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The equalities watchdog chief has said there is “genuine public concern” that trans rights are conflicting with the rights of women.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine, the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said that over the last five years the debate over “sex versus gender” has become “more polarised”.

Her comments come after the human rights body wrote to the Scottish Government asking it to pause plans to make it legally easier for people to change gender.

The watchdog urged that “more detailed consideration is needed” of the legislation, which would allow people to declare their legal gender rather than requiring a diagnosis from a doctor that they are suffering from gender dysphoria.

Debate has shifted

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday, Baroness Falkner said the call for the pause was partly due to the debate over trans rights shifting considerably since the 2017 consultation on the Scottish bill.

She said: “What has changed is quite significant, from the original consultation in 2017 to now, nearly five years, there has been a significant public debate around issues of sex versus gender.

“They have become more complex and more polarised. Public understanding of gender identity has broadened beyond the legal definition of gender reassignments. This engages conflicts of rights issues.

“There are perceptions that those defending the rights of trans people conflict with those defending the rights of women.”

When pressed on whether she thought there is a clash between trans and women’s rights, Baroness Falkner added: “There is a genuine public concern that they conflict.”

New guidance to be published

The exchange comes as the EHRC is due to publish guidance for organisations on how to deal with single sex issues and spaces.

Baroness Falker said the guidelines would cover areas such as “participating in drug testing in competitive sport [and] measures to address other barriers facing women”.

Meanwhile, the EHRC has faced criticism by LGBT campaigners for its intervention on the Scottish bill.

The charity Stonewall said it was “deeply troubled” by the call to pause the legislation, saying it would mean further delays to changes trans people have been “waiting on for many years”.

The Scottish Government also pushed back on the EHRC’s call, saying “our support for trans rights does not conflict with our continued strong commitment to advance equality and to protect and uphold women’s rights.”

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon Credit: AFP

Since Baroness Falkner’s appointment by Liz Truss to head up the EHRC in 2020, the watchdog has waded into a number of debates over trans rights.

Last year, Baroness Falkner came to the defence of Professor Kathleen Stock, who left her post at Sussex University after being targeted by pro-trans activists for her views on gender and sex.

Baroness Falkner described the attacks on the academic as disgraceful and called for tougher regulation to protect people from abuse.

Last year, the EHRC also pulled out of a Stonewall diversity scheme amid a row over transgender activism.

It left the LGBT charity’s Diversity Champions programme in March citing concerns over “value for money”.

No platform for visiting professors

The move came after the charity was embroiled in a row over advice it gave the University of Essex over the decision to no-platform two visiting professors accused of transphobia.

Yesterday, the crossbench peer, who is a former Liberal Democrat, also defended her appointment to lead the EHRC as well as her record supporting LGBT rights.

She said: “I was appointed following a rigorous public appointments process, the UK Government appoints public appointments in much the same way as the Scottish Government does.

“They shadow exactly the same process, so if there are allegations of my having influenced the decision by being there myself, you only have to look at the evidence. I have been in Parliament for nearly 18 years, I voted for same sex marriage, I voted for all things that re-enforce and support LGBT rights.” 

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