U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to make it easier for transgender people to apply for a legal name and gender change in a Wednesday speech.
Speaking at London’s Pink News Awards, the head of government broke with some members of the conservative right by proclaiming that being transgender is “not an illness.” May, who took over for David Cameron last year, pledged to update the country’s Gender Recognition Act to “streamline and de-medicalise” the process of updating identity documents.
“Trans people still face indignities and prejudicewhen they deserve understanding and respect,” May told the crowd. “And when we look around the world, we see countries where the human rights of LGBTQ people are denied and terrible suffering is the result.”
The head of state also pledged to provide more inclusive educational opportunities for LGBTQ students, which includes making schools safer for queer and trans youth.
“We are pressing ahead with inclusive relationships and sex education in English schools, making sure that LGBT issues are taught well,” May said, adding: “We’re determined to eradicate homophobic and transphobic bullying.”
The current Prime Minister, whose attendance proved controversial on social media, appeared at the awards alongside former PM Tony Blair and current Labour Party head Jeremy Corbyn. Justine Greening, the education secretary who came out on Twitter following the Brexit vote, received an award for Politician Of The Year.
Greening, the first openly lesbian woman to hold a U.K. cabinet position, discussed her 2016 coming-out post in her acceptance speech.
“When I sent that tweet last year, I did it because I realised that I needed to be part of the solution and part of helping things move on,” she said. “But I got a huge amount of support from so many people in this room and outside and it really inspired me and encouraged me to do what I can in my own powers, not only as a minister for equalities but as Secretary for Educationwhich is the best job in Government.”
“The best thing is, there are now so many politicians in our Parliament which are part of this cause and part of changing things for the better,” Greening added.
May’s comments on transgender recognition are in stark contrast to earlier remarks by Tory activist Mary Douglas, who made headlines in April after claiming that barriers to changing one’s name and gender exist to protect people from themselves.
“What’s interesting is that many people who have gender dysphoria also have other mental health conditions like depression or drug addiction,” Douglas said in an interview with the Today program on Radio 4. “They are deeply troubled and it has been proven that when they change their gender, that doesn’t solve those issues.”
Current guidelines in the U.K. state that a trans person must live as their true self two years before a doctor can grant them permission to update their legal documents. Current guidelines also bar those under 18 from applying for a name or gender change.
A plan proposed earlier this year would also allow nonbinary people to be recognized neither as male nor female, designated instead by a neutral “X.”