Trans community and supporters stage protest outside Scotland Office

Members of the trans community, their allies and MSPs have staged a protest against the UK Government’s decision to block Scottish gender recognition reforms.

The campaigners gathered outside the Scotland Office in Queen Elizabeth House in Edinburgh on Thursday, armed with placards reading “Trans rights are human rights”, and “Hit the road Jack” – a reference to Scottish Secretary Alister Jack who, two days ago, triggered a constitutional clash with Nicola Sturgeon by invoking powers to block Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

Co-leader of the Scottish Greens Patrick Harvie, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton and Green MSP Gillian Mackay were among the crowd to take aim at the decision.

The Bill, which had passed by 86 votes to 39 in the Scottish Parliament last month, would make it easier for transgender people to update some documents to reflect their gender.

Gender Recognition Reform Bill
Alex Cole-Hamilton, right, was one of several MSPs who attended the protest (Jane Barlow/PA)

But in an unprecedented move, Mr Jack issued a Section 35 order on Monday evening to block it, saying the new legislation would impact the UK-wide Equalities Act – a claim that has been questioned by former justice secretary and KC Lord Falconer, a widely respected constitutional expert.

Speaking at the rally, campaigners described the decision as “pure transphobia”.

Naomi Honhold, who works for the NHS, told the PA news agency: “There’s no politics involved; they [UK Government] just don’t like us.

“The same day a cis-gender Metropolitan policeman was shown to be a violent and frequent threat to women, they decide to focus on trans people when all the countries who self-ID know and have said there is no threat to women.

“I am no threat to female spaces, I am female-identified, they are important to me as well.

“It’s pure transphobia.”

Trans rights protest
Protesters voiced opposition to the decision to block the Bill (Jane Barlow/PA)

In a message to Mr Jack, the 64-year-old, who has a gender recognition certificate (GRC) and stressed how important it is for trans people to have, added: “Alister Jack – stop. Why are you doing this?

“You don’t even know what the GRC is. You don’t know what you’re doing.

“This is transphobia, pure and simple.”

The demonstration saw a range of LGBTQ+ groups come together, including Scottish Trans, whose manager Vic Valentine said the UK Government’s decision is “nothing other than an attack on an important step forward for trans people”.

They added: “Having looked at the Section 35 order from the UK Government, it doesn’t seem to me that there’s any reason to block this Bill at all other than that they just disagree with it.

“It very much feels like it’s about trans people.

“The Bill as passed before Christmas was six years of campaigning work, even longer in the making. Obviously there was a great sense of relief and achievement among trans people and our friends and it kind of feels like that’s all be taken away.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton, in a speech to the crowd, said the Bill simply extends human rights to trans people.

Alister Jack
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack made the announcement to use Section 35 and block the Bill (PA)

“We are removing the medicalisation and the trauma of the current process which means you have to submit the final judgment about your identity to a group of strangers you will never meet with no right to appeal,” he said.

Mr Harvie told activists: “We must never let up on doubling down on the progress that we’ve already won and showing determination for further progress ahead, because every generation will have to fight and refight for our liberation and our equality and for our human rights… I know the people in there (pointing to the Scotland Office) might close their blinds and not want to listen to us, but we are not going to let them have the last say.”

The Gender Recognition Reform Bill allows trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate without the need for a medical diagnosis.

It also drops the minimum age for applicants to 16, and lowers the time required for an applicant to live as their gender from three years to two months. For 16 and 17-year-olds, this will be six months.

Some women’s groups have said the Bill is a threat to women’s safety and women-only spaces.

There have also been concerns raised by the Tories and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer over the Bill making the age someone can legally change their gender drop from 18 to 16.