Transgender Awareness Training

For information on the Transgender Awareness Workshop including the aims and objectives and costs of training please click on this link.

If you are considering the need for Transgender Awareness Training, or have attended one of my workshops or keynote presentations and would like to update or review the information this is the place to start.

The Purpose of Transgender Awareness Training is help participants to

  • Better understand trans people and the life challenges they face
  • Engage more effectively with Transgender people
  • Become aware of the legal obligations with regard to transgender staff, customers or service users
  • Avoid behaviour that could result in a complaints of legal action
  • Dispel myths and misunderstandings about all LGBT people

 Trans people are often discriminated against.

Government research quoted in the December 2011 in the Transgender Action Plan shows:

  • Nearly half of transgender employees experience discrimination or harassment in the workplace
  • 88% of respondents said that ignorance of transgender issues was the biggest challenge they faced in employment
  • Transitioning at work was highlighted as one of the most significant triggers for discrimination
  • More than half of respondents said they suffered discrimination in accessing public services because of their transgender status
  • Between 2009 and 2010 transgender related hate crime increased by 14%

The Transgender Action Plan and its sister the LGBT Action Plan were produced in 2011 as part of the early implementation of the Equality Act and driven by the then Minister for Equalities Lynne Featherstone. A Lib Dem MP,  Lynne had been a long time supporter of trans rights and made this a priority when she came into office. Since her departure from the Equalities office however, her successors have not really pushed the LGBT agenda.

We have managed to win the battle for same sex marriage, but I am not sure how much more of these actions plans has actually been put in place and there is no evidence, at the time of writing in February 2015, of any update on the plans. If anything the impact of cuts in the public sector has probably led to an increase in the levels of discrimination, harassment and victimisation simply because tackling the issue is no longer a priority. I do recommend that you download and read this Transgender Action Plan.

Over the past 15 years legislation to protect the rights of transgender people has been substantially changed and today the The need for training arises out of three specific area of legislation.

  • The Gender Recognition Act, 2004 which enables a trans person to legally  change gender and makes it a criminal offense to disclose a persons gender history.
  • The Equality Act 2010 which significantly extended the protection under law to people who have, are perceived to have, or are associated with someone who has the protected characteristic of Gender Reassignment.
  • The Public Sector Duty which requires all public bodies to pay due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations in respect of all protected characteristics.

An important principle of English Law is “Ignorance of the law is no excuse“.  What this means is that claiming that you did not realise that an action or behaviour was illegal is not an acceptable defense in court. It is every persons responsibility to be familiar with the implications of the law. Equality Law changed substantially in 2010, however, while the Equality Act 2010 was one of the Labour Party’s flagship policies, the law received Royal assent the same day the 2010 election was called, so that it became the responsibility of the Conservative LibDem coalition government to implement it. Sadly they did not agree with much of the legislation so have watered down or repealed some of the provisions and have not been particularly effective in promoting the Act.

Why is Transgender Awareness Training so Important?

Most general education on this subject, especially TV documentaries and media reports, has tended to focus on Gender Reassignment Surgery or “sex change”.  As a result of this bias, most legislation has focused on people “who are undergoing, have undergone or are planning to undergo a medically supervised process gender reassignment” – and that was the definition of Gender Reassignment prior to the Equality Act 2010. In essence only people diagnosed as transsexual were protected by the legislation – and that amounted to less than 15,000 people.

This obsession with sex and surgery has always irritated me because it leads to the conclusion that there are very few people trans people and I believe the focus on sex is one of the main reasons why trans people experience so much discrimination, harassment and victimisation. The reality is that around 6 in every 1000 people is transgender, or has some degree of what is now called Gender Dysphoria – and extreme sense of distress or discomfort with the gender assigned at birth.

I began delivering Transgender Awareness Training Workshops in 2005 while at university studying for my master’s degree in Gender Research. Most of my audiences then were members of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender ) societies. Even the LGBT community does not really understand trans and I regularly come across trans people today who have never met another trans person and their own confusion is largely the result of a complete lack of understanding of what Transgenderism is all about.

As a result of the extensive research commissioned prior to the Equality Act by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the definition of the protected characteristic was changed. It should have been completely changed to Gender Identity, but that didn’t happen.  Instead the definition was changed to people who “are undergoing, have undergone or are planning to undergo a personal process gender reassignment.”

The removal of the requirement for medical supervision means that anyone who consults a medical practitioner, or counsellor about their gender confusion, or even starts to cross dressing public, will be assumed to have started the process. It is not necessary for a trans person to complete the process, only that they started the process.

From an equalities perspective, the primary issue is about appearance – people are unlikely to discriminate against us or harass us unless they know or believe that we are trans. If a trans person transitions and successfully presents themselves in their acquired gender, and therefore blends in as just another man or woman, no one will notice they are trans, unless someone who knows about their past discloses it.

Gender Recognition Act 2004

In 2004, as a result of a European Court of Human Rights judgement, the UK government was required to introduce legislation to enable trans people to legally change their gender and be recognised in their acquired gender.

