A fight for change

A reply from the Government Equalities Office

Today I received a reply to my letter to the Government Equalities Office. And here it is:

Dear Mr Broughton,

Thank you for your letter of 23 September 2014 regarding the legal recognition of asexuality.

I am sorry to hear that you have experienced prejudice because of your asexuality. However, the Government believes that an amendment of discrimination law based on attitudes to asexuality would not be appropriate.

Discrimination law is based on protection for people against discrimination because of particular characteristics (described as “protected characteristics”). These are, in the Equality Act 2010: age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. These characteristics also reflect EU legislation. As you recognise, the sexual orientation characteristic is defined as a person’s sexual orientation towards persons of the same sex, the opposite sex, or either sex, which explicitly does not cover asexuality.

A strong evidence base has built up over time that people with these protected characteristics have faced serious discrimination affecting their employment prospects and access to goods and services, like housing, health services and education, leading to disadvantage for themselves and their dependants. As there is not the same level of robust evidence for discrimination on the basis of asexuality, the Government is not looking to bring forward this change in discrimination law.

That said, there are situations in which an asexual person is protected by the Equality Act — for example, the Act bans discrimination based on the perception that someone does have a protected characteristic, or because they are associated with someone who has that characteristic.

If you would like advice on your experience of discrimination, you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Services (EASS). The EASS provide [sic] bespoke advice and in-depth support to individuals with discrimination problems and can be contacted on the following number: 0800 444 205 (or textphone 0800 444 206). Their website is at: https://www.equalityadvisoryservice.com/.

I hope this is helpful to you.

Yours sincerely,
Lucy Kennedy,
Policy Assistant, LGB&T Equality

Clearly this isn’t good news. The only hope of getting protection by law and from Government is to be discriminated against and reporting it. The paragraph about the protection we do have is of little comfort: we are only protected if people assume that we have a sexual orientation towards either sex and then discriminate against us.

Unfortunately, discrimination against asexuals can, does, and will happen. It is legal to discriminate against asexuals. And the Government are unwilling to do anything about because they do not believe it is necessary. In fact, the Equality Act is an example of discrimination against asexuals.

The political parties appear to have no appetite to outlaw such discrimination either.

So what’s next? Well, there’s the long game. Be discriminated against. Be accused of frigidity. Be sent to counsellors and therapists. Be sent to doctors for “corrective treatment”. Be sent to others for “corrective treatment”… Be hassled to get married and have children. Be told you’re not normal, that you’re a freak, that you’re not human. Then report these incidents (they are not crimes, though, remember). Then hope enough people are brave and persevering enough to report them. Then hope Government notices these incidents and debate a change.

This is not good enough.

The alternative is to campaign. Win hearts and minds. Share understanding, breed knowledge. Get people to contact their local MPs. Get people to sign a petition. Make Government notice. Make Government legally recognise asexuality and protect asexuals.

Addendum
This is the letter I sent to the GEO to which they replied.

Email sent to major political parties

Forgive me, I grew impatient. It has been more than two weeks since I sent letters to the political parties and received a reply (nay, an acknowledgement) from only the Conservative Party. I thought, perhaps, there were more appropriate places to send the request for more policy information than to the campaign headquarters. Indeed, for some of the parties, there appear to be such places.

I have just sent emails (or completed web forms) to the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the United Kingdom Independence Party and the Green Party. The Conservatives advised me to contact the Government Equalities Office, so I shall await their reply. The email contained an almost-carbon-copy of the original letter, save for a note at the start of the message noting that I have already sent a letter (dated 16th September).

Hopefully I should get some responses soon.

Addendum
I should add that I may have, in haste and carelessness, asked UKIP for the Green Party’s policy. I apologise openly for that oversight. However, I hope they can understand that this is my greatest concern and my alliances may be forged by an appropriate response and that I am not contacting them in isolation because of this.

