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.)