By Bill Heaney
Scottish Trans, the trans equality project of LGBTI equality and human rights charity the Equality Network, has welcomed that MSPs have voted, by 88 votes to 33, to approve the principles of the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill at the stage 1 vote today.
All the parties in the Parliament except the Conservatives committed to improve gender recognition law in their 2021 manifestos. The Parliament’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee took a wide range of evidence on the bill in the spring and summer, and recommended that the Parliament approve the principles of the bill.
Ahead of the debate, SNP Minister Ash Regan, left, quit as a Scottish minister, saying that she could not vote with the Government on the issue.
Scottish Conservative MSP Rachael Hamilton, a member of the committee and an opponent of the Bill, said that the rights of trans people can be improved.
But, she said that there is a requirement to protect “vulnerable young girls and the hard-won rights of women and girls”.
Hamilton also claimed that “legitimate concerns” about the Bill were being ignored.
The Bill amends the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which is the law that allows trans people to update the sex recorded on their birth certificate, to reflect how they live their lives, and provide them with legal recognition of who they are.
Scottish Labour MSP Pam Duncan-Glancy described the current process for obtaining a GRC as “dehumanising, intrusive, offensive, expensive and lengthy”, as she called for it to be changed.
“Labour have always been at the forefront of equality and human rights and we always will defend and protect them,” she added.
Whilst world leading when passed, the law is now widely considered by trans people and equalities and human rights organisations as imposing a process that is difficult, demeaning, and falls well below international human rights standards.
The bill would make important changes to the law, that would significantly improve the current process that trans people in Scotland must use to update their birth certificate.
This includes moving to a process of statutory self-declaration for legal gender recognition, removing the need for a psychiatric diagnosis of gender dysphoria and other intrusive medical evidence reports about choices a person has made about their medical transition, reducing the age at which people can apply from 18 to 16 in line with wider Scots law on legal capacity, and reducing the time someone must have been permanently living in their gender before they can apply to update the sex on their birth certificate from two years to three months.
Patricia, a trans woman, said:“For years I had a birth certificate that didn’t reflect who I am or how I interact with the world on a daily basis. Although I applied for a Gender Recognition Certificate in an attempt to fix this, it was incredibly invasive and time-consuming under the current process. I had to send years of private documents to a panel of psychiatrists who I will never meet, and then wait almost a year for them to decide if I met their criteria.
“Reforming the Gender Recognition Act will make a real difference to the lives of transgender Scots by removing this administrative burden, ensuring no one else is stuck with a birth certificate that doesn’t reflect their identity or the facilities they use.”
Ryan, a trans man, said: “Having worked in the community and as a trans person myself, I know the importance of feeling like you can move on with your life. I often get contacted by people who wish to update their records with various institutions and service providers, like their GP practice, the bank, their place of employment, university diplomas – the list goes on! Transitioning can involve extra paperwork, additional appointments and considerations, and it can get pretty exhausting before you even get to the legal bits. Being able to submit a quick, legally binding self-declaration instead of heavy folders full of documentation is a huge step in making the whole process less overwhelming.
“I know that the folks I work with will welcome this change and the clear signal from the MSPs that trans people can and should be able to live their lives to the fullest, while being protected by the law. Small steps like this vote make a huge difference in trans men and women feeling supported to be who they are.”
Vic Valentine, Manager of Scottish Trans, right, said: “We are delighted that MSPs have voted for the bill today. The process that trans men and women must currently use to update the sex recorded on their birth certificate has far too many barriers, meaning that at important moments in their lives when their birth certificate is needed, such as when registering to marry or starting college or a new job, they have to show a document that does not reflect who they are, how they live their life, or their other identity documents.
“We look forward to working with MSPs across the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee and the wider parliament over the coming weeks to make sure that the bill is improved even further before it goes to a final vote – and to persuading our politicians to vote for changes that will greatly improve trans men and trans women’s lives across Scotland.”
Tim Hopkins, Director of Equality Network, said: “Through this vote, Scotland’s Parliament continues our steady progress towards a fair and equal country that respects everyone’s rights.”