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What you need to know: Scotland’s women’s sector speaks out on gender recognition for trans people

In light of the Scottish Government consultation on proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (2004), much debate has arisen over the potential impacts for gender equality efforts and for organisations working solely with women.

To find out how Scotland’s gender equality and gender-based violence sector feels about the changes and what their current policy and practice around trans people looks like, Caitlin Logan at CommonSpace spoke to key national organisations and local service providers.

The following organisations were interviewed: Engender, Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, the Young Women’s Movement (YWCA Scotland), Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, Forth Valley Rape Crisis, Edinburgh Women’s Aid, and Shakti Women’s Aid. Read their views at:

Whose Gender Is It Anyway?

Caitlin Logan has written an excellent short article for Bella Caledonia about being a feminist who supports reform of the Gender Recognition Act.

Read it at:

Those who see trans identity as irreparably conflicting with feminist ideology frequently describe themselves as “gender critical”, and characterise those of us who recognise trans people within their identified gender as having given up the cause and thrown a party for the idea of innate gender differences instead.

I’m here to tell you that this is not so. I, and many other trans inclusive feminists, spend much of our own lives examining and challenging the gender stereotypes and socialisation which shape our realities and place limits on our horizons from birth, and which pervade our media and our cultural and political institutions in a way which leaves no mistaking that women are still viewed as unequal in our society. So, yes, I am gender critical, but no, I do not think this precludes accepting the experience of trans people.

New transgender law will not harm anyone’s rights

Scottish Trans Alliance Manager, James Morton, wrote in the Edinburgh Evening News:  

I was a transgender teenager back when Section 28 still banned teachers from supporting LGBT young people. Alone without role models, I believed being trans was unacceptable. To try to cure myself, I embraced feminism and fought to end gender stereotypes. However, the world and my sense of myself remained gendered despite my best efforts.

After several years of distress and three suicide attempts, in 2001 I finally transitioned from female to male. I didn’t expect to ever be able to find a partner or to be able to live without fear of harassment. But I needed to be true to myself.

That was 17 years ago and I’m so glad I transitioned. Words can’t really do justice to the simple joy and comfort of being seen by others as I see myself. I’m thankful the vast majority of people accept me as a man. Strangers don’t have the right to know what genitals I have under my clothes or what my old name was.

I’m one of the ‘trans activists’ trying to reform the Gender Recognition Act to make it easier for trans people to change the gender on their birth certificates. Some people are unfairly portraying this as unreasonable and harmful, but in fact it would just bring birth certificates into line with how trans people already change their passports, driving licences and other ID at the start of their transition.

Think about the last time you showed anyone your birth certificate compared to when you show your passport, driving licence or bank cards. It really makes no sense to force trans people to jump through more hoops to change their birth certificate than to change their other ID.

I appreciate why some people worry about how trans people’s rights intersect with women’s rights. Gender is not just an aspect of identity; it is a complex social construct with a damaging hierarchy and much of the discrimination and harassment women suffer derives from society’s perceptions of their biological sex characteristics. My trans activism acknowledges this. Trans rights can be sensibly improved without undermining women’s rights and the Scottish Trans Alliance is working in partnership with feminist organisations to ensure that.

The Gender Recognition Act will continue to have exemptions enabling biological sex characteristics to be taken into account where required. For example, sports bodies will continue to be able to set their own transgender rules in order to ensure safe and fair competition. Exemptions exist so gender recognition doesn’t affect sexual offence prosecutions and so previous name and gender can be shared to prevent and investigate crime. Prisons do careful risk assessments of trans prisoners and can hold people who are legally female in the male estate if required for safety.

Single sex service providers will still be able to treat trans people differently where necessary. Nowadays most changing rooms have individual cubicles so nobody can see, or be seen by, anyone else while undressed. As for public toilets, trans people have been freely using them for decades.

So what would reform of the Gender Recognition Act achieve? It could save trans people from being outed by their birth certificates not matching the gender they live in. It could save trans people from experiencing pension, civil partnership and insurance errors regarding their gender. It could make the lives of trans people a little easier without reducing anyone else’s rights.

My life as a trans person in Edinburgh is so much better than I ever dared hope. Gender recognition enables me to be accepted as myself and valued as an equal part of Edinburgh’s diverse population. I want all trans people to have what I have.

