Ten years on from its original adoption (see side panel), Hastings Borough Council has indicated that it plans to refresh the town’s Equality and Human Rights Charter, and last week the Hastings & Rye constituency Labour party (CLP) issued a formal statement that it will be inviting community groups, voluntary organisations, businesses, sports clubs and service providers to sign up to a refreshed version. 

If this sounds harmonious, however, certain members of the CLP appear to be treating it as anything but. The party was meeting this week with one particular issue set for debate – not the relatively poor showing of its councillors standing in the local elections last month nor the perfunctory nature of decisions taken within the Borough Council as highlighted in our last edition (see HIP 177: Fear of Democracy?), but the vexed question of transgender self-declaration.

The CLP’s recent statement seemed to pre-empt any debate on this by including within it a declaration in uncompromising terms:

“Transgender people continue to face widespread discrimination and there is still a long way to go on issues such as education, equal access to public services, levels of LGBT+ hate crime, and mental and physical wellbeing. 

“As a party we’re committed to ensuring trans people can live their lives with equality, dignity and respect. We will resist any attempts to roll back hard-won rights and we are committed to reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to introduce self-declaration for trans people.”

But self-declaration remains a controversial subject at national party level. When, following a consultation process, the government announced last September that it was not going to amend  the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to entitle trans people to self-declare their gender without satisfying medical requirements, Labour shadow minister for Women and Equalities Marsha de Cordova, responded: “After three years of toxic debate, it is deeply disappointing that the government have let trans people down at the last minute…. Labour is committed to equality and inclusion for trans people and we continue to support updating the Gender Recognition Act to introduce self-declaration for trans people.” However, this statement provoked a counter-blast from others in the party opposing the policy, who pointed out that there has never been a formal decision by any national executive body to approve it.

The issue appears to be provoking similar division in Hastings. The abstention recorded by newly elected councillor Claire Carr at the otherwise unanimous council vote electing Cllr Ruby Cox as deputy mayor last month has been widely reported as a mark of disapproval for Cllr Cox’s previous stance against self-declaration and her expression of other views alleged to be “transphobic”. 

Cllr Carr is chair of the local Labour LGBT+ branch. At the time of going to press, neither she nor Cllr Cox has made any public statement since the vote. 

The 2011 Charter

In April 2011 the Hastings Local Strategic Partnership adopted an Equality & Human Rights Charter for the town. The Charter is described as a set of shared principles based largely on the Government’s Equality Act, which had been introduced the previous October.

Its purpose was expressed as “improving services in response to the diversity of communities in the town”.

Major local institutions – not just the Borough Council but Sussex Police Authority, the Fire and Rescue Service, what was then Sussex Coast College, Hastings Voluntary Action and other service providers – made a “commitment” to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that was prohibited by or under the Equality Act. 

The Charter committed them specifically to advance equality by taking steps to remove or minimise disadvantage suffered by people by reason of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race (including ethnic or national origins), religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation or socio-economic status; and also to “meet the different needs of people from these groups where their needs are different from the needs of other people”.

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