussions easier surrounding the rights of intersex islanders to hold identification documents that are neither M nor F, if they wish, and the reforms needed in the medical treatment of intersex individuals.
Secondly, Jersey’s regulations state that a person is transgender whether or not they intend to have medical intervention to transition. This, again, goes further than the UK in its protection. For the 1-2% of the population that experience some degree of gender dysphoria (a feeling that your gender identity does not match the gender role assigned to you by society), they are also given protection under the new regulations.
This is something that Trans* Jersey was keen to see pass. As those of us who are trans* know, not everyone who experiences gender dysphoria will take steps to do anything about it. So, in addition to protecting those of who us who decide to transition, Jersey’s regulations protect those who identify as any one of a number of genderqueer genders from discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
As the trans* community knows to its cost, we are at our most vulnerable from physical and verbal abuse when we do not fit society’s ideal of men or women. This means that those early in their transition or those who cannot, or do not want to, transition are the most likely to experience discrimination. Jersey has recognised this and put in place protections. By doing this, Jersey now leads the UK in its protections for trans* people.
Having spent several months consulting with the department and minister responsible for drafting the law, I am pleased that it passed through the States without amendment. The fact that the legislation passed without question demonstrates that there is an appetite within Jersey’s government to do the right thing by its LGBTQ population.
In Jersey, we don’t face the kind of abuse, harassment and violence that LGBTQ people face in other parts of the world, or even parts of the UK. However, we do have to cope with the kind of casual discrimination where jokes are made at our expense or comments are muttered under people’s breath. It’s subtle but, if you have to face that on a regular basis, it gets to you and erodes your self-confidence. Now, those of us who have had to endure that in our workplaces or when we are out socialising can do something to stop it.
The legislation allows islanders who experience discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity to bring a case before the Jersey Employment and Discrimination Tribunal. If found guilty of discrimination, individuals and, if it happens in the workplace, the organisation they work for could be required to pay up to a £10,000.
It would be naive to think that a new law will stop discrimination happening overnight. However, it has, and will continue to, enable discussions and conversations to happen surrounding the issue of discrimination against LGBTQ people, which have not been had in Jersey before. I am fielding requests on an almost daily basis for talks and training about trans* issues.
Whenever a new law is introduced an educational initiative is required to explain its reach to people. In the case of the discrimination laws not only do we have to explain the law but we also need to work to re-programme ingrained attitudes towards race, the sexes, people with disabilities, senior members of society, as well as those of us within the LGBTQ community. This is all part of the process of moving towards a fairer and more equal society.
As a result, it seems likely that I will be running a lot more training sessions and talking to organisations and groups this year, sharing what it means to be trans* and how those who are not trans* can avoid discriminating against those who are. This can only be a good thing.
More trans notes from a small island next month…