'This is essential for true equality'

Much has been written in the Guernsey Press in recent months about the proposed new discrimination law for Guernsey, particularly by those concerned about the potential impact on local businesses, but what about those whom the legislation is intended to protect?

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As a gay transgender man with disabilities, this writer, who has asked to remain anonymous, knows more than most why a discrimination law is needed.

In the first of a series of three articles, he tackles some of the myths and fears surrounding the subject:

I WOULD like to explain that I am a transgender man, am gay, am registered as severe sight impaired, have mental and physical health issues and have autism.

While everybody can potentially be discriminated against, I am aware that I face some more likely scenarios/challenges. I can only comment in relation to my own experience – there are lots of areas which I do not have understanding or experience of.

Firstly, I believe it is essential that the new discrimination law covers all grounds (all protected characteristics) and that it is to be comprehensive from the start.

Secondly, this law is not about what is already criminal behaviour. If somebody assaults me because I am transgender or because I am gay, if someone defrauds me and I am unaware because I am blind, if somebody pretends to be transgender to assault someone or if someone pretends to be blind to con people, these are all criminal acts.

There seems to be a lot of public confusion that discrimination law is going to be a loophole for people to abuse. Discrimination law is about treating all people with dignity and respect and giving fair opportunity. Acts which are criminal are dealt with under criminal law already – they are completely separate areas.

I would add that provision of support is also a separate matter – it is only a discrimination issue if I cannot access the same things as other people or am treated differently (unreasonably) because of one of the protected grounds I hold.

Thirdly, there are currently a lot of myths and fears with focus on definitions of gender/sex and access to same-sex spaces, and the potential ‘outrageous costs’ of making reasonable adjustments. There has been little said against things like sexual orientation or race, as it is now accepted these are not grounds for differentiating people, although it is not long ago that similar arguments were used about those issues.

The reality is that many people, businesses and organisations do cater for different needs and in those cases nothing would have to change. It is in situations where this is not happening that individuals need something to formalise their rights. Often this is not going to cost a lot of money and it is more a change of thinking and approach, for both disability and gender.

I know that businesses fear the cost of making changes, but as an individual I fear that the grounds for adjustments being ‘too unreasonable a burden’ might be used as an excuse to evade them.

I would like to say that I have not experienced any major issues with discrimination. I have had employers make reasonable adjustments and I have had businesses be very understanding in a range of ways. However, I have had areas which have been difficult or where things could have been done in a better way.

The discrimination law is essential to enable people to have true equality. This isn’t about us all having the same abilities or skills, or about people having to employ people who aren’t able to do the job or spending millions on adjusting buildings. This is about giving people access to facilities, goods, services and accommodation.

If I hadn’t made personal statements and references to my own situation, you would not know that I had used assistive technology to write the words you are reading now. You certainly wouldn’t know my gender, sexuality, trans identity, disability, race, age, employment or anything else – and none of that should stop me being able to engage in island life or invalidate any of my comments.

Sometimes I need things doing a little differently in order to be able to engage with things. There will always be some things which I cannot do. Guernsey has a great opportunity to put real equality into law here, to ensure that everyone is treated in the right way.

Don't miss part 2 on Thursday.

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