Civil servants in Northern Ireland risk being sacked if they do not use transgender people’s preferred pronouns, after new rules were brought in while the Stormont Assembly was suspended.
The rules dictate that “names and pronouns should be followed in accordance with the individual’s wishes”. Failure to do so would be treated as harassment and could lead to disciplinary action including dismissal.
The change was made to the civil service staff handbook in April 2019 but was only made public last month.
The policy states: “Trans people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, gender-queer, gender-fluid, non-binary, gender-variant, crossdresser, genderless, agender, nongender, third gender, two-spirit, bi-gender, trans man, trans woman, trans masculine, trans feminine and neutrois.”
It continues: “intentionally and persistently” referring to someone according to their true sex or previous name “would amount to harassment and should not be tolerated.”.
It also states that those who say they are transgender should be able to use the toilets and changing rooms provided for the opposite sex.
The changes to the staff handbook were criticised by former Finance Minister Mervyn Storey MLA, who said that many people would not “sit comfortably” with the policy – both those of faith and the non-religious alike.
Of the nine groups consulted in making the changes, seven were LGBT activist groups, including Stonewall, TransgenderNI, and GenderJam.
But Storey, who holds to the biblical perspective of male and female, suggested that “if they had consulted with The Christian Institute or with faith organisations, they’d have got a different view as to how they should apply the rules”.
He added the decision should not have been taken at the “whim” of civil servants and said “It’s an issue that needs to be revisited. Its legality will have to be looked at”.
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) told the Belfast News Letter that “Equality law protects everyone at work and it is important that all employers operate within the law”.
But the taxpayer-funded quango that lost the landmark ‘gay cake’ case against Ashers Baking Company at the UK Supreme Court in 2018 added: “The NICS policy seems to be in keeping with equality laws.”
The Christian Institute’s Deputy Director for Public Affairs Simon Calvert said: “This is a form of coerced speech and a great many people will object to being forced to use these terms.
“The Bible is clear that people are made male and female. Christian civil servants in particular will feel that to use anything other than someone’s true gender goes against their sincerely-held beliefs.
“The rules must make it plain that people who respectfully express those beliefs are still welcome in the civil service and can work according to their conscience without fear of reprisal.”