The Scottish Transgender Alliance and Equality Network said legislation and public attitudes need to change to improve rights for transgender and intersex people, and called for a third gender – for people who do not identify as either male or female – to be introduced in Scotland.
At a conference to be held in Edinburgh this week representatives from public bodies including the NHS, Police Scotland and the Prison Service to meet members of the transgender community.
Current legislation does not count intersex people – those who are born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male – in existing discrimination laws, meaning they can face exclusion in the workplace without any legal recourse.
Transgender people can also be exempt from discrimination laws if they have not already begun planning gender reassignment treatment.
A recent study from the Equality Network showed that 98 per cent of transgender people in Scotland say they have faced discrimination. Incidents include verbal and physical abuse and discriminatory treatment in employment and services. The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2010 found that 49 per cent of people would be unhappy if a family member had a relationship with a transgender person.
Nathan Gale, Scottish Transgender Alliance Policy Officer for the Equality Network, said: “Scotland likes to pride itself on our ambition to create a fair and equal society for everyone, but the rights of transgender and intersex people are too often left behind.
“In 2014, equality under the law should be a minimum standard for all citizens but for trans and intersex people we still haven’t achieved it. We also have much further to go to ensure that people no longer experience prejudice and discrimination in their day-to-day lives.
“We cannot truly say that Scotland stands for equality while trans and intersex people are still unable to access basic services that meet their needs, or walk down the street without fear of getting abused.”
He said the option of a third gender category had already been introduced in Australia and New Zealand. Campaigners want the introduction of a category known as “other” in Scotland, in line with some other European countries. “We recognise it is going to be a long term campaign,” he said.
Organisers said NHS Scotland is failing to meet its national patient waiting time guarantee of 18 weeks from referral to treatment. Instead, transgender patients have to wait up to two years just for an initial appointment, which activists said could have a “damaging impact” on their mental wellbeing.
Research has shown that at least a third of transgender people in Scotland attempt suicide. Many cite prejudice and the long barriers to securing gender reassignment treatment as contributing factors.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government is fully committed to equality for transgender and intersex people and added the ‘I’ to LGBTI earlier this year as a visible symbol of that. We are working closely with partners such as the Scottish Transgender Alliance (STA) to further develop our understanding of intersex issues and learn from international best practice. The next phase of our ‘Scotland believes in equality’ campaign will include a focus on LGBTI equality. The issue of lengthy waiting times for appointments has been raised with us by the STA and we will look at options which may address the difficulties.”