What the Equality Act says about the protected characteristics of sex and gender reassignment

Advice and Guidance

Who is this page for?

  • organisations or people providing a service only to one sex
  • organisations or people providing a service separately to each sex
  • organisations providing a service differently to people of each sex

Which countries is it relevant to?

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Under the Equality Act 2010, ‘sex’ is understood as binary, being a man or a woman. For the purposes of the Act, a person’s legal sex is their biological sex as recorded on their birth certificate. A trans person can change their legal sex by obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate. A trans person who does not have a Gender Recognition Certificate retains the sex recorded on their birth certificate for the purposes of the Act.

The Equality Act protects individuals from discrimination and harassment on the basis of a protected characteristic. Protected characteristics include sex (being a man or a woman) and gender reassignment (being an individual who is ‘proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process or part of a process to reassign their sex’). There is no requirement for a trans person to have any kind of medical supervision or intervention in order to be protected from gender reassignment discrimination. A person does not need a Gender Recognition Certificate to be protected under the characteristic of gender reassignment.

There are two types of discrimination, indirect and direct discrimination.

It is generally against the law to discriminate against someone because of a protected characteristic. However, there are certain circumstances when services can be provided either:

  • exclusively to one sex, or
  • differently to each sex or
  • separately to each sex.

Service providers must meet a number of conditions to lawfully establish a separate or single-sex service. These conditions are set out under exceptions relating to sex in the Act.

There are circumstances where a lawfully-established separate or single-sex service provider can exclude, modify or limit access to their service for trans people. This is allowed under provisions relating to gender reassignment in the Act.

Last updated: 05 May 2022

Further information

If you think you might have been treated unfairly and want further advice, you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service.

Phone: 0808 800 0082
Textphone: 0808 800 0084

You can email using the contact form on the EASS website.

Also available through the website are BSL interpretation, web chat services and a contact us form.


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closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays

Alternatively, you can visit our advice and guidance page.