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Victoria Hewson is a solicitor and co-founder of Radical, a campaign for truth and freedom in the gender recognition debate. She and Rebecca Lowe, her co-founder, alternate authorship of this column on trans, sex and gender issues.
Last week, The i Paper reported that the Government has “indefinitely delayed” the reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA) – a process initiated in July 2018 in the May era.
At present, the GRA enables people in England and Wales to change their gender for (almost) all legal purposes, as long as they have two medical reports showing a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, they can prove they have lived in their “acquired” gender for two years, and they provide a statutory declaration that they intend to remain in their new gender for the rest of their life.
After providing evidence of these things to a Gender Recognition Panel, a trans person can obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), which means they must be treated in law as if they were a member of the opposite sex, and they are entitled to a new birth certificate and National Insurance Number under their new gender.
The Reform of the Gender Recognition Act Government Consultation was launched in 2018 by Penny Mordaunt, then the Minister of State for Women and Equalities.
As set out in the consultation document, the aim of the consultation was to seek views on “how best Government might make the existing process under the Gender Recognition Act a better service for those trans and non-binary people who wish to use it”.
It was noted that “many trans people feel that [the current] process is overly intrusive, humiliating and administratively burdensome. They argue that by requiring a diagnostic psychiatric report, the process perpetuates the outdated and false assumption that being trans is a mental illness”.
And it was stated that, because the current system “is denying too many people access to the legal recognition that they want”, it had become necessary “to make it easier for trans people to achieve legal recognition”.
The consultation was, therefore, designed to find “the best way to achieve this”.
It sought views on whether the requirement for diagnosis of dysphoria should be dropped, and whether people should continue to be required to provide evidence of living in their acquired gender.
Other questions included whether the £140 fee for obtaining a GRC, and the requirement to provide a statutory declaration of intention to live in the new legally recognised gender until death, should be retained.
Now, if the GRA were to be reformed in these particular ways, it would mean that a certificate would be available to anyone requesting it — without them needing to provide medical confirmation from a doctor, or evidence of having lived in their “acquired gender” for two years.
This is already the case in a number of countries, cited as examples in the consultation document, and is informally known as ‘self-identification’ or ‘self-ID’.
Although the consultation closed in October 2018, and the Government Equalities Office – which was responsible for the consultation – has stated that it received more than 100,000 responses, no responses have been published.
Meanwhile, the issue has become increasingly politically charged in recent months, with candidates in the Labour leadership contest becoming embroiled in divisive debates on the matter of transgender rights, while high-profile legal cases concerning the treatment of children and women have been working their way through the courts.
The Scottish government has gone further, having issued for consultation a draft Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, which would introduce self-ID for people in Scotland.
This has caused a furious backlash from women’s groups in Scotland, as well as division within the SNP, as prominent members, such as Joanna Cherry, are strongly resistant to self-ID.
However, it has now been reported that the Scottish government is putting its reform on hold too, in order to concentrate on measures to deal with Covid-19.
In the news article referred to above, The i Paper suggested that the UK Government had already become wary of initiating a similarly divisive process in Westminster, even before the topic of Covid-19 rightly took over the Government’s agenda.
At Radical, we would welcome the scrapping of the proposed GRA reforms.
Both governments’ claims about the defects in the current process seem overstated, given evidence from the Gender Recognition Panels themselves (as opposed to survey data and claims by activists that the UK Government relied upon).
Enabling men to change their gender for legal purposes (including purposes relating to laws against discrimination in the provision of services) would undoubtedly undermine women’s privacy and safety, as it would become legally risky to challenge a male-bodied person in a women’s space.
We have already seen a move towards the provision of unisex facilities, such as changing rooms in shops – in the place of single-sex alternatives – which is causing confusion, and arguably defeats the argument of trans activists that it is unsafe for trans women to use the same changing rooms and toilets as men.
Moreover, all of this feeds into a bigger concern about the conflation of the concepts of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’, and a dangerous shift towards the denial of biological truth.
However, it is important to note that there are certain issues arising from the Westminster Government’s consultation document – issues that, generally, are simply referred to, rather than focused upon materially – that should indeed receive further consideration.
Some of these issues could usefully be pursued by the Government Equalities Office. It is certainly the case that the operation of the Equality Act, in respect of trans people with a GRC, should be clarified, and as a matter of urgency.
Furthermore, when more normal times have returned, the Government should be investigating why the number of under-18s being referred to Gender Identity Development Services went from 96 in the period 2009-10, to 2,016 in 2016-17 – and why demand for adult services at the UK’s leading gender identity clinic has seen annual increases of 20-40 per cent in recent years