Trans athletes ‘may have to compete with their biological sex’ under Tories’ proposed shake-up of Equality Act

Transgender athletes may have to compete alongside their biological sex under the Conservatives’ plans to “clarify” equality laws, Kemi Badenoch has said.

The cabinet minister told Sky News her party is “not giving instructions” to different sporting bodies, but rather “making it very clear what the law is, that there is a difference between identifying as a different gender and what your biological sex is”.

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As part of their latest election offer, the Tories last night pledged to change the Equality Act to define the protected characteristic of sex as “biological sex”.

In the past, critics have accused the Conservatives of seeking to stoke divisions and demonise transgender people in the search for votes – with concerns raised about what this could mean for sport and access to female-only spaces.

Asked what the law would mean in practice for transgender athletes, Ms Badenoch said it would not bar them from competing but in some cases they “may have to compete with their biological sex”.

She said: “We believe that sports is something where there are sex categories for a specific reason.

“People compete in women’s sports because they’re biological women, not because they identify as women. It is for sporting bodies to be able to manage that.

“Transgender athletes are not stopped for competing. They may, in some cases, have to compete with their biological sex.”

Asked which toilets the government intends for transgender people to use, Ms Badenoch said: “We have not said that transgender people can’t use specific toilets. What we have said is that they [businesses] must provide toilets for single sexes as well.

“And if you provide for all, that is genuine inclusion. The sort of inclusion that people are doing are actually exclusive to women.”

The Equality Act currently states that an individual must not be discriminated against on the basis of their sex.

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Ms Badenoch, the women and equalities minister, stressed the reforms would not be a “change”, but rather “re-emphasising what should be the status quo”.

“Sex and gender were used interchangeably,” she said. “What we’re doing is making sure that people understand what the law says. We’ve seen a lot of problems with people misinterpreting the law.”

Challenged about why the government hasn’t already made the change if it was such a big problem, Ms Badenoch said the “biggest reason” was because the SNP’s controversial gender recognition legislation “took up quite a lot of bandwidth”.

Ms Badenoch first mooted the idea in April last year after writing to parliament’s human rights watchdog for advice about it.

At the time, LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall said the proposal risked “opening yet another chapter in a manufactured culture war that will see little benefit to women, cis and trans alike”.

Labour said it would not amend the Equality Act if elected because there are already provisions to protect single-sex spaces, so the government’s plans are “not needed”.

Speaking to Times Radio, shadow defence secretary John Healey said: “What is needed is clearer guidance for service providers, from the NHS to sports bodies, and in prisons, on what single-sex exemptions need to be, and the best way to be able to do that is in guidance, not primary legislation.”

The Lib Dems accused the Tories of waging “phoney culture wars” while Lee Anderson, the former Tory deputy chairman turned Reform candidate, called it “madness”.

Announcing the pledge last night, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the safety of women and girls “is too important to allow the current confusion around definitions of sex and gender to persist”.

Ms Badenoch, who has spoken frequently in the Commons on the issue, said the change in the law needs to occur because public bodies are now acting out of “fear of being accused of transphobia”.

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The Conservatives said the proposed change to the law will not remove the existing and continuing protections against discrimination on the basis of gender reassignment provided by the Equality Act.

The sex of those with a Gender Recognition Certificate will still align with their acquired gender in law outside the Equality Act, for example, marriage law, as is the status quo.

Under the proposed scheme, the Conservatives will also establish in law that gender recognition is a reserved matter, as they say “this will mean that an individual can only have one sex in the eyes of the law in the United Kingdom”.

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