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Alex Shar10689909_1016854768344392_8793741729286128967_npe, Professor of Law at Keele University and barrister at Garden Court Chambers, London. Twitter handle: alexsharpe64

We are familiar with opposition to rights acquisition by sexual and gender minorities, at least when it comes from socially conservative and/or religiously moral quarters. Yet, in our topsy-turvy world, it is elements of the liberal or libertarian left that increasingly appear to block the way. In this article, I will consider this disturbing tendency through the example of the recent announcement of the Equalities Minister Justine Greening that the government intends to liberalise legal arrangements governing legal recognition of gender identity.[1]

This reform proposal has led to sustained criticism from several leading liberal or libertarian political journalists. Thus it has been criticised by Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked Magazine,[2] and by Helen Lewis, the deputy editor of the New Statesman.[3] In this article, I want to take to task the central objection each raises. O’Neill objects to what he views as the re-writing of history regarding the ‘facts’ of gender. For her part, Lewis imagines all manner of harmful consequences that reform may produce for cisgender women. In O’Neill’s case, existing legal arrangements, as well as proposed reform, appear to represent an affront, while Lewis focuses on potential harms which she links to expanding the pool of people able to receive a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).

I will argue that O’Neill’s objection is based on a mistaken view of history, of historical analysis, of the doing of history. Conversely, Lewis’ claim is an empirical one, but one utterly lacking in evidence. What unites both is fantasy. Lewis’ imagination runs amok, sensitising the public to the possibility that one of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups in society (trans women) might, if permitted to pee in female bathrooms, have recourse to female refuges and/or be allocated to a gender-appropriate prison, prey on cisgender women. In a different register, O’Neill invokes the cultural power of Orwell and points to the dystopia he believes reform will inevitably deliver. (more…)

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Professor Alex Sharpe, Keele University10689909_1016854768344392_8793741729286128967_n

Today, at Manchester Crown Court, Gayle Newland was, after a second trial, convicted of three counts of the sexual offence of assault by penetration,[1] on the basis of ‘gender identity fraud.’[2] After serving eleven months of an eight year sentence, the Court of Appeal set aside her original conviction in 2015[3] because they found it to be ‘unsafe’ due to the summing up of trial judge, Roger Dutton.[4] In my view, prosecutions of this kind should not be commenced. My reasons for taking this stance include, but are not exhausted by, opposition to criminal law overreach (criminalisation of non-coercive, desire-led intimacy constitutes a step too far), and concern over legal inconsistency (contrast prosecution of gender non-conforming people for sexual fraud with the fact that deceptions, for example, as to wealth, social status, drug use, criminal convictions, religious belief and/or ethnic status produce no legal consequences), and discrimination (‘gender history’ is not only singled out for special legal attention, but it is the gender histories of LGBTQ kids, rather than people at large (for we all have gender histories), that appears to exhaust state interest in historical facts about gender). (more…)

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10689909_1016854768344392_8793741729286128967_nAlex Sharpe is Professor of Law at Keele University.

Over the last couple of years, I have written a series of articles addressing the issue of so-called ‘gender fraud,’ and opposing criminal prosecution on this basis. As recently as December of last year, I sought to take this prosecutorial practice to task in the context of the conviction of trans man, Kyran Lee, and before that Gayle Newland, whose eight year sentence shocked the nation.

I concluded the Kyran Lee piece with an ethical call, a plea for cisgender people to protest more vociferously regarding state intrusion into the lives of trans and gender queer people on the basis of a deception claim. I entertained the hope that the next witch hunt waiting to happen might be averted. Sadly, that hope has proved forlorn. Instead, it would seem that we are, much like Bill Murray, caught in a perpetual Groundhog Day – a cis and heteronormative ground zero. (more…)

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10689909_1016854768344392_8793741729286128967_nAlex Sharpe is a professor at Keele University School of Law.

Yesterday, the government’s Women and Equalities Commitee released its long-awaited report on transgender equality[1] The report is generally very positive in identifying a range of serious problems faced by transgender people and in making some important recommendations (especially in relation to healthcare provision, prison reform, depathologisation, and legal recognition of trans youth (16/17 year olds) and non-binary people). However, the committee side-stepped the important issue of prosecutions for ‘gender fraud,’ despite receiving written submissions on this subject. Accordingly, an important opportunity to address the travesty of such prosecutions has been missed.

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Alex Sharpe is a professor at Keele University School of Law. She has been involved in transgender law reform and activism for over twenty years, and has written extensively on the criminalisation of so-called ‘gender fraud’ under the Sexual Offences Act. Alex has recently been interviewed by CBC Radio Canada on the Gayle Newland case, together with Professor Madden Demsey. Her interview can be found here.

On 15th September, Gayle Newland was convicted of three counts of sexual assault under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. She is currently awaiting sentence, though a custodial term has been indicated. The case is the latest in a series of so-called, and so far successful, ‘gender fraud’ based prosecutions that have come before English (R v Barker [2012] (unrep); R v McNally [2013] EWCA Crim 1051) and Scottish (R v Wilson [2013] (unrep)) courts. Barker and McNally received significant custodial sentences[1] and all convicted defendants have been placed on the Sexual Offenders Register for life.

Most of the media and legal coverage of the Newland case, like the cases of Barker, McNally and Wilson before it, has tended, unproblematically, to reproduce a fraud narrative, rather than challenge the ideological underpinnings of a worldview that makes fraud such an easy conclusion for courts and juries to draw. Of course, prosecution for ‘gender fraud’ is deeply troubling for other reasons. In the first place, prosecutions can be viewed as a significant example of criminal law overreach. That is, and irrespective of where we determine consent to end or deception to begin, the use of the criminal law to regulate deceptive, as opposed to coercive, sexual relations, can be viewed as an overly draconian and counter-productive measure. (more…)

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10689909_1016854768344392_8793741729286128967_nProfessor Alex Sharpe, School of Law, Keele University

Until very recently, I used to think transgender people were an especially vulnerable group in our society. It certainly appeared so. Didn’t they experience far more violence, discrimination and general incivility than most of us? In fact, I’m sure I remember reading somewhere (somewhere credible in fact) that 42% of transgender people never come out at work for fear of losing their jobs. Well you can understand it really. Indeed, and sorry for being pedantic, but wasn’t it the case, despite an obvious clear and present danger, that law, and the criminal justice system more generally, failed miserably to protect transgender people’s bodily and sexual autonomy? In fact, I might be mistaken (though I think you’ll find I’m not), but wasn’t it the case that the very definition of rape excluded transgender women so that cisgender men could basically rape them with impunity (see, further, my article ‘The Failure to Degenderise the Law of Rape: The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act and the Transsexual Rape Victim’ (1995) The Criminal Lawyer, 7-8). Of course, some things have improved. But none of this really matters, because this version of recent history (while true) is no longer fashionable.

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