When I tell people from other countries where I come from, they always ask what it’s like to be a trans man in such a small place. There is an assumption that the more cosmopolitan a place is, the more cultural influences it absorbs, the more tolerant it is. I’m not sure this is true. Our LGBTQ police liaison officers tell me that our hate crime figures are so low as to be almost zero and that’s not because incidents have gone unreported. It simply doesn’t happen here. The LGBTQ population are “out” and part of the business community, the political establishment and our charitable and cultural sectors, seamlessly integrated into our society. We haven’t had a gay bar for over ten years – perhaps, because we no longer need a meeting place separate from everyone else – and we had our first pride march last year, purely to show support for equal marriage legislation, which is now being drawn up.
I live and work in the island of Jersey. Jersey is 9 miles by 5 miles, has a population of about 100,000 and, not surprisingly, we rank 13th in the world for population density. We are famous for our pretty fawn-coloured cows and her diary produce, our kidney-shaped new potatoes (Jersey Royals) and the world-class endangered species zoo founded by Gerald Durrell. We have strong ties to Newfoundland through the historic cod trade of the sixteenth century and New Jersey was named in honour of our loyalty to the British Crown during the English Civil War. We are geographically closer to France than we are to the UK, we speak English but our roads names are all in Jersey French and we are a Crown Peculiar, meaning we recognise the Queen as our head of state but we are self-governing, so we do not recognise Parliament.
This means that we make our own laws. They broadly follow UK legislation, but not always. We also tend to be behind the UK in implementing change, particularly social change. This can be a good and a bad thing. It can mean that the island’s population can have what seems like an unjust wait to enjoy the same rights and freedoms as our neighbours in the UK but it can also mean that, when we do catch up with the rest of Great Britain, we learn from their mistakes in implementing our version of a law.
There are two pieces of legislation that are being implemented in Jersey at the moment: our version of the UK’s Equality Act 2010 and the Marriage (Same-Sex) Couples Act 2013. Both of which Trans* Jersey is working with government on.
Our equality law is going to be the first law to pass of the two and should be in force in September. It deals with discrimination and directly protects transgender islanders from being discriminated against. It differs from the UK law in extending the definition of who is transgender. Our draft law states that a person is transgender:
“if the person is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s gender by changing the person’s physiological or other attributes that are associated with a particular gender… a person is a transgender person whether or not the person has or intends to have any medical intervention in order to change any attributes that are associated with a particular gender.”
This last sentence is a valuable amendment to the UK law and a step towards de-pathologising gender reassignment by recognising that medical intervention is not necessary to validate someone’s trans status. It also ensures that those who are of a non-binary gender or those who are just starting out on their transition journey are also protected from being discriminated against. Arguably, within the trans community as a whole this group are most at risk from being discriminated against and, therefore, require the most protection.
Our equal marriage law is likely to be debated this year but probably won’t become law until 2016. It also improves on the England and Wales same-sex marriage law by adopting the Scottish model for dealing with a transition within a marriage. The proposal at the moment is that, in Jersey, a marriage in which one partner transitions will be able to shift seamlessly from a same-sex to opposite-sex marriage, and vice versa. There will be no requirement to divorce and remarry at the point of transition, nor for the spouse of the trans person to agree to their transition within the marriage (the so-called “spousal veto” in the UK).
So, you see, a small island can be progressive when it comes to human rights and its not always a bad thing to be a follower rather than a leader.
More trans notes from a small island next month…