What the law says
Introducing the laws that protect trans people
Trans people are supported and protected by three main laws:
- Equality Act 2010
- General Data Protection Regulation/Data Protection Act 2018
- Gender Recognition Act 2004
The broad aim of these laws is to maximise the inclusion of trans people, prevent discrimination, harassment and victimisation, and protect privacy. These laws underpin Girlguiding’s approach to trans inclusion and key summary points about each are set out below.
Please note that while it’s useful to know which laws apply and broadly what they say, current UK laws are not a statement of best practice, nor are they wholly clear. They don’t cover every circumstance we may encounter.
The practical guidance we give for supporting trans young members and supporting trans volunteers has been informed by our value of inclusion. For further support and guidance members can contact HQ or see our list of support organisations for additional advice,
Equality Act 2010 – key points
- This law makes discrimination against, harassment of and victimisation of those with certain protected characteristics unlawful.
- It works by highlighting nine protected characteristics in respect of which the above behaviours are unlawful, it also explains in which circumstances it is unlawful.
- One of these nine characteristics is sex (whether you are male or female) and another is gender reassignment, which in loose terms equates to being trans. More specifically it is defined as ‘a person has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment 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 sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex’.
- Gender reassignment is a self-identified characteristic – there is no need for anyone else to ‘confirm’ someone is trans, or for the trans person to have started any kind of physical or other transition attributed to sex, such as clothing. There is also no need for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) for those over age 18.
- The Equality Act provides options for exemptions. This means that in certain, very limited circumstances, it is permissible to restrict membership to those who share certain protected characteristics. Girlguiding uses an exemption to provide a girl-only space for its young members.
- A person does not need to have had, or to want, any medical intervention to be protected by this law.
- It protects people of all ages under the protected characteristic of gender reassignment.
- The law protects those who are discriminated against or harassed because someone thinks they are trans, even if they are not (discrimination by perception).
- The law protects those who are discriminated against or harassed because they are associated with someone who is trans, such as a friend, sibling, colleague or parent (discrimination by association).
General Data Protection Regulation/Data Protection Act 2018
- This law protects the rights of all individuals – including trans individuals – to privacy in relation to their personal information.
- We are therefore obliged under this law to respect your, and others’, rights to privacy.
- Information which identifies a particular individual as trans, or having a trans history, is treated as sensitive personal information.
Gender Recognition Act 2004
- This law enables some trans people to make a legal change of gender and sex by obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).
- It enables the issue of a new birth certificate and confers the right to marry, be taxed and receive a pension in that gender. These three things are basically all it affects - there is no need for someone to have a GRC to be treated in accordance with their gender identity in everyday life or to amend their gender on their passport.
- A person is under no obligation to disclose that they have a GRC, and it is inappropriate to ask whether someone has one or to ask to see it.
- This law provides increased privacy to those with a GRC; it is nearly always unlawful to disclose someone’s trans history without their consent if you have come by that information in a professional capacity (for example as manager/employee, client/supplier, co-colleagues).
- There is no essential requirement for any medical intervention.
- There are some barriers to accessing a GRC, including that contact with the medical profession is required to ‘confirm’ someone is trans; a person must make a legal declaration of permanence; they must have lived in accordance with their gender identity for 2+ years; they must be 18+; there are costs involved.
- This law was progressive when it was brought in but is now regarded as dated. Other countries enable self-declaration of gender in similar ways to self-declaring a change of name, like Ireland, Argentina, Denmark, Malta. The UK is currently reviewing this law with a view to updating it.
Transphobic abuse and violence are considered hate crimes or hate incidents and as with other crimes, should be reported to the police.
Cases can be brought under common law for misuse of private information, or breach of confidence.
This guidance does not give full detail of the law; if you need to know more you can find some helpful contacts on our additional resources page.
What else you should know
Code of Conduct and policy
We have a volunteer Code of Conduct in place as well as our policies which we expect all volunteers to adhere to. And there are procedures in place for addressing concerns about volunteers who may not be upholding those policies. These are updated from time to time and you should revisit them on a regular basis. See our policies pages for more information.
We occasionally get enquiries from the media. If this happens, it’s important that you forward any queries from the external press to the PR team at HQ via your country or region communications staff member (if you have one). If you receive a press enquiry out of hours, please contact the on-call national press office on 07990 553940.