1) A woman is raped and goes for help to a rape crisis centre. “Sorry,” says the warden, “but you’re a butch lesbian. Some of the other women using this centre might feel uncomfortable if I let you in. Go away.”
Is the warden acting legally, or illegally?
2) A woman walks into a hair salon and tries to make an appointment. “Sorry,” says the proprietor, “but you’re Muslim. Many of my clients are Islamophobes, and if I let you in I’ll lose business.”
Is the proprietor acting legally, or illegally?
3) A man with a prosthetic leg applies to join a men’s gym. “Sorry,” says the gym owner, “but some of my customers are icked out by people with disabilities. I can’t let you join.”
Is the owner acting legally, or illegally?
If you guessed “illegally” as the answer to all three questions, give yourself a cookie. In the UK it’s illegal to discriminate in these kind of situations, whether on the grounds of race, sexual orientation, transsexuality, disability or religion.
Oh, hang on. That was yesterday. Today, the new Equality Act has come into effect. The Act’s aim, as described on the Government’s website, is ”to deliver a simple, modern and accessible framework of discrimination law which protects individuals from unfair treatment and promotes a fair and more equal society.” To be fair, a lot of what the new Act does is excellent. And, under its provisions, it will still be illegal to discriminate on the grounds of race, sexual orientation, disability or religion. Those of you skilled in Pelmanism will notice that there’s one item missing from that list. That’s right – it now appears to be legal to discriminate against transsexual people in situations such as those described above - that is, where single-sex services are being offered.* (Other gender-variant people will continue to receive the same degree of protection from discrimination as currently – i.e. none.) This regressive piece of legislation is the Parthian shot of Labour’s Harriet Harman, but the ConDems nodded it into law – which makes me wonder what party can claim to be trustworthy on equality issues.
* To be precise, it's legal if it's "objectively justified", or so the notes to the legislation explain, giving the exclusion of a rape victim from a counselling session as one example that would be justified (see p.157). As for the other scenarios, who knows? We have to wait for case law and precedent to establish just how much prejudice the law considers reasonable. What fun for everyone involved.
In other news, you may remember a recent maundering of mine on the issue of rape by deception, in which I speculated (as a kind of reductio ad absurdum) that we might see trans people accused of rape by those to whom they didn’t reveal their trans status. It looks as if reality is running to catch up.