Donald Taylor explains why UGLE developed a gender reassignment policy

Friday, 07 December 2018

Choice matters

Donald Taylor, Head of Legal Services at UGLE, explains the thinking behind UGLE’s Gender Reassignment Policy and its practical applications

Why has UGLE developed a Gender  Reassignment Policy?

We wanted to assist members to understand and comply with the law. This is not like other areas of discrimination law, where much of the time what is lawful and what is not is understood. For many of us, gender reassignment is outside our experience and knowledge. The second reason for the policy is that we need to give consistent messages for the media, which often misrepresents Freemasonry. This policy helps to educate the media and the public that many of the prejudices they may hold about Freemasonry are wrong. Freemasons have diverse views on this topic, but should be very proud of the compassion and courtesy with which they treat other people.

What are the main elements of UGLE’s Gender Reassignment Policy?

Equality law impacts the way we operate in two main areas in relation to gender reassignment. First, admission. Lodges under UGLE admit men and only men. Now we need to be precise about what we mean by a man. We must use the legal definition: somebody born a man but also someone whose birth certificate states ‘female’ but has since undergone the legal process of changing gender. If a new member was born female but has changed gender, he is as eligible as any other man, providing he meets the other requirements. 

The second area is retention. Equality law allows bodies like the Women’s Institute and Freemasons’ Lodges to discriminate on gender at the point of admission, but it doesn’t allow them to discriminate after entry. That means a Freemason who becomes a woman is entitled to remain a member of her existing lodge(s).

What should a lodge secretary do if a Freemason says that he is planning to change his gender?

Nothing. We don’t collect information on gender and it is a private matter for the individual. The privacy of the individual should be respected and there will normally be no requirement to inform the Metropolitan, Provincial or District Grand Secretary or the Grand Secretary about this change.

Should a Freemason who has switched gender automatically transfer to female Freemasonry?

If an individual requests information about contacting female Freemasonry, we will assist and, if it is desired, support her to transfer, but the secretary has to be led by the individual. No member should be pressured to resign from her lodge simply because she is no longer male. Whether she wants to remain with her lodge or move to female Freemasonry, it’s entirely her choice.

If a Freemason is changing gender to female does she need to inform her lodge secretary?

A Freemason changing gender only has to think about what she wants to do. If the member wants to announce to the lodge that she has changed her name or title, then that is fine, but it should be left entirely up to her. 

What should other Freemasons do if one of their members has changed gender?

This can be a tricky time, when people often need support and sometimes lose friends or family, so if a lodge can offer support it’s a wonderful thing to do. Some people feel uncomfortable with gender reassignment and we respect their views, but a Freemason should always strive to act lawfully and with courtesy to others.

Is this the last word on the issue?

No. The law in this area is liable to change, and policy and guidance may be amended from time to time. But the fundamentals will remain, of masonic values and of being sensitive to anyone affected by this topic, at least until you know them well enough to know which comments and jokes are acceptable to them and which are not. 

What is the thinking behind this policy?

Ultimately, this is a topic that won’t affect many lodges and is no threat to Freemasonry and its values. But we must ensure we apply the law correctly. It’s also an area where we can demonstrate the shared values of Freemasonry to the public. UGLE is not telling anybody what to think or feel, but Freemasons have to act within the law. And no matter how much a Freemason may disagree with somebody, they should still treat them with respect, dignity and compassion.

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