Social Justice

Trans rights charities call for 'concrete action' after MPs debate Gender Recognition Act reform

Politicians were praised for supporting trans rights in a Commons debate, but campaigners say they want to see meaningful action.

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Leading charities for transgender and non-binary rights have praised MPs for speaking out in a Commons debate on reforming the Gender Recognition Act – but say they want to see meaningful action. 

The debate, which took place in the House of Commons on Monday, was sparked by an online petition that received more than 137,000 signatures, and outlined what could be done to improve transgender rights in the UK.

Focusing on the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), which gives trans people the legal recognition to live as the gender they identify with, the debate involved addressing the possibility of “allowing trans people to self-identify without the need for a medical diagnosis and allowing non-binary identities to be legally identified”.

“The process of acquiring a gender recognition certificate is stigmatising, invasive and dehumanising – and the debate showed that MPs from across the political spectrum support the pressing need to reform the Gender Recognition Act,” said Kieran Aldred, head of policy at Stonewall.

“It was wonderful to see so many women and LGBTQ+ MPs stand up for trans rights and dismantle myths around what reform means and who it affects.”

A gender recognition certificate is the document issued to show that a person has satisfied the criteria for legal recognition. At present, this involves getting legal recognition from a medical professional and proving that a person has lived as the gender they identify with for at least two years. This is often suggested to be a challenging and emotionally draining process.

The aim of the petition was to allow transgender and non-binary people to use self-identification methods to determine their legal gender, without having to meet these requirements. 

According to equalities Minister Mike Freer, Monday’s debate allowed for clarification that the word ‘disorder’ will be removed from the act. 

During the debate Freer also spoke about the possibility of removing the spousal veto from the act. The veto means without statutory declaration, a legal gender change for a married transgender person cannot be processed. 

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“While we were pleased that minister Mike Freer reiterated his commitment to trans rights, to protecting trans people from conversion therapy, and to improving the process of obtaining a gender recognition certificate – including the removal of the spousal veto – it was disappointing that he did not commit to introducing any meaningful reform to the act,” Aldred added.

“We urgently call on the UK government to follow the example of Scotland and commit to significantly reforming the outdated act.”

The Gender Recognition Reform in Scotland proposes to amend the GRA, making it easier for people to legally change their gender.

“The system is not fit for purpose, with less than three per cent of trans people having obtained a gender recognition certificate by 2018 and not many more since,” said Kai O’Doherty, who was involved in the debate and is head of policy and research at Mermaids.

Due to the complexity of the process, during the debate it was suggested that only one- to five per cent of transgender people have successfully applied for a gender recognition certificate. 

“Trans people experience the system as dehumanising, humiliating and invasive. This reform is fundamentally about enabling trans people’s right to privacy, and to live their lives with dignity and respect,” O’Doherty said.

“Obtaining a gender recognition certificate via the GRA simply allows a trans person to change their legal sex on their birth certificate. The protections in the Equality Act 2010 are not reliant on, nor related to, the GRA. For example, obtaining a gender recognition certificate does not impact access to women-only spaces.”

A study conducted by YouGov and referenced within the debate found that a majority of women were in support of self-identification for transgender people, with 57% per cent in favour and just 21 per cent opposed.

“There is a clear public mandate for reform, with the majority of the public supporting legislative change – and resounding support from most MPs during Monday’s debate only adds to the chorus for reform,” said O’Doherty.

“The government’s commitments in Monday’s debate to remove the spousal veto, to remove references to being trans as a “disorder”, and to review the information required by the panel are welcome – however, after over 4 years of promised reforms, it is now time for concrete action.”

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