Friday, 24 February 2017

The Trans Effect

It has always interested me that the first people in the LGBT+ communities to benefit from positive legislation, rather than punitive, were trans* people.

The Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999 extended the protections of the Sex Discrimination Act to those trans people who were intending to live, or who were living permanently in their preferred gender role, though they had to be under medical supervision.

Later, the Sex Discrimination (Amendment of Legislation) Regulations 2008 extended protection against discrimination in the provision of goods, services, housing and facilities.

For the more geeky among us, you can see the text of the Regulations here:

These regulations, as well as the Act they amended, were eventually replaced by the Equality Act 2010.

And, of course, in the meantime the, admittedly flawed, Gender Recognition Act 2004 came into force. GIRES has a good explanation of the Act here:

However, by the Trans Effect, I refer to two cases that had an impact on case law long before 1999 and which affected the lives of many trans* people for years after.

THE FIRST CASE involves Sir Ewan Forbes (1912–1991), who was able in 1952 to legally
reassign as male, getting his birth certificate changed. Forbes referred to being assigned as female at birth as "a ghastly mistake". He also said, "I was carelessly registered as a girl in the first place, but of course, that was forty years ago ... the doctors in those days were mistaken, too ... I have been sacrificed to prudery, and the horror which our parents had about sex."

Craigievar Castle
This caused a huge family row about who would inherit the vast estate and title (Baronet of Craigievar). The estate could only be inherited by sons; as his three elder brothers had all died, the estate was due to go to a male cousin.

There was a bitter, but very private legal battle, which Sir Ewan eventually won, though it was appealed right to the then Home Secretary, James Callaghan. The details of the case were never fully known as the matter was kept highly secret, to avoid 'bringing the family name into disrepute', even though it was considered a major legal precedent.

Sir Ewan died in 1991, survived by his wife, Isabella, Lady Forbes. The estate and title passed to his cousin John, who had originally mounted the legal challenge in the 1960s.,_11th_Baronet
National Archives of Scotland, ref. CS258/1991/P892
Lady Forbes's obituary gives more information about their long and happy marriage:

THE SECOND CASE involves a somewhat more familiar name, April Ashley.

When she married the Honourable Arthur Corbett in 1963, it seems unlikely that she could have imagined that just over six years later, in February 1970, the judgment in her divorce hearing would impact on trans people for many years.

It must be said that Corbett was under no illusion about April’s history - she had sold her story to The News of the World in 1962. However, when her husband decided to divorce her and to avoid paying maintenance, suddenly her past was very important.
Mr Justice Ormrod determined that April was not legally a woman at the time of her marriage, which was therefore a nullity.

Prior to this, it was relatively easy for trans people to change their birth certificate (unofficially) and marry. Now the validity of every marriage involving a trans person became suspect and subject to nullification, and the ‘unofficial’ changing of a trans person’s birth certificate was ceased.

Only the Gender Recognition Act 2004 changed this - and then only for those who married in their true gender.

This part of the post is adapted from When is a marriage not a marriage?, Past2Present 2010, page 35; see:
This post is based on a set of four posters created on behalf of Merton LGBT+ Forum for a display at Merton Civic Centre and Wimbledon Library during LGBT History Month 2017.

You can download the poster for this topic here:
Feel free to use them, if you wish.

Also - this post is my 200th! Hurrah!!

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