Gender Recognition Reform Now

For January’s campaign, let’s focus in on Gender Recognition Reform. What is it? Why is it needed? Isn’t there disagreement? How can you make a difference? Where can you find out more?

What is it?

The Gender Recognition Act (2004) governs trans people’s legal gender. In other words, it is the act that allows us to claim a different gender in law. It also, however, gatekeeps another act, the Equality Act (2010). The intertwined language and dependencies of the two acts means that it is harder for a trans person to seek protection against mis-gendering, outing, discrimination, and abuse if they don’t come under the Gender Recognition Act (GRA).

To come under the GRA, you have to successfully apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). This changes your gender in law from male to female or from female to male. You have to provide reports from two medical doctors, one of which must come from an approved list, make a statutory declaration that you intend to live in your current (transitioned to) gender for the rest of your life, and provide a paper trail that proves that you have lived in your current gender for at least two years. Whilst you do not have to provide evidence of medical treatment, if you haven’t had various transition-related surgeries, your letters from doctors must explain why. I have been turned down previously for a GRC because I have not had a particular surgery, and know many other’s who have had similar experiences.

As well as an administrative fee, you also have to pay a solicitor to witness your statutory declaration and two doctors to write reports. If you haven’t kept a paper trail throughout your transition, you may also need to pay for copies of paperwork. You will also have to fill in an extensive form. You will submit all of this evidence to an un-named panel who will, in a closed proceeding which you cannot attend, will discuss and decide whether or not you can change your gender in law and, by extension, be protected from harm. The GRA also affects marriage, controlling whether your marriage is considered to be same or opposite sex, and giving your spouse veto over your transition.

Gender Recognition Reform seeks to change some of the problematic aspects of the above. Mainly, the entanglement of the GRA and the Equality Act, the need to provide medical evidence, and the assessment by an anonymous judiciary panel. It also seeks recognition of non-binary genders, instead of just male and female. It seeks an end to spousal veto. It seeks self-declaration, making changing one’s gender in law a matter of paper work, in the same way that changing many other personal details (name, title, address etc. is).

Why is it needed?

The Gender Recognition Act is unjust and harms trans people. We have to pay to prove that we are who we say that we are, in a way that other people do not. We have to expose very private details of our life, including what our bodies look like, to a panel of un-named people. We are not allowed to represent ourselves personally, or by proxy, to that panel. We are required to live without legal protection for two years before we can apply to change our gender. If we are non-binary, we are required to lie about who we are in order to fit into a binary system.

This is not only wrong, it restricts our access to several human rights. Articles 1, 2, 6, 7, 10, 12, 23, and 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are either compromised or not adequately protected by the Gender Recognition Act as stands.

Article 1 states that all people have the right to equality, yet trans people are seen as unequal in U.K. law, being required to prove our gender in ways in which no-one else is required to. Article 2 states that all people have the right to freedom from discrimination, yet in the U.K. it is, effectively, not only allowable but in certain cases legally enforceable, to discriminate against a trans person on the bases of sex and gender for at least two years into their transition and unless/until they fulfil the requirements of the act.

Article 6 states that all people have the right to legal recognition, and yet non-binary people are not legally recognised in the U.K. Article 7 states that all people have the right to equality before the law, yet trans people are treated differently than others in several aspects of law including the Equality Act and the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act. Article 10 states that all people have the right to a fair public hearing in the determination of their rights and obligations. And yet, GRA hearings are private, and arguably unfair.

Article 12 states that all people have the right to freedom from interference, including interference with privacy, family, home, correspondence, honour and reputation. And yet, all of these freedoms are demonstrably interfered with by the GRA, most notably privacy. Article 16 states that all people have the right to marriage, yet another right interfered with if you are trans.

If we were talking about the denial of human rights to people who hold any of a number of other characteristics, there would be public outrage. And yet, very few people are willing to make a stand for reform of the Gender Recognition Act. Why?

Still not convinced? Don’t just take my word for it, the government’s women and equalities committee published a report about why the GRA must change nearly five years ago.

Isn’t there disagreement?

Some people argue that this law could be mis-used by predators to gain access to single gender public spaces. This argument relies on a false premise, though, the idea that you need gender recognition to access single gender spaces. You don’t. If you are still worried about this, Judith Butler’s helpful deconstruction is a really great place to begin to understand misconceptions such as this one.

Many trans people don’t want to access single gender spaces, we just want access to safe spaces. I don’t want, for example, to use a male toilet or a female toilet. I want to use a safe toilet. The provision of safe, non-gendered public spaces and services, in addition to gendered ones, would be a reasonable and progressive response to concerns about safer spaces. Denying trans people the right to self-identification is not.

How can you make a difference?

You can do something about this. This is an active topic for the U.K. government, so your advocacy is valuable. The likelihood is that your M.P. doesn’t know much about this topic, despite the fact that they may have made decisions, and make more decisions in the future on, gender recognition. I wrote to my M.P. about this last year, and, in response, he said that he had not sat down and talked with a trans person about this, and didn’t fully understand the arguments.

I strongly believe that M.P.s should meet the people who their decisions effect and should understand the arguments regarding those decisions. So please find out more about gender recognition, write to your M.P. or, better still, speak to them in person or find someone who can. We need your help to explain to our politicians why gender recognition reform is essential.

Where can you find out more?

If you’d like to learn more, here are some links.

Here, LGBTQ+ equality charity Stonewall give a basic analysis of what has happened, and link to their response.

Here, the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggest a few changes that they believe are needed, and highlight the need for better conversations about this topic.

Here is the helpful reform bill drafted by the Scottish Government, which includes information about other countries that have a model of self-declaration.

Here are some faqs about self-recognition in Scotland. These also apply to the discussion in other parts of the U.K.

The Gender Identity Research and Education Society also has a helpful article about gender recognition reform, which explains more about countries where self-declaration is already a reality.

If you care about the human rights of trans and non-binary people, please do not leave us to campaign for these essential changes to our legal recognition alone. Find out more today and get in touch with the politicians who are supposed to represent you. Let’s make a change, together.

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