Home > News > Equality organisations welcome Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill

3 March 2022   |    News

Equality organisations welcome Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill

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trans people, as well as equality and human rights organisations, have criticised the current procedure as being slow, outdated, and unfair, and say that it falls well below international best practice for legal gender recognition.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

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 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 (story below), 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 (story below), 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.

 

ENDS

For further information, please contact Vic Valentine, Scottish Trans Manager, on 07999 074498 or vic@equality-network.org Quotes and photos from, and face-to-face and telephone interviews with, transgender individuals can be provided.

Sarah’s story

Sarah, 66, from Aberdeenshire:

When I first spoke to a doctor about struggling with my gender identity, I was 15 years old. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that if I ever talked about it again, he would make sure that I was committed. Needless to say, I tried as hard as I could to bury how I was feeling. It didn’t work. I spent the next nearly twenty years battling with addiction, struggling with my mental health, and was in and out of facilities that were never able to help. Those were some of the most difficult years of my life.

I realised I simply couldn’t keep going as I had been – it was do or die. All of those years trying to change how I was feeling hadn’t worked, and so I plucked up the courage to talk to a different GP. Her reaction was a world away from the first one – she listened to me, supported me, and helped me to access the healthcare I needed so I could finally be at peace with myself.

I’ve never been able to get a Gender Recognition Certificate. That GP organised all of my medical treatment at a time where it was nearly impossible to get treatment on the NHS and prior to the 2004 introduction of the original GRA. By the time it was possible to apply for a GRC there was no way for me to access my medical records, psychiatric diagnosis or relevant supporting evidence as all of the doctors involved have died, or retired. Without a GRC, I was unable to marry my long term partner. We wanted to marry, as husband and wife, as the couple and people we really were. When he died, after twenty years together, he said that not being able to get married was the biggest regret he had. 

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.

 Patricia’s story

 Patricia, 25, Edinburgh:

I decided to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate on June 14th 2021. Although I was able to update my passport and driver’s licence without one, I was still upset that my birth certificate read ‘M’, as this would effectively out my transgender status to anyone who saw it, which could potentially include future employers. Furthermore, it did not accurately reflect my identity or lived experience as a woman. 

Although the application fee for a Gender Recognition Certificate was reduced from £140 to £5 in May 2021, there were still significant costs involved. To increase the chances of a successful application, you need a passport updated to reflect your lived sex (£75.50), and you must submit a statutory declaration witnessed by a notary public (£45) and a letter from your GP confirming your transgender status (£75). Although I was able to stomach these costs, other transgender Scots may not be so fortunate – in a population with a higher than average poverty rate, reforming the Gender Recognition Act will remove this undue financial burden and ensure that people’s identities are respected regardless of wealth. 

 The application process also left me feeling like my transgender identity was assessed for its worthiness by a panel of doctors and judges in Leicester who meet sporadically a couple of times each year. Regardless of my own lived experience, I was forced to divulge years of private information to a group of people who I will never meet, as if they know more about what it means to be transgender than myself. In addition, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it took this infrequently convened panel eight months to consider my application. Eight months to decide whether I am who I say I am, whether my years of struggle were good enough.   

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.  

However, regardless of social realities, my birth certificate did not match my identity and the way I lived my life during the years it took to collect the necessary documents to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate.  

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. 

Notes to Editors

  1. The Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill can be found at: https://www.parliament.scot/bills-and-laws/bills/gender-recognition-reform-scotland-bill

 

  1. The Gender Recognition Act 2004 allows trans people to change the sex recorded on their birth certificate. However, the procedure is intrusive and humiliating, and is not available to people under 18 or to non-binary people. In their 2021 manifestos, the SNP, Labour, Greens and LibDems all committed to reforming the Gender Recognition Act. The Scottish Government has twice consulted publicly on proposals for reform, from 2017 to 2018 (consultation document and analysis) and from 2019 to 2020 (consultation document and analysis)

 

  1. Other countries around the world who have provided legal gender recognition by self-declaration include: Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Iceland, Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Portugal, Uruguay, and Switzerland as well as states and regions within the United Stated of America, Canada, Mexico, Spain, and Australia.

 

  1. Gender recognition reform does not affect sport. Where necessary for fair and safe competition, sports governing bodies will continue to be able to restrict trans people’s participation regardless of whether they have received legal gender recognition.

 

  1. Gender recognition reform does not create any new rights for trans people to access single-sex services. For example, trans women have never been required to change the sex on their birth certificates in order to use women’s toilets, changing facilities or other women’s services. The Equality Act 2010 will continue to provide single-sex services with the ability to treat a trans person differently from other service users if that is a proportionate response to achieve a legitimate aim (such as ensuring adequate privacy). This Equality Act provision applies regardless of whether the trans person has received legal gender recognition.

 

  1. Gender recognition reform does not affect criminal justice. A trans person’s gender recognition history and previous identity details are permitted to be shared for the purpose of preventing or investigating crime. Receiving gender recognition does not prevent someone from being prosecuted or convicted for any criminal behaviour, nor does it enable them to hide any previous convictions. A gender recognition certificate does not change the prison service’s decision process about where to accommodate a trans person in custody – that is decided through a thorough risk assessment in each individual case.

 

  1. The Scottish Government’s statutory declaration system would still require a trans man or trans woman to be living permanently as a man or woman before they can receive legal gender recognition. Making a fraudulent statutory declaration is a serious criminal offence of perjury and is punishable by imprisonment.

 

  1. Scottish Trans Alliance scottishtrans.org is Scotland’s national transgender equality and human rights project and is based within the Equality Network, a national charity working for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) equality and human rights in Scotland: www.equality-network.org

 

  1. LGBT Youth Scotland lgbtyouth.org.uk is Scotland’s national charity for LGBTI young people, working with 13–25 year olds across the country. They play a leading role in the provision of quality youth work to LGBTI young people that promotes their health and wellbeing, and are a valued and influential partner in LGBTI equality and human rights.

 

  1. Stonewall Scotland stonewallscotland.org.uk campaign for equality and justice for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people living in Scotland. We work with businesses, the public sector, local authorities, the Scottish Government and Parliament and a range of partners to improve the lived experience of LGBT people in Scotland.

 

  1. LGBT Health and Wellbeing lgbthealth.org.uk works to promote the health, wellbeing and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults in Scotland. We run the LGBT Helpline Scotland and provide a range of community projects, including specialist mental health services and trans-specific social and support programmes.”

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