Letter to the Government Equalities Office

You could say I’m quite determined. I want to know what policy the Conservatives have (if they have any at all) with regard to the protection of asexuals. As they suggested, I have sent another letter. Rather than the Department of Women and Equalities (which I do not believe exists) I have sent the letter to the Government Equalities Office (GEO) at the same address.

I realise that it probably is not the right place to find Tory policy; however, the GEO should have a policy of their own and, even if they haven’t, it would be interesting to know what their thoughts are with regard to this issue. So this is the letter I sent.

To whom it may concern,

I am writing to you with regard to the recognition of asexuality as a sexual orientation within the protective laws of the United Kingdom. As an asexual person, I am concerned that the policy of the Government Equalities Office (GEO) that aim to promote and protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people do not appear to extend to asexual people.

I have been in contact with my local Member of Parliament, The Rt. Hon. Mr Ronnie Campbell MP for Blyth Valley. His response to my letter, with confirmation from the House of Commons Library, establishes that asexuals are not included in the definition for a sexual orientation in the Equality Act 2010 (EA 2010), Section 12. Therefore, the laws that protect individuals on the basis of sexual orientation do not apply to asexual people.

It is my concern that, as more individuals recognise asexuality in themselves and others, discrimination and hate crime towards asexuals will become more frequent. As someone that has endured prejudice of this nature, I find it intolerable that EA 2010 does not offer the same protection as it does to other sexual orientations. An oft-heard refrain from such-prejudiced individuals is that asexuals are weird and not human-like; that EA 2010 excludes protection for asexuals only supports their prejudice.

I am proud of and commend the continuing ethos in which EA 2010 was written and Government Equalities Office (GEO) operates; however I have read the GEO’s Policy webpages and found no indication of any intention to make the necessary amendments to EA 2010. Indeed, asexuality is not mentioned at all.

As a community, asexuals do not wish for this discrimination to become prevalent and, given its purpose, I am sure that the GEO does not wish to advocate discrimination against asexual persons either.

I am writing, therefore, to establish the policy of the Government Equalities Office to ensure that asexual people are protected by law from discrimination.

I have also been directed by the Office of the Party Chairmen of the Conservative Party to write to you directly to establish the policy of the Conservative Party with regard to the same issue.

I eagerly await your reply for my own and others’ reassurance and I thank you in advance for taking the time to respond to my letter.

Yours faithfully,
Stephen Broughton.

A reply from The Conservative Party

This morning I received my first reply to the letters I sent to some political parties. The Conservatives win for speed in sending me a response. However, the good news rather ends there. Having asked the Conservatives what their policy towards promoting and protecting asexuals, this was their response.

Dear Mr Broughton,

I am writing on behalf of the Party Chairman, The Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, who has asked me to thank you for your letter of 16th September.

It is good of you to get in touch and make us aware of your thoughts.

It is most appropriate for correspondence regarding specific issues such as this to be directed to the Government, rather than the Conservative Party. In light of this, I would encourage you to contact the Department for Women and Equalities directly by writing to 100 Parliament Street, London, SW1A 2BQ.

Thank you, once again, for taking the time and trouble to get in touch.

Yours sincerely,
Oliver Wells
Office of the Party Chairmen
Conservative Campaign Headquarters

Now, this seems to me a bit peculiar. Why would a question about a party’s policy towards asexuality be better addressed to the Government? I can only infer from this that the Conservative Party have no such policy and no intention to introduce a policy. However, you can read for yourselves the letter that I sent to the Conservative Party Headquarters and their reply in full and allow you to reach your own conclusions.

In the meantime, I will work on a letter to the Department for Women and Equalities (to whom I had planned on sending a letter anyway) to ask for the Conservative Party’s policy on asexual equality.

Letter to major political parties

Since the letter I received from my local MP concentrated on the Equality Act 2010, I decided that I will concentrate on that, for now. So I’ve written another letter.

Well, letters. Seeing as there is going to be a General Election next year, I am writing to five political parties to establish their views and policies on asexuality protection. It is quite vague and does not make any demands at this stage. I want to get as rounded a picture of their stances as possible before seeking to push for promises.

