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FBU Eastern Region statement on the Gender Recognition Act prompts online row

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A row broke out yesterday after FBU Eastern Region put out a statement on its Facebook and Twitter pages about the Tories' proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, prompting concern to be raised among female social media users.

The statement noted “with grave concern” the position statement of the London FBU LGBT Section released earlier this year on May 8, which makes five demands “one of which is to review the exemptions to the Equality Act 2010.”

It continued: "The Eastern Region FBU believe it reckless for a trade union to promote an agenda that would justify the Conservative government to review aspects of progressive legislation as review often leads to reform."

The London FBU LGBT Section statement to which Eastern Region objects says: "Under the Equality Act 2010, sex is a protected characteristic. It is therefore legally important, as a commitment to women’s equality, that the impact of [the planned changes to the GRA] on the sex protected characteristics is discussed and assessed."

It goes on to make five demands, adopted from campaign group Woman's Place UK (WPUK), which include “the principle of women-only spaces to be upheld — and where necessary extended” and for “a review of how the exemptions in the Equality Act which allow for single-sex services or requirements that only a woman can apply for a job (such as in a domestic violence refuge) are/will be being applied in practice.”

London regional official and LGBT secretary Lucy Masoud said: “The proposals for the GRA are a sensitive matter and understandably members wish to have their concerns heard.

“We encourage an open and respectful debate on all sides of the argument. After a democratic consultation and vote with its members the London LGBT section agreed its position on the proposed changes to the GRA and we stand by it.”

FBU Eastern Region regional secretary Ricardo la Torre said: “The FBU Eastern regional committee released a statement to communicate the importance of the Equality Act 2010 and the Tory Party’s history of opposing it.

“The statement also highlighted the dangers a Conservative government could pose to equality legislation.

“Neither the Eastern region of the FBU or the national FBU have a final position on the current debate regarding possible amendments to the Gender Recognition Act, the matter is currently under discussion within our union.”

However a number of social media users raised questions about the Eastern Region statement.

L Wood asked on Twitter: “Why wld EasternFBU wish to censor members from discussing equality Act or any other issues ? Why have 'grave' concerns over the existence of sex segregated changing facilities why is this contentious? Have EasternFBU consulted with female firefighters on this statement?”

And Georgina Smith wrote on Facebook: “You should be praising your colleagues for taking a sensible approach. They are asking for consultation and discussion. That course of action will inform the people making the decisions and might help to settle the fears women currently have.

“Surely it's best to do everything properly and craft a decent piece of legislation which would protect both trans people and women instead of bulldozing through a law which would cause widespread discontent?”

A WPUK spokesperson said: “The London FBU LGBT section statement was consulted on, balloted and arrived at democratically. We wonder whether women members from the Eastern region of the FBU have been consulted on this statement which doesn’t put forward their position on the reforms but simply attacks the London section’s position.

“WPUK agrees with the FBU Eastern Region that “the Equality Act 2010 is a significant and progressive piece of legislation” and that “it remains the keystone piece of legislation affording rights against discrimination to all workers with protected characteristics,” which is why we wish to ensure it is being properly implemented with regard to the protected characteristic of sex.

“Women firefighters have had to fight hard to have women-only spaces, to help increase the numbers of females in the workforce.

“While this can be a divisive issue there is room for respectful debate and trade unions could lead the way. Trade unions have been at the forefront of winning women’s rights and legal protections and WPUK would be happy to send materials to branches and activists outlining the issues further.”

Last year then Conservative equalities minister Justine Greening announced that the Westminster government would launch a consultation on changes to the GRA, which currently requires a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and the person providing evidence that they have lived as the opposite sex for two years. A date for the consultation has yet to be announced.

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