A PETITION to maintain the Equality Act in its current form has gathered over 100,000 signatures after the UK Government announced they would amend protections for transgender people.

Earlier this week, Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, also minister for women and equalities, stated that the Tories are considering changing the legal definition of sex in the Equality Act, legislation brought in under Labour prime minister Gordon Brown.

Badenoch had asked the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), a UK Government body, to look at legislation around the definition of a “woman” and how it operates, following the Scottish Parliament passing the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

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The Equality Act 2010 aims to protect citizens in the UK from unlawful treatment stemming from discrimination of a person’s “protected characteristics”, which includes age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage, pregnancy, race, religion, sex and sexuality.

Its purpose was to enshrine equal opportunities in the workplace and wider society, and to protect people from the harms of discrimination, for example, losing their job due to pregnancy.

But now, the UK Government is considering making amendments to the legislation to define sex as “biological” in regard to single-sex spaces and sports, following advice from the EHRC.

The petition on the UK Parliament’s website was first launched in January 2023, two weeks after Scottish Secretary Alister Jack used Section 35 of the Scotland Act to block the gender reform legislation from being given Royal Assent.

The National: Badenoch has said the Tories are considering making amendments to the Equality ActBadenoch has said the Tories are considering making amendments to the Equality Act (Image: PA)

On Thursday, the petition started to gather speed after Badenoch’s comments, garnering around 40,000 signatures by the early evening.

By Friday afternoon, the number had more than doubled, with 105,649 people signing the petition. A total of 2164 people signed in the space of an hour, the website confirmed.

Now that the petition has surpassed the 100,000 threshold, it will be considered for debate in the House of Commons.

The petition reads: “It has been reported that the Government may amend the Equality Act to ‘make it clear that sex means biological sex rather than gender’.

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“The Government has previously committed to not remove legal protections for trans people, an already marginalised group, but this change would do so.”

The Equality Act, the petition’s author adds, protects transgender people from discrimination on both the basis of sex and gender reassignment - regardless of whether or not the person has undergone a medical transition or holds a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).

“It can allow trans people to access single-sex spaces such as DV shelters, bathrooms and hospital wards,” the petition added.

“The proposed change would remove a legal protection for trans people and encourage discrimination. We ask the Government to refuse this change to the Equality Act 2010.”

The National: Jack blocked Scotland's gender reforms from becoming law in JanuaryJack blocked Scotland's gender reforms from becoming law in January (Image: Andrew Milligan/PA)

The petition reached the first 10,000 signatory threshold on January 25, with the UK Government providing a response insisting that no changes would be made to the Act.

“This Government believes in individual liberty,” the UK Government said in response to the petition in January.

“There are processes with appropriate checks to allow for those who wish to legally change their gender. Changes to the Equality Act are not necessary.”

However, in February, Badenoch wrote to the EHRC to ask for its consideration about whether the definition of sex is “sufficiently clear and strikes the appropriate balance of interests between different protected characteristics”.

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The EHRC said in response that amending the definition of sex “merits further consideration”.

“On balance, we believe that redefining ‘sex’ in EqA to mean biological sex would create rationalisations, simplifications, clarity and/or reductions in risk for maternity services, providers and users of other services, gay and lesbian associations, sports organisers and employers,” it stated.

A change in the definition could be “more ambiguous or potentially disadvantageous” when it comes to equal pay provisions, direct sex discrimination and indirect sex discrimination, the EHRC also said. The Equality Act allows for exemptions to single-sex services to exclude transgender people when it is “proportionate to a legitimate aim”.

The National: On Friday the petition gathered over 2000 signatures in an hourOn Friday the petition gathered over 2000 signatures in an hour (Image: UK Parliament)

However, if the UK Government changes the definition of “sex” then there would be no need for organisations or clubs to prove they have a “legitimate aim” when excluding transgender people.

Transgender people could also be barred from accessing public bathrooms that accord with their acquired gender, a situation which LGBT charities say could jeopardise their safety.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was mulling over the advice, and said considering biology is “important” in protecting women’s rights.

We previously told how a former legal director at the EHRC described the plans as “pure transphobia”.