SWU, BASW, and TransActual celebrate Trans Awareness Week 2022

Trans Awareness Week 2022 | BASW and SWU are an active ally | #TransWeek

SWU and BASW stand in solidarity with transgender people.

Trans Awareness Week runs each year from November 13th – 19th and is a time to celebrate transgender and nonbinary people and to raise awareness of this community through education and advocacy. This week is followed by the Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20th which is a day to remember those whose lives have been cut short by transphobia and violence.

SWU and BASW were pleased to invite Chay Brown, a director at TransActual UK, to share a blog with social workers and social work students on supporting transgender young people. TransActual UK is a trans-led advocacy, education, and empowerment organisation.

Trans Awareness Week blog – Chay Brown from TransActual UK

We know that social workers are committed to making sure that children and young people are safe, happy and healthy. But transgender young people, those whose gender is not the same as the one they were given at birth, face extra barriers to achieving safety, happiness and good health.

It’s not easy to be a transgender young person in the UK. This definitely isn’t helped by the (understandable) confusion around the legal protections available to transgender young people or by issues around accessing transition related care.

As a social worker, it’s important that you know what support and protections transgender young people are entitled to so that you know how to support them.

Here are five things you need to know:

1. Trans young people are protected by the Equality Act (2010)

According to the Department for Education’s The Equality Act 2010 and schools:

“Gender reassignment is defined in the Equality Act as applying to anyone who is undergoing, has undergone or is proposing to undergo a process (or part of a process) of reassigning their sex by changing physiological or other attributes. This definition means that in order to be protected under the Act, a pupil will not necessarily have to be undertaking a medical procedure to change their sex but must be taking steps to live in the opposite gender, or proposing to do so.”

When a young person takes steps such as using different pronouns, changing the clothes that they wear, or asking people to call them a different name, this is known as social transition. A transgender young person that has started a social transition is protected under the ‘gender reassignment’ characteristic in the Equality Act (2010).

2. Support can make a huge difference

Research (for example from Russell et al in 2018 and Olsen et al in 2016) shows that simple steps can be enormously beneficial for transgender young people’s mental health. This includes calling a transgender young person by the name they’ve asked you to use, or ensuring they can access toilets they feel comfortable using.

3. Transgender young people can change some of their documents

Transgender young people under 18 must have parental consent to change their name legally. They don’t need to have done this for their preferred name to be used for them at school or in other contexts, but you will need to record it in the ‘preferred name’ box on your systems. Whilst the UK’s current Gender Recognition Act (2004) doesn’t allow under 18s to change their birth certificate, transgender young people are able to change their passport details if they have a letter from a doctor and if they have changed their name legally.

Note: Scotland is currently in the process of revising its laws around gender recognition, so provisions for young people in Scotland may change in the near future.

4. It’s increasingly hard to access medical transition

When we talk about medical transition for teenagers, we’re mainly talking about puberty blockers. In the simplest of terms, puberty blockers act to press ‘pause’ on puberty and are reversible. They help stop things like periods and breast growth, voice breaking and beard growth. However, changing NHS guidelines and waiting lists of 3 or more years mean that this treatment is incredibly hard to access.

The Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) is being replaced by a series of new providers, and this means that NHS England is reviewing the service specification for the services providing specialist support for transgender young people. This service specification, which is currently out for public consultation, has been a cause of much concern. Those advocating for transgender young people have commented that the specification creates additional barriers for young people seeking support and sits in stark contrast to international best practice. Whilst puberty blockers have long been available to transgender teenagers on the NHS, the new specification states that they will only be available to those willing to participate in clinical research.

5. Conversion practices are still legal in the UK

Conversion practices (often known as conversion therapy) are attempts that seek to stop someone being LGBTQ+. These practices can be medical, psychiatric, psychological, religious or cultural. Not only are conversion practices unethical and harmful, they don’t work. Despite this, conversion practices are yet to be banned in the UK.

When you’re working with a transgender young person, though, the single most important thing you can do is listen to them and believe them when they tell you who they are. They’ll probably have lots more to say than a single blog ever could and you’ll learn a lot from them.

TransActual UK was founded by a group of British trans people in 2017 as a response to increasing press hostility, transphobia and misinformation. They are run by the trans community, with the trans community, for the trans community. You can learn more about their work here

SWU and BASW support Trans Awareness Week 2022

SWU and BASW are committed to collaborating and co-creating with those with lived LGBTQIA+ experience, and together we are working to achieve a more inclusive social work practice across the UK. Here are some of the steps we have taken in the past year:

In 2021 BASW published its Position Statement on Social Work with Transgender People underscoring BASW’s commitment to uphold the human rights of trans people in line with an overall approach to ethics and human rights for all.

In 2021 and early 2022 BASW, BASW Cymru, SASW, and SWU also responded to government consultations on banning conversion therapy. BASW UK and SWU support the call for a comprehensive ban on all forms of conversion therapy on the basis of sexuality or gender identity, and have asked for this to be considered as a matter of urgency. Taking this position is in keeping with BASW’s Code of Ethics, which advocates for the promotion of human dignity and well-being, the right to self-determination, respect for diversity, and the responsibility of social workers to challenge oppression on any basis.

Let's Talk Social Work  | BASW

The June 2022 Pride month episode of the BASW Let’s Talk Social Work podcast examined the issue of anti-trans discrimination and conversion therapy. The guests on this episode – who are members of the BASW UK and SWU LGBTQIA+ Action Group – discuss the discrimination faced by trans people, examine rates of anti-trans hate crime in the UK, and consider the Government’s decision to exclude trans people from its planned ban on the use of conversion therapy in England and Wales.

The TUC’s Trans Awareness Week webpage also has resources that include how to support non-binary workers, how to deal with and reduce transphobia in the workplace, and how to be a good trans ally at work. As the TUC says, “The trade union movement is built on solidarity among workers in an explicit acknowledgement that we are stronger together. This is why it’s important all working people, union members and trade union representatives are trans allies.”