Enter the fray at your peril.
The Law Society is promoting a template for law firms to incorporate into their HR policies which abolishes single sex spaces. Feminist lawyers called it "baffling".
The 'Transition and Change to Gender Expression template’ is intended for firms who want to be able to assist staff who wish to "transition or change their gender expression".
Written by the Law Society's LGBT+ Committee, but published and promoted to law firms without wider consultation of Law Society members, the template states that the Equality Act 2010 is not fit for purpose. It also dismisses sex, one of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act, as being based on stereotypes, placing a question mark over the Law Society's support for sex-based rights and issues.
Some of the policy content is uncontroversial and will only disturb people with rigid ideas of what men and women should wear. Touching on gender non-conformity, the template sets out that employees “should feel encouraged to wear the clothes that make them feel most comfortable”. Cardigans included.
But the template also serves to codify more contentious positions.
It embeds in law firms the position that the Equality Act and the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA) “fall short in protecting and assisting the trans and non-binary community".
The template states that "We intend to exceed these pieces of legislation, e.g. by recognising all gender identities".
"Gender identity" is defined in the template as “an individual’s innate sense of their own psychosocial place in society”. The document states that "many gender identities beyond man and woman exist", although the Law Society was unable to supply a list of them. Its template does refer to "genderfluid", which is where a person’s sense of their gender is not fixed.
Whereas the GRA sets out various requirements which people must satisfy in order to qualify as the opposite sex, the template provides for 'Self-ID' at law firms which adopt it, whereby a person must be treated as having a particular sex or gender identity if they declare it to be the case.
Law firm staff who "transition" in this way, which under the template does not require any medical change or alteration in appearance, are to be told to use the toilets and changing facilities "that make you feel most comfortable".
"This may change over time, in which case you should continue to use the facilities you prefer", the template states.
The same access rights are provided to staff who alter their "gender expression", which is defined as something which is "influenced by culturally accepted behaviours and presentations" associated with a particular sex, such as dresses for women and short hair for men, and which people alter by adopting a gender expression "in contradiction to societal norms".
Although the changes would appear to potentially impact other staff by opening up single sex facilities to anyone who wishes to occupy them, the Law Society template does not provide for firms to consult with those other groups.
In fact, the template‘s definition of transphobia includes the "denial of or refusal to accept a trans person’s gender identity", which means that if anyone complains about the consequences of the policy, such as a male using women's facilities because he identifies as Maverique ("a core gender identity that’s independent of existing categories"), they risk being reprimanded and written up as a transphobe.
In a statement, the Law Society declined to address whether other groups might be impacted, reiterating that “action points should always be agreed with and tailored to fit the individual staff member“ who is transitioning or changing their gender expression.
In contrast to its treatment of gender expressions, the template takes a dim view of sex, defining it as "biological differences that have been stereotypically grouped into male and female categories". Which might surprise biologists as well as lawyers.
The Law Society declined to address whether its dismissal of sex as a worthwhile category meant it would have difficulty supporting the inclusion of sex as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act, or the collection of sex-based data in the profession, or tackling discrimination and harassment on the basis of sex.
A Law Society spokesperson said, "We hope this will help firms regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority to comply with Principle 6, which requires law firms to act in a way that encourages equality, diversity and inclusion".
He declined to say whether the Law Society considered if other groups could be adversely impacted by its policy, such as women for whom their religion, disability or past trauma meant they would be uncomfortable with biologically male bodies in their changing rooms.
“Our ‘transition and change to gender expression template’ was written by trans and non-binary people in the legal profession as a piece of educational guidance on the key areas for law firms to consider when a staff member wishes to transition or change their gender expression at work,” said the spokesperson.
"The Law Society's template is baffling", said a spokesperson for Legal Feminist, a collection of solicitors and barristers interested in feminist analysis of law. "Women disproportionately experience sexual harassment while being paid less and promoted less. No doubt many law firms would like to believe that they exist in a plane that transcends this troublesome reality, but without recognising sex they cannot deal with sexism".