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Elijah, a member of Mermaids’ Youth Advisory Panel, had the opportunity to give evidence to Mr Victor Madrigal Borloz, the United Nations’ Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), during his visit to the UK. 

Victor Madrigal-Borloz visited the UK to listen to a range of stakeholders, including Mermaids, as part of his report into the human rights of LGBT+ people in the UK. 

Now that the Independent Expert’s end of mission statement (TW: references to suicide) is released, Elijah recounts his experience and what the day signified for him personally.

As I sat on the train to London, I had to chance to think about the shy anxious person that I used to be. I don’t think I would’ve believed it if you had told me three years ago that I would get the chance to talk about my experience at a meeting which could improve the lives of transgender young people in the UK. 

I arrived at Euston on the 9am train, jumped on the tube, then took a short walk down the River Thames. I didn’t know where to begin, there was so much that I could say about what it’s like to be a trans young person in the UK. 

Once I was welcomed in the meeting, I felt relaxed and knew my experience was valued. I could speak openly about how I felt and what I had gone through, despite being nervous knowing I may be one of the only trans young people able to speak to the UN Independent Expert.

I was able to talk about how the UK’s education system has made me feel ostracised and the way my trans identity felt incompatible with school. I got to talk about how the politicisation of trans identities is scary. I left the meeting confident that I’d done justice to my experience, while also feeling as though I was carrying the weight of other trans young people with me, including those who are no longer here to tell their story.

Afterwards I took a short walk over Lambeth Bridge heading towards the Tate Britain to grab lunch, looking at the Houses of Parliament perched comfortably on the north bank of the river. Looking at a place where such important decisions about our livelihood are made is always a surreal feeling. In the cafe as I sat down I felt some of the pressure I was carrying lift from my shoulders. I felt that this opportunity to share my experiences as a trans person that day would amount to change for those after me.

Around two weeks later, the report has been published, and includes my concerns about the potentially damaging impact of the Government’s plans to forcibly disclose a student’s gender identity to their parents:

“The organization highlighted specific concerns that such advice may not be guided by the human rights legal requirement of the best interests of the child, if suggesting to forcibly reveal their gender identities to their parents, in light of high rates of transphobic abuse in family environments.”

It is so important for Westminster politicians to acknowledge that what is currently happening to trans people in the UK is causing immense harm, and recognise that many more trans young people, like me, are being forced out of mainstream education.  

Transgender young people have the right to not only attend school without fear of bullying or harassment from students or staff, but to be actively embraced by their local community. The Independent Expert’s report reiterated the fact that in the UK this is not currently always the case, but the resilience and vocalness of the UK’s trans community can propel us further despite any barriers we may face.

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A member of Mermaids’ Youth Advisory Panel recently spoke at the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council on the UK Government’s LGBTQIA+ rights record.

What’s happened and why does it matter?

Every four to five years, each UN Member State undergoes a review of their human rights record with other countries presenting their recommendations to the UK this year. The recommendations to the UK Government on LGBTQIA+ issues grew fivefold – especially on trans healthcare, legal recognition and banning conversion therapy. 

What did Mermaids do?

Mermaids and Stonewall submitted evidence on the UK Government’s LGBTQIA+ rights record and presented our context and recommendations to UN representatives from dozens of countries in Geneva in August 2022.

We highlighted the lack of gender recognition reform, inaction on banning conversion practices, and inadequate access to gender-affirming healthcare for children and young people. 

A trans young trans person, Ellie, also had the opportunity to speak to the United Nations. This is what they said about the experience:

It felt important to speak about the UK’s treatment of LGBTQIA+ people on such a prominent international platform.

As a trans young person in the UK, it has been frustrating to experience the government’s lack of action on the rights of LGBTQIA+ people.

Our government’s ignorance towards the challenges our community faces has allowed for an increase in hatred that must be addressed through policy change.

Transgender people deserve equal access to healthcare and to experience dignity in obtaining gender recognition. All LGBTQIA+ people in the UK deserve to feel protected and respected by their government.

While it was wonderful to have my voice heard, so many others do not have that privilege.

It is my hope that hearing a young person in the UN asking them to do better will remind the UK government who they represent, and will push them closer to making real change.

The statement also serves as a reminder to other Member States that the UK has a long way to go in their treatment of LGBTQIA+ people.”

What have other countries told the UK Government to do on LGBTQIA+ issues?

There were 17 recommendations given to the UK Government on LGBTQIA+ issues – a massive increase from three recommendations last time. They included recommendations to:

  • Introduce a trans-inclusive ban on conversion therapy, from Malta, Iceland, Chile, Canada, Argentina and Israel
  • To reform legal gender recognition, from Malta, Iceland, The Netherlands and Australia
  • To fulfil the right to health of trans people, from Iceland
  • To combat anti-LGBTQIA+ media and hate, from Iceland, Spain, Argentina and Uruguay
  • To generally uphold and strengthen the legal protections for LGBTQIA+ people, especially trans people, from New Zealand

How did the UK Government respond?

Unfortunately, they rejected (‘noted’) the majority of recommendations – especially those relating to banning conversion practices (citing the promised upcoming legislation, which we’re still waiting on) or reforming gender recognition legislation. However, they did accept a critical recommendation from Iceland, to:

Protect and fulfil the right to health of trans persons by increasing capacity and competence of gender identity health care services

The UK Government’s failure to fulfil trans people’s right to timely and acceptable healthcare, as protected by the United Nations, will require substantial efforts and radical change if this promise can be kept before the next review.  

They also accepted some general recommendations on preventing hate crime or upholding LGBTQIA+ legal protections, from Venezuela, Spain, Norway and New Zealand.

What’s next?

While the Universal Periodic Review process for the UK draws to a close, after over a year, the fight to protect trans rights in the UK continues in an increasingly hostile political and media climate. You can support our work by following us on social media and, if you’re able to do so, making a donation to help us give a voice to more young people like Ellie.