This means that once a person has completed 2 years living in their acquired gender, they can apply to the Gender Recognition Panel for gender recognition.  Once they receive a gender recognition certificate they can then change their birth certificate and will then be considered legally to be of their new gender, even if they have not undergone any surgical or hormonal treatment.  It is then illegal for anyone to question their gender, and they must at all times be treated as if they were born in that gender.

More importantly, because there is a high risk of discrimination, harassment or even violence if a trans persons gender history is disclosed, Section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act makes it it a criminal offense for anyone who becomes aware of a persons gender history in an official capacity, to disclose that information to anyone outside of their organisation without the permission of the trans person.

The following are two real examples of how easy it is fall foul of these regulations.

Both of these incidents pose significant challenges.  Firstly whilst it is only a criminal offense to disclose information if the trans person has a gender recognition certificate, there is no requirement for them to disclose that information, so how will anyone know.

A Social services team became involved in supporting a vulnerable teenager where one of the step parents is a trans woman. The case report, sent to all parties, referred to the trans woman as “the stepfather” and used male pronouns throughout. This was interpreted by the natal father as supporting his transphobic language and behaviour and information in the report was then used in a derogatory manner when shown to other friends and family.

In this first instance, all the social services staff member had done was to write out a verbatim report of the conversation she had with the trans woman and included that in the report. However because the Trans woman had a gender recognition certificate, that was a criminal offense which on successful prosecution would result in a level 5 penalty of up to £500o fine and/or 6 months imprisonment.  It would also result in a criminal record which would almost certainly bring about her dismissal and make it very difficult to get employment. Fortunately the trans women in this instance elected not report this issue.

A housing association started proceedings to evict a trans woman from her house. The tenant had informed them of her change of name and gender and the records were updated but the tenancy agreement was not reissued. Court papers for the eviction were issued in her new name but added “Formally known as” and then her previous male name, the name still on the tenancy.

In this second instance, the trans woman did not have a gender recognition certificate so there was no breach of the Gender Recognition Act.  Furthermore even if she had, court papers are exempt from the provisions of S22 of the Gender Recognition Act so there were no grounds for a legal challenge. However the trans woman decided to make an issue of this writing to her MP, local counsellor, the housing association Chief Executive, the local press and anyone else she thought could help. The result was potential disciplinary action against a housing officer, engagement of legal and specialist consultants and months of high level work revising trans policies and procedures. The cost was difficult to measure, but the loss of management time was significant.

Equality Act and Public Sector Equality Duty

In addition to the Gender Recognition Act breach, both instances above potentially breach the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty; both have caused considerable distress to staff and service users; both were the result staff not receiving appropriate equalities training.

Participants on my training workshops tell me they are confused and don’t know how to speak to trans people.  They are aware that they have to comply with equalities legislation, but are not sure how to do that.  Most people know not to discriminate – but the problem is harassment because people do not understand what constitutes harassment – This is the definition:


Harassment occurs when someone engages in unwanted behaviour which is related to a relevant protected characteristic and which has the purpose or effect of:

  • violating a persons dignity or
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person.

The word ‘unwanted’ means ‘unwelcome’ or ‘uninvited’. It is not necessary for the person to say that they object to the behaviour for it to be unwanted.

I recently conducted some training in an organisation where a trans man had complained that staff were repeatedly using female pronouns despite him constantly reminding them that he found this upsetting. During the training we discussed this and I was told, “We do occasionally refer to her with the wrong pronouns, but it is doesn’t happen very often. The problem is that we have all known her a long time.”  The conversation continued and even after I had pointed out that they had just used the wrong pronouns, they continued to do so. It was not malicious, they really were finding it very difficult to change and didn’t even realise how often they were getting it wrong.

I have lived as a woman now for nearly 15 years, and there are still members of my family who refer to me by male pronouns – I find it irritating, especially if someone introduces me to audience  using the wrong pronouns. Continually using the wrong pronouns is considered to be harassment.

Here are a few other statements I have heard recently made by public sector employees which could be considered harassment and illustrate the level of confusion people have and the need for Transgender Awareness Training.   If you cannot understand the problem with any of those statements then you definitely need to attend training and at the very least spend a while reading other pages on this site.

“He’s changed sex so why does he want to be with a woman?”

“But if she is pregnant, how can she be treated as a man?”

“But if he hasn’t had surgery, surely he can’t use the female changing rooms?”

“The child’s father is a transgender which does complicate things”

The problem with many equalities breaches is that they do not appear to cost money. Management time is already paid for but in the current environment of public sector cuts, most organisations are struggling to deliver their core services and can ill afford to waste senior management time addressing breaches of equalities and changes to policy simply because of a lack of adequate Transgender Awareness Training.

Gender Identity is probably the last remaining civil rights frontier and whilst most people no longer discriminate openly against trans people, changing gender is difficult for people to understand.  Because we so heavily gender our society from the moment a child is born, any breach of gender norms tends to be viewed as weird, particularly men expressing femininity. Most of the discrimination and harassment is done behind our backs with sniggering and derogatory comment.