Scanned image of the article in the Edinburgh Evening News.

“Malicious misinformation” on gender recognition is impacting on trans young people

Caitlin Logan, a reporter for CommonSpace, has written a great article challenging the misinformation being spread by other parts of the media about gender recognition reform.

Read her full article at:

Some excerpts:

National charities LGBT Youth Scotland and Scottish Trans Alliance, along with the national youth commission on gender recognition, say that the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act could be vital for young people, but that misconceptions are impairing the debate.

Speaking to CommonSpace, Policy and Research Manager at LGBT Youth Scotland Brandi Lee Lough Dennell said she had concerns that “malicious misinformation” which was apparent in some media coverage or online discussion of the issue could have a negative impact on trans young people.

“When young people see negative depictions seemingly picked up by family, employers, MSPs, whoever, even if it’s one person shouting loudly and it’s not challenged, this has an impact,” she said.

LGBT Youth Scotland has been gathering the views of young people through the LGBT Youth Commission on Gender Recognition, which was established last year as a national youth participation project, and through consultation across its youth groups and online.

One member of the youth commission, Cameron Goymer, highlighted that the reforms to the Gender Recognition Act would not change the current provision of medical transitions for under 18s: “In both Scotland and the UK, the only medical intervention a young person under the age of 16 is hormone blockers. At the age of 16 someone can go onto hormone replacement therapy and at 18 undergo any surgery.”

Lough Dennell also emphasised that this was an area around which misunderstanding had developed, and noted that the Gender Recognition Act “has nothing to do with surgery” and that the age at which any medical intervention is available would not change.

“Any changes to the Gender Recognition Act are not going to change how people are already identifying”, she added.

James Morton, Scottish Trans Alliance Manager, elaborated: “A young person’s birth certificate would only be changed after they’d already changed their name, pronouns and gender in daily life and on their school records. Therefore, it would not affect the timing or likelihood of a young person transitioning. It is purely a fully-reversible change to text on a piece of paperwork.”

Read the full article at:

A need to be recognised for who we truly are

Photo of participants at West Lothian Pride 2017. Some are carrying trans pride flags and placards stating 'Trans Rights Now!'
Participants at West Lothian Pride 2017.

Vic Valentine, Scottish Trans Alliance Policy Officer, writes: 

Being seen as who you are is important. Whether we want people to see how much we care about them, to understand where we’re coming from, or to recognise that we’ve changed – we have all probably experienced times where people don’t see us how we want to be seen. For many transgender people, this lack of recognition can extend beyond just how we are seen by others, and into the law. Although for most Scots, the gender recorded on their birth certificate will always reflect how they see themselves, for trans people this is not the case. It can cause real pain and distress for trans people to know that even though we may live our lives openly and happily, being seen as who we truly are by friends, family and colleagues, our birth certificate still declares our gender is something else. This is why it’s so important that the Scottish Government is currently consulting on how to reform the Gender Recognition Act 2004, the law that allows transgender people to change the gender on their birth certificate.

At the moment, trans people are required to provide two years’ worth of evidence that they have been living in their gender and intrusive medical and psychiatric reports to a tribunal, which decides whether they can update their birth certificate. Instead, the Scottish Government is proposing moving to a less convoluted statutory declaration system where trans people make a legal oath confirming the gender identity in which they are living and their honest intent to remain doing so until death. Deliberately making a false declaration would be a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment. This change would recognise that trans people know our own identities, and bring Scotland in line with countries such as Ireland, Denmark, Malta and Norway.

The consultation also asks whether to extend this new system of self-declaration to non-binary people. A non-binary person is anyone who feels that their gender cannot be neatly described using the words “man” or “woman”. Instead, we feel outside, between or beyond these categories, and want to have identity documents that reflect our sense of self, rather than being limited to two options that do not reflect who we are. Right now, non-binary people are unable to get documents that reflect our deeply felt identities, so we welcome the fact that the Government has included the possibility of recognising all transgender people, not just transgender men and women, in this improved process.