So the following letter will be sent to the Conservative Party, the Green Party, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the United Kingdom Independence Party. They will all receive the following letter.

To whom it may concern,

I am writing to you with regard to the issue of the recognition of asexuality as a sexual orientation within the protective laws of the United Kingdom. Since I identify myself as being asexual, I am concerned that current plans that aim to promote and protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people do not appear to extend naturally to asexual people.

I have recently been in touch with my current local Member of Parliament, The Rt. Hon. Mr Ronnie Campbell MP for Blyth Valley. His response to my letter, with confirmation from the House of Commons Library confirms that asexuals are not included in the definition for a sexual orientation in the Equality Act 2010 (EA 2010), Section 12. Therefore, the laws that protect individuals on the basis of sexual orientation do not apply to asexual people.

It is my concern that, as more individuals recognise asexuality in themselves and others, discrimination and hate crime towards asexuals will become more frequent. As someone that has endured prejudice of this nature, I find it intolerable that EA 2010 does not offer the same protection as it does to other sexual orientations. An oft-heard refrain from such-prejudiced individuals is that asexuals are weird and not human-like; that EA 2010 does not include asexuals only supports their prejudice.

As a community, asexuals do not wish for this discrimination to become prevalent. Now is the opportune time to act. The United Kingdom could become the first country to pass protective legislation to protect asexuals and, as a leading, progressive nation, I believe that is something that we should strive for.

I am keen, therefore, to be informed of the <insert party name>’s policy towards the protection of asexuals and the commitments it intends to make following the forthcoming General Election. I look forward to your reply.

Yours faithfully,
Stephen Broughton.

A reply from my local MP

In my previous A fight for change post, I posted a letter I sent to my local Member of Parliament. I received his reply today, so I’d like to thank Mr Campbell for his prompt response to my query. His response is below.

Dear Mr Broughton,

Re: Recognition of asexuality

Further to your enquiry to the office regarding the above, this is to confirm that I contacted the House of Commons Library and reiterated your concerns to the employment and equality law specialist.

Please find enclosed your response regarding asexuality and the Equality Act 2010.

I trust the above clarifies the situation, however if you require further assistance, then please do not hesitate to contact my office.

Yours sincerely,
Ronnie Campbell MP

The enclosed document was thorough (three pages, no less) and reflected upon the laws and court action that has been provoked by legislation with regard to asexuality. I thank the gentleman that composed this document. Since it is thorough, I will post highlights of the document, including the warning:

This information is provided to Members of Parliament in support of their parliamentary duties and is not intended to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. It should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. A suitably qualified professional should be consulted if specific advice or information is required.

You have been warned!

Here is a summary (and a few quotes) of this document.

  • “In short, the constituent [me] is broadly correct: the definition of sexual orientation under the Equality Act 2010 (EA 2010) does not expressly encompass asexuality.”He quotes Katherine Monaghan QC, a leading commentator on equality law:

    the EA 2010 does not address discrimination against a person because they are asexual. The EA 2010 assumes that such a person has no sexuality at all (or none justifying protection). This is on the presumed basis that we all have a sexual drive towards one sex or another, or both.

    (Monaghan on Equality Law, 2013, p.238)

