It is unlawful, under the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, to directly or indirectly discriminate against, harass or victimise a transgender person on grounds of their gender reassignment. Section 2 (A) (i) of the act says that transsexual persons are protected where they intend to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone a gender reassignment. Section 82 defines that as "a process which is undertaken under medical supervision for the purpose of reassigning a person's sex by changing physiological or other characteristics of sex and includes any part of such process.
UNISON has recently reported on two recent cases which have cast some light on what this means in practice. Last year, Brighton & Hove council was ordered to pay £34,765.18 compensation to a teacher who was a former employee. The Brighton Employment Tribunal found that a senior manager discriminated against and victimised her on grounds of gender reassignment. In 2003, the teacher registered with a recruitment agency and sought a reference from her previous manager at the council. He initially delayed responding, but when he did he faxed a secret signed memo that disclosed her former name, stated her previous gender and referred to her as both "he" or "she" and "him" and "her". The memo also reported that she had previously started proceedings alleging discrimination, while saying the manager had "no reason to suppose that he or she is any less effective as a teacher as a result of the gender change, unless publicity around the case has caused social difficulties which make effective teaching a problem". He also offered to have a further telephone conversation with agency staff. The case was supported by the Equal Opportunities Commission - since replaced by the Commission for Equality and Human Rights - which recognises that transgender people face the same gender problems as other women and men but often face huge additional prejudice on a daily basis. While some progress has been made on rights for transgender people there is still more to be done to target specific discrimination and victimisation of transgender people, which remains deeply rooted. The other recent case is still going on and concerns a transsexual truck driver who was born a man and formerly called Mike. She is claiming that bosses at a delivery firm called Exel Europe unfairly reduced her shifts and colleagues taunted her when she started wearing make-up and women's clothes and jewellery to work. She started living as a woman full-time in February 2007 and hopes to undergo a full sex change operation on the NHS. She told an employment tribunal that she was very apprehensive about what people would think and her fears were realised when a fellow driver started muttering "queer" and covered his backside with his hand. She also claims that the Blue Arrow recruitment agency, through which she worked at Exel Europe, failed to act on her complaints. She is claiming sexual discrimination against Exel Europe and Blue Arrow, both of whom deny discrimination. A judgment in the case is still awaited.UNISON members are entitled to receive legal assistance if that they feel they are being discriminated against under the Sex Discrimination Act on grounds of gender reassignment. However, it is understandable that many members may feel unable to raise these queries with their branch or region and the union is looking into new ways of having legal assistance cases referred in a more confidential manner.
UNISON National LGBT Committee and the Scottish Transgender Alliance has produced a guide for trade union reps supporting transgender members.
Press for Change is also holding a one day seminar on 8th April 2008 Trans People, Rights, Law and Policy.