Transgender Awareness Training and Changing Attitudes

“How do you cope with it?” said my colleague leaning forward so as keep his voice down.

“Cope with what? I said. “All the people staring at you, talking about you, sniggering… ?”

“Where?” I said, turning in my seat to survey the people sitting around in the hotel lounge, apparently getting on with their own meetings.

“Oh, they’ve stopped now you’ve looked,” replied my colleague.

“Who was making comments?” I asked, raising my voice a little.

“Leave it” he said quickly raising his hand a little, obviously mortified by the thought that I might make a scene and further embarrass him.

I relaxed. “I cope with it because I don’t see it,” I said. “People do it behind my back – they hide their prejudice.”

That conversation was a real incident that happened shortly after I first changed gender and started to develop my Transgender Awareness Training workshop. Since then the law has changed beyond recognition and most organisations have in place equality policies to help ensure that everyone is treated fairly and is protected from discrimination, harassment and victimisation.

Unfortunately those changes in the law have had an unplanned effect. Because people know they will be disciplined if they behave or speak inappropriately they have learned not to be seen to discriminate. Changing the law does not change attitudes and beliefs, especially when no-one understands the issues. All too often the subject of sexual orientation is mixed up with Gender Identity causing further hurt and confusion for everyone.

Between 1988 and 2003 Local Authorities were prevented by law from presenting homosexuality as normal.  As a result very little Transgender Awareness Training was delivered and schools insisted that they were not allowed to include gender identity and sexual orientation in the school curriculum. Of course children were constantly exposed to homophobic and transphobic comment, were aware of other children who had two dads or two mums or a dad who was becoming a woman… but when that information became public knowledge schools simply refused to discuss it, and even now are still reluctant to tackle the issue.

Transgender Awareness Training needs to address unspoken issues. It is not possible to exclude sexual orientation from a discussion of gender identity. Just because a man wants to live as a woman, does not mean that he wants relationships with men, just as many my women change gender and live as gay men. Unfortunately many people when they see a transgender woman, treat them as a “bloke in a dress” and assume they are gay”. When people discriminate against me it is often homophobic discrimination.

This confusion means that people don’t want to talk about the topic in case they get it wrong and are accused of discrimination or harassment. And faced with a trans person applying for employment, there is inclination to find a way to exclude them to avoid having discrimination and harassment problems to address in the workplace.  And this highlights the much more difficult challenge organisations face today – the unconscious bias and hidden prejudice that is impacting the way people are treated every day.

People still talk about me behind my back, refer to me a “he” instead of “she”, point and snigger when I pass and I still seldom see or hear any of it. But my friends, family and acquaintances do. Where people hide their deep prejudice from me, they openly show it to people who know me, even confronting them for being with me, and often waiting until I have left before making comments. All too often however I don’t get to hear about it because my friends and family are concerned that I will be upset, and so remain silent.

What these people who make comments don’t understand is that my friends, family and acquaintances are just as hurt and upset by their behaviour and comments as I would be if they didn’t hide it from me. And from my experience, unless there is a programme of Transgender Awareness Training, this behaviour could be happening every day in your organisation.

What can you do to address this issue?

I have been delivering equality and diversity workshops and keynote presentations, especially Transgender Awareness Training for over a decade and work with over 250 organisations, particularly local authorities, housing associations, educational, NHS and criminal justice organisations.

My workshops and presentations are always highly interactive and entertaining, exploring the impact of the Equality Act in regard to sex, gender, gender reassignment, sexual orientation and human rights, while demonstrating how the principles discussed apply equally across all protected characteristics. I use a variety of presentation methods – video clips, music, lecture, discussion, groups exercises, questions and answer, case studies and where I use PowerPoint – it is a visual aid. No death by slides presentations.

Most importantly my Transgender Awareness Training is based on real life experience. I take participants on a journey to help them to really understand what it’s like to grow up and cope with being trans or gay, and provide an open environment where they can ask any questions no matter how personal.

My experience has confirmed to me that the people hold prejudices mostly through ignorance. Many have never met and spoken to anyone who is trans, and they have been hugely influenced by homophobic and transphobic comments from friends, family and the media. They see and hear trans people being humiliated and ridiculed, often behind their backs, and feel bullied into silence.

Feedback from my Transgender Awareness Training and other workshops indicates that participants are much more likely to challenge homophobic and transphobic comments, contribute to creating a more inclusive and supportive workplace and treat all service users more fairly and equally after attending a workshop.

I work with organisations to deliver training that is best suited to their circumstances, budget and audience. Presentations can be from one hour to 6 hours and to any number of participants.
If you would like more information on Transgender Awareness Training and other Sex Gender and Equality Training please complete and submit this form with your event details and I will send you more details by return.

You can find out more about the Transgender Awareness Workshop including the Aims and Objectives and costs by following this link.  If you would like to make an initial inquiry for a bespoke workshop please click on this link and complete the form with as much details possible.


Transgender Awareness Workshop

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