As Labour’s Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary writes about what the Labour Party means by modernising the legal gender recognition process, it’s important we put on record Stonewall’s view on how to drive forward meaningful reform.
Let’s start with where we are. The UK has fallen off track as an international leader on LGBTQ+ rights. Just 8 years ago we had the best LGBTQ+ rights in Europe, in 2023 we stand in 17th place. We have fallen back by staying still, as other countries have progressed and modernised their legislation, particularly on trans and intersex people’s rights.
Legal gender recognition is one of those rights where the UK has gone from leading to lagging. Passed in 2004, the UK’s Gender Recognition Act is now far behind international best practice. Crucially the 2004 Gender Recognition Act follows a medicalised model, where a trans person has to hold a medical diagnosis of ‘gender dysphoria’, which currently takes years to obtain, and present years of proof of ‘living in role’ to an anonymous panel to apply for a certificate.
International leading practice has moved to a model based on legal self-determination. That is because it is inhumane and undignified to make trans people obtain a medical diagnosis to obtain legal gender recognition. An ever-growing number of countries have moved to, or are moving to, this model over the last fifteen years. In 2019, the World Health Organisation de-classified being trans as a mental health disorder.
If any political party wants to get the UK back on track for LGBTQ+ rights, they need to lean-in to international evidence, experience and best practice. Speak to Ireland, speak to Belgium, speak to New Zealand, Switzerland, Denmark, large parts of Canada, US and Australia. Review the evidence – which finds no known cases of fraudulent or criminal intent. They need to understand how legal gender recognition with a de-medicalised model is working in practice before formulating the detail of their policy.
It is wrong to suggest that safeguards cannot exist with a de-medicalised model. The Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill was the most scrutinised piece of legislation ever passed by the Scottish Parliament and was passed by a solid majority of MSPs with support drawn from all parties.
Safeguarding was extensively considered by Scottish parliamentarians over the course of the Bill, including several amendments that were tabled and included to explicitly bolster protections. One such successful amendment was by the Scottish Conservative MSP Jamie Greene, which created a new statutory aggravation offence connected to fraudulently obtaining a GRC. The safeguards in the Scottish Bill go much further than the UK Gender Recognition Act, and are much stronger and more specific than a GP being involved in the process, as was suggested by Labour today.
It is also important to note that the Bill was backed by every established women’s organisation in Scotland, including Women’s Aid, Amnesty International, Engender and Rape Crisis Scotland. The vast majority of women MSPs voted in favour of the Bill. The majority of Scotland’s women MSPs, feminist advocates and policy experts are satisfied that the provisions in the Bill do not have negative impacts on women and girls in Scotland.
If Labour are serious about reforming the Gender Recognition Act and enhancing trans people’s legal protections, we need a strategy informed by input from trans people on their needs and priorities, and a real understanding of how practice is working internationally. Not just on legal recognition, but healthcare, anti-discrimination and education.
There is a welcome intention to promote the dignity, respect and the potential of trans people, and it is now vital that they engage with communities and international experience before working on the detail of policies.