  • “This failure to address discrimination against asexuals may be more a product of oversight than intention. The EA 2010’s definition of sexual orientation was based on that used in regulation 2(1) of The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 (SI 2003/1661), which implemented EU Council Directive 2000/78/EC.”Looking at SI 2003/1661, the definition is, indeed, identical. He suggested that the Government at the time proposed this definition, which was not challenged in Parliament. Similarly, when EA 2010 was adopted, there were few challenges in Parliament, presumably since the Act itself is considered broadly a good thing — and, of course, it is.
  • “Despite the above, it is still possible that the Act could eventually prohibit such discrimination. The courts are required to interpret the Act in accordance with EU law, including case law, which may in time come to encompass asexuality within the definition of sexual orientation. It appears that, at present, the EU has not addressed this issue due to a lack of evidence that asexuals are suffering discrimination.”
  • He noted the response to a question sent by a member of a Spanish Member of Parliament to the European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship at the European Commission, Viviane Reding. The summarising question was, “Does the Commission not believe it should give attention to asexual people in programmes to ensure equality regardless of sexual orientation?”The response was reassuring in that the European Commission appears sympathetic; and: “The Commission is not aware of reported cases of discrimination by asexual persons in employment in the framework of this directive and does not dispose of any solid evidence of discrimination suffered by this group” (European Parliament, Official Journal C 55E, 26/02/2014).
  • “Of course, this does not address the constituent’s concern that the EA 2010 does not expressly prohibit discrimination against asexuals, which could only be addressed by amending section 12.”

So, the gist of this document is that there have been no cases of discrimination against asexuals; EA 2010 doesn’t expressly forbid such discrimination; but it may still offer protection to those that need it.

I would appreciate suggestions for what I should be doing next. This letter has both reassured me and confirmed my worries. Ideally, Section 12 of EA 2010 should be changed: not only to protect asexuals, but also for the knowledge that my country recognises who we are. Once this happens, I hope there are fewer children growing up thinking that there must be something wrong with them.

Letter to my local MP

Here is a letter that I will be sending to my local MP today.

Dear Mr Campbell,

I am writing to you with regard to the issue of the recognition of asexuality as a sexual orientation within the protective laws of the United Kingdom. Since I identify myself as being asexual, I am concerned that current plans that aim to promote and protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people do not appear to extend naturally to asexual people.

Although you may well be aware of what asexuality is — that being the lack of sexual attraction to others — you may not be aware of the issues that affect asexuals and why such promotion and protection is needed.

Even the terms “asexual” and “asexuality” are not readily understood by the public at large. There have been news articles in the media, notably from the BBC News website, that have presented the idea of asexuality. However, beyond these examples, it is difficult to name any celebrities or characters that portray asexuality as role models.

As an aside, Sherlock Holmes has been touted as a possible asexual character. In Conan Doyle’s books and the recent television series there has been no pretext to Holmes’s sexuality. However, there have been plenty of assertions that Holmes may have been sexually attracted to Dr. Watson as a consequence of his sexuality not being known. This serves as an example as to how alien the notion of someone lacking sexual attraction is to the general public.

A past study has suggested that 1% of the population are asexual, and various commentators have suggested that it could be significantly more. The issues of awareness and promotion are stark: not only do asexuals face constant questions about what it means to be asexual, but the lack of information causes a prolonged and painful search for one’s identity. Some asexuals experience depression since they struggle to understand the differences they experience from the majority. Although I realise that I have been asexual all my life, I was not able to understand this until the publication of the aforementioned BBC News articles when I was 27.

With regard to protection, there are many areas of law that are not prepared for the protection of asexual people. One such example is the issue of divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour. It is my understanding that the lack of a sexual relationship is sufficient grounds to file a petition for divorce. Therefore, regardless of any understanding reached prior to marriage, a married asexual is susceptible to the threat of a petition from their partner.

It is also clear that, currently, the Equality Act 2010 does not protect asexuals. The Act states in Part 2, Chapter 1, Section 12 the definition of a sexual orientation to be:

“a person’s sexual orientation towards—
a. persons of the same sex,
b. persons of the opposite sex, or
c. persons of either sex.”

This suggests that the Equality Act 2010 does not apply to asexuals at all.

The lack of consideration for asexuality in the definition of sexual orientation extends to other areas of law, such as asylum. It has been reported that asexuals are subject to “corrective rape”, psychological assessments and corrective psychotherapies.

As my local member of parliament, I would be grateful if you could act as my representative to parliament and pass on my concerns. I hope you can understand my concerns and, to that end, I would be happy to address any queries you may have with regard to asexuality and the problems asexuals face.

Yours sincerely,
Stephen Broughton.