Equality organisations welcome Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill

Graham Robson March 3, 2022

National LGBTI organisations in Scotland – Scottish Trans, Equality Network, LGBT Youth Scotland, Stonewall Scotland and LGBT Health and Wellbeing – have agreed that the Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, published today, 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trans people, as well as equality and human rights organisations, have criticised the current procedure as being slow, outdated, and unfair, and say that it falls well below international best practice for legal gender recognition.

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.”

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 three 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 three-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 six 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.

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.”

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.

Tim Hopkins, Equality Network Director, added: “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.”

The Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill can be found HERE