'Marks & Spencer's transgender policy puts women at risk'

Marks & Spencer’s transgender policy which allows men who identify as women to use female changing rooms ‘puts women and girls at risk’ from voyeurs, say campaigners

  • Liz Truss says shops entitled to deny male-born people access to female spaces
  • Equalities Minister plans to issue new guidance on ‘trans-inclusive’ policies
  • Single-sex space campaigner Baroness Emma Nicholson wrote to M&S chairman
  • Warned policy puts women and girls at risk of being spied on by sexual predators

Marks & Spencer’s practice of allowing men who identify as women to use female changing rooms is at odds with the law and could encourage voyeurism, the high street giant has been told.

It follows the clearest statement yet from Equalities Minister Liz Truss that the Government is rejecting ‘trans-inclusive’ policies that some believe threaten women’s rights.

M&S has faced protests from customers for opening its female changing rooms to anyone who describes themselves as a woman. 

Campaigners have suggested Marks & Spencer’s practice of allowing men who identify as women to use female changing rooms could encourage voyeurism

Feminist campaigners say shops and other organisations have been misled by trans rights activists who claim equality laws mean they must accept male-born ‘self-identifying’ women as female or face allegations of illegal discrimination. 

The retailer has defended its approach, insisting ‘as an inclusive retailer and in line with most other retailers, we allow customers the choice of fitting room in respect of how they identify themselves’.

The erosion of single-sex services in the name of trans rights is understood to be of growing concern to Ministers and Tory MPs. 

Ms Truss has now made clear that shops and service providers are legally entitled to deny male-born people access to female spaces and plans to issue new guidance.

Equalities Minister Liz Truss said the Government is rejecting ‘trans-inclusive’ policies that some believe threaten women’s rights

In a letter published by her office, she said: ‘I have made my commitment to protecting single-sex spaces for women and girls clear. 

‘Zero tolerance’ for mixed wards 

NHS rules allowing male-born trans women to use female wards are set to be rewritten as Ministers demand a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to mixed-sex arrangements in the health service.

Health Minister Lord Jim Bethell has revealed that controversial rules introduced last year could be changed again after a backlash from feminists and patient groups.

In September, guidance for hospital trusts said people with male genitals could be accommodated on female wards if they describe themselves as women. The document was criticised by feminist groups and some Tory MPs, prompting Lord Bethell to signal a review.

In a written statement to the Lords, he said: ‘The guidance is clear that providers of National Health Service-funded care are expected to have a zero-tolerance approach to mixed-sex accommodation, except where it is in the overall best interest of all patients affected.’

‘As part of this work I will ensure that Government guidance gives a clear message to service providers, schools and others, putting their ability to provide single-sex spaces beyond doubt.’

The letter was cited by Baroness Emma Nicholson, a Lib Dem peer who campaigns for single-sex spaces, in a dossier that she sent to M&S warning its stance on changing rooms is wrong and potentially harmful.

In a letter to M&S chairman Archie Norman, she claimed M&S had ‘misunderstood’ the law on equality and single-sex spaces. Referring to Ms Truss’s statements on trans issues, she told Mr Norman: ‘I believe you may wish to follow the Government’s line and resume single-sex spaces for the changing rooms in your stores.’

She also warned that allowing anyone who says they are a woman to enter female changing areas puts women and girls at risk of being spied on and photographed by sexual predators.

‘Since changing of clothes can lead to voyeurism, newer legislation (the upskirting law) calls this laxness of provision into question,’ she wrote.

M&S said it had assured Baroness Nicholson its fitting rooms ‘provide secure and private spaces’ with individual lockable cubicles. 

‘We recognise customers will self-identify and respect their right to choose the fitting rooms they feel comfortable in.’

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