What are Labour and the Conservative positions on transgender rights ahead of the 2024 general election?

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting and women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch (Getty Images)
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting and women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch (Getty Images)

Labour has clarified its position on transgender rights as Wes Streeting says the party would “modernise and reform” gender laws if it comes into power on July 4.

The shadow health secretary has said Labour’s policy aims to allow transgender people to “live their lives with freedom, dignity and respect”. His comments come after all the major parties unveiled their manifestos over the past few weeks, outlining their visions for the country. Each covers transgender policy, with the issue becoming a major cultural talking point over the past few years.

For the latest updates ahead of the general election, follow The Independent’s live coverage

Under current UK legislation, the ability to change legal sex is enshrined in the 2004 Gender Recognition Act. This followed a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which found that the previous inability to do so in the UK was a breach of certain human rights.

The 2010 Equality Act defines sex in binary terms as ‘a reference to a man or woman’ – but this can be changed. A trans person can change their legal sex by obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate, amending the sex category on their birth certification. However, they must also meet certain criteria to do so.

Simplifying the gender reassignment process

Labour has said it wants to “simplify” the process of changing gender in the UK. Speaking to The Times, shadow women and equalities secretary Anneliese Dodds said the party’s plans would see the system become “modernised”.

“This means stripping out the futile and dehumanising parts of the process for obtaining a gender recognition certificate, while retaining important safeguards.”

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

Current legislation requires someone to have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, have been living with their affirmed gender for two years, and intend to live in that gender for the rest of their lives.

A panel will then consider the application, only if it is accompanied by two medical reports. At present, only 2 per cent of transgender people in the UK have a certificate.

Labour’s manifesto does not provide more detail on the measures, so it is likely it would undergo consultation should the party come into power after the July general election.

Changing the definition of sex

The Conservatives have taken a different approach to gender recognition law. The party has pledged to introduce new legislation which would change the definition of sex to mean ‘biological sex’, or sex at birth, should they secure another term in July.

The measure would allow single-sex services and spaces to legally bar transgender people without falling foul of discrimination law. Speaking in early June, women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch said: “the protection of women and girls’ spaces is too important to allow the confusion to continue.”

Women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)
Women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

“Whether it is rapists being housed in women’s prisons, or instances of men playing in women’s sports where they have an unfair advantage, it is clear that public authorities and regulatory bodies are confused about what the law says on sex and gender and when to act”.

The government’s proposed changes would also make gender recognition a reserved matter which only Westminster can legislate on. This comes after Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill was blocked by the UK government in 2023 for clashing with UK-wide legislation.

Implementing the Cass Review

Both parties have committed to implementing the recommendations of the Cass Review: a landmark report on gender identity services for children and young people in the UK. It was commissioned by NHS England in 2020 and published in April 2024 following an interim report in 2022.

At nearly 400 pages, the review is complex and far-reaching, with author Dr Hilary Cass making several recommendations. Following its publication, NHS England acted to implement policies that strongly discourage social gender transition before the age of 18, and withdraw puberty blockers from medical practice (although this step was already underway in England following the interim report).

Dr Hilary Cass after the Cass Review’s publication (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)
Dr Hilary Cass after the Cass Review’s publication (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)

The report was largely accepted by medical professionals in the UK as a positive step in gender-related care. It acknowledges the care required by gender dysphoric youth and recommends their expansion, including regional services and support up to age 25.

However, some groups have criticised the report for the possible consequences it could have. LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall UK has said it is “concerned” that some of the recommendations could lead to “children and young people being denied the care that they need.”

Meanwhile, Amnesty UK and Liberty warned that the review “is being weaponised by people who revel in spreading disinformation and myths about healthcare for trans young people.”

Teaching gender in schools

Looking to education, the Conservatives have vowed to ensure “the concept of gender identity” is not taught to children. It comes alongside the ban on sex education for under-9s.

To enforce this, the government says they will provide guidance for teachers that must be followed.

Labour has not committed to undo this measure if in power, as their education spokesperson Bridget Phillipson discussed the issue in May.

Speaking on BBC One, she said that the Conservatives’ proposals had “good and straightforward principles” in it, while other aspects drifted into unhelpful “partisan” language. Ms Phillipson implied the party would review the measures if in power, but it does not make an appearance in Labour’s manifesto.