A system of self-declaration will bring the process for changing birth certificates in line with those already used by trans men and women to change their name and gender on other identity documents, such as driving licences and passports. Trans people already can and do use services and facilities that reflect our identity and how we live our lives, and not necessarily the legal gender recorded on our birth certificate. For example, transgender women, who still have male on their birth certificates, have for many decades been using women’s toilets and cubicled changing rooms. When they have genuine need, trans women can access women-only services such as rape crisis centres (everyone, whether trans or not, gets carefully risk-assessed before being accepted into such services). As such, how trans people navigate our day-to-day lives, the decisions we make about where we go, and what services we use, will remain largely the same after the change to the law.

So why bother then, if we can already do so many of these things? Well, that’s simple: to be recognised, in all parts of our lives, as who we truly are.

Constructive discussion about GRA reform is welcome but attempts to demonise trans people are not acceptable

James Morton, Scottish Trans Alliance Manager, writes:

It’s 100 years since the first women in Scotland won the right to vote. It’s 43 years since equality law began to protect women’s rights to employment and service provision. As a trans man who was assigned female at birth, I deeply appreciate how limited my childhood opportunities and aspirations could have been if not for the feminist movement. Every step towards a fairer Scotland involves huge efforts by feminists and they rightly want to ensure nothing undermines their progress.

For over 10 years, the Scottish Trans Alliance has been working respectfully and constructively with Scotland’s national feminist organisations to ensure that trans equality enhances wider gender/sex equality and that discussion is factual, friendly and diverse.

Individual trans women have been actively part of Scotland’s feminist movement for many decades longer.

Together, Scotland’s trans and feminist movements have grown in our mutual understanding and support of each other. We have found huge common ground in our desire to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence, ensure bodily autonomy and reproductive freedoms and challenge gender stereotypes. There cannot be full trans equality without full equality for women.

Scotland’s national feminist organisations (Close the Gap, Engender, Equate Scotland, Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, Women 50:50 and Zero Tolerance) have freely chosen to support our Equal Recognition campaign to reform the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

Trans people are delighted that so many feminists in Scotland are speaking up in favour of bringing trans people’s birth certificates into line with the self-declaration processes already used for changing gender on driving licences, medical records, passports, bank accounts and employment files. It is time for transgender equality in Scotland to catch up with Ireland, Denmark, Malta and Norway.

Nobody is ever asked to show a birth certificate in order to use a public toilet or changing room so trans people’s use of such services will not be changed by Gender Recognition Act reform.

The Equality Act 2010 already protects trans people from discrimination regardless of whether they have changed their birth certificates. There will be no change to existing special rules for single-sex services that allow a trans person to be treated differently if their particular circumstances make that necessary. Likewise, the Gender Recognition Act’s special exemptions for sport competitions and for the prosecution of sexual offences will remain in place so making it easier to change birth certificates will not affect those important topics.

Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland are already trans-inclusive on a self-declaration basis and have sensible procedures in place to uphold safety and dignity for all. It is incorrect to claim that Gender Recognition Act reform is a threat to women’s services.

The vast majority of Scots appreciate trans people are a harmless and vulnerable tiny minority just trying to live safely and authentically. Some people are worried that Gender Recognition Act reform could perhaps have unintended consequences and we believe such concerns can best be resolved through pragmatic discussion. The Scottish Trans Alliance and our partners in the Equal Recognition campaign are happy to help engage with anyone that simply wants to check the proposals for Gender Recognition Act reform are well thought through.

Sadly, there are also a very small but vocal number of people who are trying to use the proposed Gender Recognition Act reform as an excuse to demonise trans people and roll back existing trans rights.

Far from being silenced, they are enjoying using large parts of mainstream and social media to publish false claims including that trans people are ‘a cult’; that respecting trans people’s pronouns somehow harms women; that parents are ‘child abusers’ if they let their gender dysphoric teenagers take puberty blockers to gain time to consider their future options. Some of them are calling for trans women to be banned from using women’s toilets – something even Republicans in Texas decided was unacceptably draconian.

Such rhetoric isn’t factual discussion about whether to reform the Gender Recognition Act, it is a clear attempt to destroy trans people’s existing rights and social inclusion. It creates intense fear and distress for trans people and their families.

