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lady hale: gender reassignment and rights to privacy November 1, 2017

Posted by Bradley in : gender , trackback

Do a person’s legal rights with respect to gender reassignment require that that person’s official records suggesting that gender reassignment has occurred be expunged from official records? Perhaps the UK’s Universal Credit records will achieve this. Meanwhile, taking account of the principle of proportionality, according to the UK Supreme Court, the answer is no, despite some sympathy for the plaintiff.

Here’s the sympathy in Lady Hale’s November 1, 2017 judgment:

“We lead women’s lives: we have no choice”. Thus has the Chief Justice of Canada, the Rt Hon Beverley McLachlin, summed up the basic truth that women and men do indeed lead different lives. How much of this is down to unquestionable biological differences, how much to social conditioning, and how much to other people’s views of what it means to be a woman or a man, is all debateable and the accepted wisdom is perpetually changing. But what does not change is the importance, even the centrality, of gender in any individual’s sense of self. Over the centuries many people, but particularly women, have bitterly resented and fought against the roles which society has assigned to their gender. Genuine equality between the sexes is still a work in progress. But that does not mean that such women or men have not felt entirely confident that they are indeed a woman or a man. Gender dysphoria is something completely different – the overwhelming sense that one has been born into the wrong body, with the wrong anatomy and the wrong physiology. Those of us who, whatever our occasional frustrations with the expectations of society or our own biology, are nevertheless quite secure in the gender identities with which we were born, can scarcely begin to understand how it must be to grow up in the wrong body and then to go through the long and complex process of adapting that body to match the real self. But it does not take much imagination to understand that this is a deeply personal and private matter; that a person who has undergone gender reassignment will need the whole world to recognise and relate to her or to him in the reassigned gender; and will want to keep to an absolute minimum any unwanted disclosure of the history. This is not only because other people can be insensitive and even cruel; the evidence is that transphobic incidents are increasing and that transgender people experience high levels of anxiety about this. It is also because of their deep need to live successfully and peacefully in their reassigned gender, something which non-transgender people can take for granted.

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