Holyrood committee backs gender reforms that 'will not remove women's rights'

Trans gender rights activists
Trans gender rights activists

A HOLYROOD committee has backed plans to modernise the process for people to obtain a gender recognition certificate – insisting the legislation “will not change or remove women’s rights”.

The Scottish Government has tabled plans to no longer require trans people to undergo “dehumanising” medical processes, to be replaced by a process of self-declaration as is the case in other countries including France and Ireland.

The plans, backed by all Holyrood parties except the Tories, will lower the age where a gender recognition certificate can be obtained from 18 to 16.

Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee, which has taken evidence on the proposals, has now backed the draft legislation in a split vote with the two Tory MSPs refusing to back it.

A minority of witnesses claimed that the plans could impact on women’s rights and single-sex spaces, despite exemptions under the Equalities Act remaining in place.

The legislation has no impact on single-sex spaces as a gender recognition certificate is not needed to entre any space.

In its report on the legislation, the majority of the committee acknowledged the views are “sincerely held”, but starkly insisted they “go beyond the scope of the provisions in the Bill”.

It added: “The majority is satisfied that the Bill will not change or remove women’s rights, make changes to how toilets and changing rooms operate, redefine what a man or a woman is, nor change or expand trans people’s rights.

“The majority is satisfied that the Bill will not change the effect of a GRC, which is that the individual is legally recognised in their acquired gender.

“Further, the majority recognise that, when asked about evidence of abuse and concerns, no witness was able to provide concrete examples.”

READ MORE: Misinformation over gender recognition plans used to 'whip up moral panic'

Scottish trans manager, Vic Valentine, said: “It has been almost five years since the previous Scottish Government first consulted on reforming the Gender Recognition Act.

“We are pleased that, as with every step of the way along this process, after carefully considering the case for improving the way that trans men and women update the sex recorded on their birth certificate the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee agrees with the principles of the Bill and with significantly reforming the law that is currently in place in Scotland.

“We urge MSPs to now also vote in favour of reforms, and to make a real difference to the lives of trans people in Scotland.”

The official report sets out that the current process to obtain a GRA is seen as “dehumanising, overly bureaucratic, difficult to access and time consuming”, amid evidence of “applicants having to wait up to four years to access appointments at gender identity clinics”.

It added: “Others considered Scotland to be lagging behind international human rights standards and that this needed to change.”

The majority of the committee supports setting up “a model based on self-declaration”.

It added: “They believe that proposals to do this via the Registrar General accepting, reviewing, and processing applications and issuing GRCs will introduce a more humane and less intrusive process.

“They also note that this approach will bring Scotland in line with international best practice and human rights standards.

“The majority of the Committee supports the removal of the requirement for any medical evidence or diagnosis, in line with a self-declaration model, believing that trans people know their own minds.”

But the two Conservative MSPs on the committee raised concerned the removal of the medical diagnosis “could potentially mean the process is open to abuse from bad faith actors, particularly predatory men”.

The report states that the majority of the committee “support lowering the age of eligibility from 18 to 16”.

It added: “Maggie Chapman requests that the Scottish Government considers a future process that would enable young people under the age of 16 to apply for a GRC with appropriate safeguards.”

Ms Chapman, the Scottish Greens' equalities and human rights spokesperson, said: "I am pleased that we have, at last, made significant progress towards introducing this long overdue and necessary reform.

“It has been an honour and privilege to be a part of the committee working on this. We owe a big debt to everyone who took the time to contribute and engage with us, sharing their own sometimes very painful stories, and providing us with valuable evidence. I’d also like to thank the committee clerks who have worked so hard to make it as seamless a process as possible.

"I am glad that the majority of the committee supported the principle of self-identification. Trans people know their own minds and their own lives. It is only right that our laws respect that.

"Some of the evidence we heard from people with lived experience was very personal and it was clearly emotionally taxing. I am very sorry to everyone who has been caused pain, trauma and grief because of the delays. We hope that the work we are doing lives up to all of their hopes and expectations, and that it recognises the trauma they have experienced.

"Over recent years there has been a huge and cynical campaign of disinformation and prejudice that has been waged against the LGBTQI+ community and our trans siblings in particular.

"There is still work to do, especially when it comes to recognition of non-binary identities and provisions for young people, but this report is an important step forward and ensures that Scotland remains at the forefront of equalities legislation in the UK.

"Self identification is a crucial reform, but it is only one part of the change that is needed. The Scotland that we want to build is an inclusive one that has equality at its heart and gives everyone the opportunity to live, love and thrive.

“That is why, with Greens in government, we are building a more equal Scotland. As well as reforming the Gender Recognition laws, we are also transforming trans healthcare and will deliver a full and comprehensive ban on conversion practices.”