The UK government has been accused of placing trans people at the heart of a “crisis they did not ask for” by vetoing Scottish parliament legislation over reforms of the gender recognition process.
The UK government used Section 35 of the Scotland Act to prevent the Gender Recognition Reform Bill from gaining royal assent as t believed it could have a negative impact on legislation reserved to Westminster.
It was the first time such powers have been used since the Scottish parliament was established in 1999, and escalated the already simmering tensions between Downing Street and Holyrood.
The bill was meant to make it easier for people to legally change their gender.
Labour’s Angela Eagle and Conservative MP Elliot Colburn – the co-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on global LGBT+ rights – have written to prime minister Risi Sunak to warn the UK government is “politicising the day to day lives of an already marginalised community”.
The MPs write: “This move, although one we appreciate has not been taken lightly, will bring with it significant ramifications of a social, legal and political nature. We are deeply concerned that the government’s course of action risks further politicising the very real struggles of the trans community and placing their identities and lives at the centre of a constitutional crisis.
“Trans people are amongst the most marginalised and stigmatised in the UK today and face significant barriers to equality across many areas of life. Hate crimes against trans people increased by 56% over the last year – the highest increase across any protected characteristic under hate crime law.
“They are twice as likely as non-trans LGBT+ people to undergo conversion practices and significantly more likely to take their own life.”
The pair also raise concerns over the review of countries whose process for changing gender on legal documents is recognised by the UK. The MPs say they are “concerned about the uncertain position this places trans migrants living in the UK, and indeed the impact this decision may have on our bilateral and multilateral relationships”.
They go on: “The United Kingdom was once a global leader in LGBT+ rights, paving the way for the protection and advancement of LGBT+ communities ... however, the course of action being taken by government will not only serve to further damage our reputation at an international level, but leave a legacy of broken trust with LGBT+ communities that may be increasingly difficult to rebuild.
“Crucially, we must remember that there are real people being impacted by these ongoing discussions at an inter-personal, parliamentary and national level: trans people across the UK who simply want to be their authentic selves free from abuse, harassment or stigmatisation. We hope you will meet with us in the coming weeks to discuss these issues as a matter of urgency.”
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, branded the move a “full-frontal attack on our democratically-elected Scottish parliament and its ability to make its own decisions on devolved matters”.
In Westminster, the UK government was understood to be braced for drawn-out legal wrangling.
The legislation allows, for the first time, transgender people in Scotland to obtain legal recognition in their preferred gender without the need for a medical diagnosis.
It would also cut the time they have to live in their acquired gender before applying for a GRC, and reduce the age at which an application can be made to 16.