Trans people need Scottish society, and particularly the Scottish media, to recognise the difference between divisive scaremongering and compassionate reasonable dialogue. Let’s keep public discussions and newspaper coverage factual and friendly like the discussions between Scotland’s trans and feminist organisations already are. There is no reason to claim anyone is being silenced when everyone who wishes to can respond to the current Scottish Government consultation on Gender Recognition Act reform. They can even make their response anonymous if they want.

Stirring up public hostility against trans people is a completely unnecessary and unacceptable behaviour. The decade of positive partnership work between Scottish trans organisations and feminist organisations proves that constructive discussion is the best way forward.

(An earlier version was published in The National.)

Simplified PDF consultation response form and guide

We’ve created a simplified response form and guide which you can print, fill in by hand and submit by post.

Please print several copies and get your friends, family and/or colleagues to complete them. It’s vital that as many people as possible respond in support of trans rights.

Download Simplified Guide PDF

Download Simplified Response Form PDF

The Scottish Government will not accept emailed responses. So the simplified response form can only be submitted by post to:

Gender Recognition Review,
Room GW-15,
St. Andrew’s House,
Regent Road,

Be sure to post all completed response forms no later than 27th February 2018, to make sure they arrive before the 1st March deadline.

Since 2015, Ireland has allowed people to change gender by self-declaration.

Libby Brooks, the Guardian’s Scotland correspondent, has written a great article about what the Scottish Government and Westminster can learn from Ireland’s successful implementation of legal gender recognition based on self-declaration.

Read her full piece at:

Senator Kevin Humphreys guided the Irish gender recognition legislation through when he became minister of state for social protection in 2014. His advice to politicians in Holyrood and Westminster is simple:

I’d say to them to actually go out and make contact with trans people. One thing I learned was that this is a matter of equality and should be done in full consultation with the trans community.

While political consultation is key, according to James Morton, manager of the Scottish Trans Alliance, another feature propelling reform in Scotland has been the close collaboration between feminist and transgender activists. This has been far less apparent in the debate around Westminster reform.

In Scotland there’s really strong communication between women’s equality organisations, trans equality organisations, politicians and civil servants. Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland have become trans-inclusive without any problems occurring, demonstrating that improving trans equality is fully compatible with improving women’s equality, and avoided misunderstandings about legal reform.

England’s equality sector is more fragmented, Morton suggests, and it is harder to communicate with politicians in Westminster.

Sadly, this can create fears and myths about trans equality but constructive discussions are making positive progress. As people look into the facts and speak in depth with trans people, they start to appreciate the need to improve trans equality.

Equal Recognition statement by Forth Valley Rape Crisis Centre

Forth Valley Rape Crisis CentreOn International Human Rights Day Forth Valley Rape Crisis would like to express our full support of all of the proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act and encourage all those committed to the advancement of human rights to respond to the on-going Equal Recognition consultation.

As a movement, Rape Crisis have always fought against the rigid gender stereotyping that each of us experience, which is rooted in patriarchal notions of gender as binary. Alternatively, we advocate that everyone should be able to express themselves in the way in which feels reflective of their individual identity and not that which is ascribed to us by society.

As a feminist organisation working to eradicate sexual violence it is essential to oppose the abuse of power over people of marginalised gender identity at both an individual and institutional level. The current process of legally changing gender targets trans people and their right to autonomy over their own lives, identity and bodies. It makes medical diagnosis a necessary requirement and in doing so affords power to state institutions and professionals within the private and personal lives of trans people.

By requiring a psychiatric report which states they have been diagnosed as having gender dysphoria, the state is pathologising trans people and violates their right to privacy and self-determination. There is still significant stigma of trans identities within our society and, as a result, there are many barriers trans people face in being open about their identities. This process forces people to give up their relative rights in order to gain legal recognition of their identity, a process which makes you consider the reality for those who do not gain this through the current system.

The current process of legally changing gender requires trans people to be ‘living’ in their ‘acquired gender’ for a period of two years prior and to provide evidence of this. The two year period that requires trans people to live in their acquired gender while legally recognising them otherwise invites situations where they are forced to be out and as a result, exposed to an increased risk of sexual violence often in the form of ‘hate crime’. Hate crime perpetrated against trans people consistently takes the form of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Forth Valley Rape Crisis are hopeful the legislation will be reformed and believe that the rights and safety of trans people will be greatly improved and as a result.