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‘Massive’ rise in number questioning their gender, says Liberate chair

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THERE has been a ‘massive increase’ in the number of Islanders questioning their gender over the past four years – particularly young people, according to the head of an equality and diversity charity.

Vic Tanner Davy, chair of Liberate

Vic Tanner Davy, who chairs Liberate, said that four years ago there were an estimated 25 people in Jersey exploring their gender and the possibility of changing it. Today he said that figure was more like 50 and added: ‘We have seen a massive increase, particularly with young people examining and asking questions about their gender.’

Liberate is now hoping to help train at least one GP at every practice to specialise in gender issues, so that they can recognise the signs of gender dysphoria – when someone identifies with the opposite gender to their biological one – and refer people to the right services. And the organisation has also proposed an alternative system for helping Islanders who want to change sex that they say could have a number of benefits, including speeding up the process.

Under the current system – in which Islanders are referred to one of the UK’s gender identity clinics – it can take many years before a person even has their diagnosis signed off ready to begin hormone therapy. They then face a further wait if they want surgery.

Liberate is proposing that more people are seen locally by specially trained experts – not necessarily those within the mental-health service. They say that such a move would reduce the emotional stress on those involved, lower costs for the States and relieve pressure on the Island’s struggling mental-health services. Only those who have a mental-health condition would need to see professionals from that service, he said, pointing out that gender dysphoria was declassified as a mental-health condition last year by the World Health Organisation.

Giving evidence to the Health and Social Services Scrutiny Panel, which is reviewing mental-health services, on Wednesday, Mr Tanner Davy said: ‘We are suggesting that we can do this in the Island. We have a number of therapists trained up now aware of gender therapy and they are all very keen and very happy to be dealing with this. It is just making sure we have got them on the map so that people can be referred to them.

‘Ideally we would have a GP in every practice [specially trained] and one thing Liberate is hoping to do this year is to get the funding to do that.’

The charity puts the rise in the number of Islanders questioning their gender down to an increased awareness of the possibilities.

‘In 2014 when I started [with Liberate] the average for somebody to transition in the UK was about 40. Now I think we are seeing the average come way, way down. People are beginning to realise this is possible.’

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He added that the work of groups such as Liberate, as well as TV programmes raising the issue and social media, meant that the conversation had been ‘opened up’.

‘A lot of young people are exploring it now,’ he said. ‘The conversation has been opened up, so there is a younger group of people bringing the average down.’

In November, transgender teenager Jackson Rabet called for the law to be changed to allow under-17s to begin hormone therapy. Currently young people wanting to change gender are only permitted to take puberty blockers until they reach 17 and are eligible for hormone medication.

And in 2017 it emerged that Jersey schools had guidance in place to help them deal with transgender students, following a handful of cases in which young people had announced that they no longer wished to identify as the gender they were assigned at birth.

Mr Tanner Davy and fellow Liberate member Stuart Barette also offered the panel an insight into their experience of being transgender.

Lucy Stephenson

By Lucy Stephenson
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