The Gender Recognition Act became law in 2004. It allows transgender people to apply for a “Gender Recognition Certificate”, and that allows a replacement birth certificate to be issued with the correct gender. But the process is lengthy and requires a medical report to confirm a diagnosis of “gender dysphoria”. If the applicant is married they also require consent from their spouse.
In 2017 the government announced that they would consider reforming the Gender Recognition Act. Several countries had made changes to legislation that allowed trans people to self-identify. Those included Ireland, Argentina, and Norway. Trans campaigners in the UK urged the UK government to make similar changes. There was a consultation of over 100,000 people. A large majority were in favour of these reforms.
Now, nearly two years later, the government has announced that they will not make any significant reform to the legislation. They have introduced online applications, and the £140 administration fee is reduced. But the spousal veto and the need for medical sign off remain unchanged.
The waiting list to get a first appointment to see a doctor to discuss gender dysphoria is up to five years in some parts of the country. Three more clinics will open this year. Those were already planned. There are only seven currently.. The government estimate this will take 1600 people off the waiting list, but this is only a small fraction of those currently waiting to be seen, so waiting times will continue to be years for most people.
Liz Truss, Minister for Women and Equalities, describes the law as currently having the right “checks and balances”. The government wants to continue using spouses, and doctors as gatekeepers — but why? What are the risks of allowing trans people to self-identify?
Over the last two years there has been an ongoing, often vicious campaign by people calling themselves feminists against trans self-ID. The fears that are frequently quoted are that reforms to the GRA would lead to:
• Trans rights reducing the rights of women — e.g. that discrimination on the basis of sex would no longer be a protected characteristic
• That men could pretend to be women and gain access to women-only spaces such as prisons, and domestic violence refuges (as well as other places like changing rooms and toilets) and pose a risk to women there
They have also frequently asserted that trans people, as such do not exist — that it is biological sex (by which they normally mean genitals at birth) that causes women’s oppression, and that is definitive in gender identity.
These claims and fears have been comprehensively and repeatedly debunked. The Equality Act (2010) already allows trans people to access services appropriate to their lived gender (whether or not a GRC has been issued). The GRA is separate legislation and does not affect this. Under that act services only may exclude transgender people in a small number of limited and specific circumstances.
In practice domestic violence refuges have long catered for trans women. Current prison guidelines also already allow for trans men and trans women to be housed in gender appropriate “estate” subject to risk assessments.
The Equality Act makes discrimination against women illegal, and would continue to do so if the GRA were reformed.
The government’s decision not to reform the GRA represents a step backwards in the struggle for trans rights. The discussions that have been had around this issue in the labour movement have become toxic and polarised. But this issue has not been resolved.
The fact remains that between 200 and 500 thousand trans people are living in the UK, and are suffering huge levels of discrimination and persecution in our society today. Socialists, and the whole labour movement have an ongoing responsibility to show solidarity with this minority. The discrimination against them has had the effect of dividing the labour movement. Liberation of trans people remains interwoven and inseparable from the struggle for liberation of women, and liberation of all LGBT people. Trans people are a part of the diversity of humankind, and their liberation benefits all of humanity.