Equality organisations welcome Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill | Stonewall
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Equality organisations welcome Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill

National LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) organisations in Scotland have welcomed the Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, published today.

Scottish Trans, Equality Network, LGBT Youth Scotland, Stonewall Scotland, and LGBT Health and Wellbeing all agree that the Bill’s proposed reforms will be greatly beneficial to trans men and trans women in Scotland.

The Bill proposes reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, which since 2004 has enabled trans men and trans women to change the sex listed on their birth certificate, currently via a very complicated process.

Many trans people, as well as equality and human rights organisations, have criticised the current procedure as being slow, outdated, and unfair, and say that it falls well below international best practice for legal gender recognition.

When the UK first introduced the Gender Recognition Act in 2004, it was a world-leading piece of legislation. But in the past two decades, many countries and territories around the world have significantly improved their laws, with nine states in Europe alone ahead of Scotland in this area.

The Scottish Government has previously run two public consultations (in 2017/18 and 2019/20) on how the Gender Recognition Act should be reformed. In both of these consultations, the majority of respondents in Scotland supported the proposed reform to simplify the process, and to move to a system of statutory self-declaration.

The Scottish Government’s Bill proposes to make the following key changes:

  • Move to a system whereby a trans person makes a formal legal statutory declaration confirming the sex in which they have been living for at least 3 months and their intention to continue to do so for the rest of their life, rather than having to wait until two years after they have permanently transitioned to apply.
  • Introduce a 3 month ‘reflection’ period before a gender recognition certificate would be issued (meaning a trans person will have had to live in that sex for over 6 months before being able to change their birth certificate.)
  • Remove the current requirement to provide a demeaning psychiatric report containing intrusive details such as what toys trans people played with as children, their sexual relationships, and how distressed they were before transitioning.
  • Remove the current requirement to provide an invasive medical report describing any hormonal or surgical treatment they are planning or have undergone, or confirming they do not intend to undergo such treatment.
  • Allow 16 and 17 year olds to apply for a gender recognition certificate.

The national LGBTI groups say these are very important reforms. The current requirements stigmatise trans people by linking legal recognition of who they are to a psychiatric report, and deny them their right to privacy over personal choices they have made about medical treatments. Because they cannot currently apply until two years after they have been permanently living in their transitioned sex, trans people are currently at risk of discrimination or harassment whenever they need to use their birth certificate to prove their identity.

Trans people can already change their name and sex on identity documents such as passports and driving licences, and can access a wide range of single-sex services and spaces without a gender recognition certificate. The reform will not affect this.

In their manifestos for the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections, the Scottish National Party, Scottish Labour, Scottish Greens, and Scottish Liberal Democrats all committed to reforming the Gender Recognition Act. This means 97 MSPs (75% of the total 129 MSPs) were elected on commitments to pass this Bill.

Even with the welcome positive change proposed in these reforms, there are still many further improvements to the Gender Recognition Act that LGBTI orgnaisations say could be made, to make Scotland a world leader in trans rights. For example, the reforms do not include any provisions for the legal recognition of non-binary people, which many places around the world have done successfully, including Malta and Iceland.

Scottish Trans, Equality Network, LGBT Youth Scotland, Stonewall Scotland, and LGBT Health and Wellbeing are calling for the debate on this bill to be conducted respectfully and without personal abuse. They are asking all MSPs to support this Bill as an important step forward to improving the lives of trans men and women in Scotland.

Vic Valentine, Scottish Trans Alliance Manager, said:

“We welcome the proposals in this Bill, that would see a massive improvement in how trans men and trans women in Scotland are able to be legally recognised as who they are. The current process is difficult, stressful and expensive, and it reinforces harmful stereotypes about trans people: that who we are is a mental illness, and that our choices about our bodies are not our own to choose to share with others. While the proposals fall far short of a law that would enable all trans people in Scotland to be legally recognised as who we are, this important step forward is one that we hope that all MSPs across the Chamber can support.”

Sarah, a 66 year old trans woman from Aberdeenshire, said:

“These changes would mean so much to me. I am a woman. It’s who I am, to my core. It’s how I’ve lived most of my adult life, how I am seen by friends, and how I have been loved. To know for so many years that that has not been, and could not be, recognised, has been painful. I hope that these reforms will pass, so that who I really am, and not who I might have been, can finally be legally recognised.”

Amy Winter, Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament, said:

“Myself and other trans including non-binary young people have been waiting on this moment for a long time and are looking forward to the changes we hope this bill will make for our future. As much as I am excited about the proposed changes I would be lying if I said I was 100% happy with everything. I am still saddened by the fact that those of us who are non-binary have not been included. That being said I am in full support of this bill and think it is a massive step in the right direction for trans rights in Scotland.”

Patricia, a 25 year old trans woman from Edinburgh, said:

“Despite what others might say, I am a woman. As such, all of my identity documents, including my passport and driver’s licence, have an ‘F’ printed on them. I’ve been transitioning for almost half a decade now, and in everyday situations, whether out in public or at work, people treat me as a woman. 

“I just want to live my life in peace, and for my privacy to be respected. Reforming the Gender Recognition Act will make a real difference to transgender people’s lives and ensure that, unlike me, future applicants won’t have to put up with years of having a birth certificate that doesn’t reflect who they are.” 

Tim Hopkins, Equality Network Director, said:

“We are united in calling for respectful debate. Social media is now often a horrible place for trans people, because of the unrelenting abuse. Many others, including MSPs, and in particular women and those on both sides of this debate, experience that abuse too. We should all speak out about the unacceptability of personalised abuse or threats in political debate in Scotland.”

Mhairi Crawford, LGBT Youth Scotland Chief Executive, said:

“We welcome this significant step on a long journey improving trans people’s access to their rights.  Young people tell us that this is particularly important as they move between education institutions, out of the family home, or start work and significantly benefit from consistent gender markers across their documentation.  Positively this will be extended to 16 and 17-year-olds, in keeping with the rights and responsibilities afforded to this age group in other aspects of their lives. They would also like to see a process put in place for those under 16 to be able to access a GRC and we call for this addition.”

Colin Macfarlane, Stonewall Scotland and Northern Ireland Director, said:

“It has been six years since the Scottish Government pledged to make this reform. In that time we have had two major public consultations, endless discussion about trans people rather than with trans people about their lives along with daily misinformation about what these proposals will actually do. Recent polling suggests a majority of Scots are in favour of the proposed changes. It is now time to get on with the process of legislative scrutiny, which should be done in a respectful way based on evidence and fact. We look forward to working with MSPs across all parties to ensure the Bill passes so that trans people can be free to be themselves.”

Maruska Greenwood, LGBT Health and Wellbeing Chief Executive, said:

“Through our helpline, trans-specific and wider support programmes we see on a daily basis the hugely negative impact the divisive public debate is having on trans adults in Scotland. Whilst many in society have strong views on these issues, there is widespread recognition of the need to reform the Gender Recognition Act. We call for a balanced and measured dialogue in which we all work to ensure that the voices, needs and experiences of trans people can be respectfully listened to.”