Gender Recognition Reform: a Factsheet

Why you should read this

The debate on gender recognition reform has been muddied by a torrent of myths and misinformation. Unfortunately the national media, instead of questioning spurious claims, has repeated and amplified all of these myths, while seldom seeking comment from LGBT organisations or from trans people themselves. You’re going to be hearing a lot about gender recognition reform in the coming days and weeks, and the one certain thing is that you won’t hear the full facts in the national media.

Why does this reform matter ?

There are over 250,000 trans people in the UK, yet at the last count fewer than 6,000 had a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). The purpose of reform is to remove some of the administrative barriers to obtaining a GRC.

What does a GRC do ?

It’s mainly symbolic. There’s virtually no practical situation where anyone’s required to produce one. It does however enable our lived gender to be officially recognised when we marry and when we die, providing more dignity to trans people.

Does reform mean that anyone will be able to get a GRC on demand ?

No. You have to already be living full time in your acquired gender, and sign a declaration confirming that you intend to do this permanently.

How can we be sure that this won’t affect women’s rights and women’s safety ?

The rights of trans women to access women only spaces are already legislated for in the Equality Act 2010. These rights and exclusions won’t alter. For example, no trans woman prisoner with or without a GRC has an automatic right to be admitted to a women’s prison. No one needs a GRC to walk into a public toilet. And despite all the scare stories, there’s no evidence from any country in the world that reforms of this kind place women at greater risk in public places.

Why did this relatively insignificant piece of legislation become a political football ?

This wasn’t always the case. In 2018 Teresa May’s government announced its intention to reform the Act and launched a consultation. During Johnson’s term as Prime Minister though, the Tories quietly ditched the LGBT Action Plan which they’d signed up to in 2018, perhaps seeing culture wars as a way of winning support among Red Wall voters.

In 2020 the Tories abandoned plans to reform the GRA. Undeterred, the SNP went ahead with a Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which passed through parliament in December 2022 with support from 4 of the 5 parties.

Why has this relatively insignificant piece of legislation become a constitutional crisis ?

On 16th January 2023 the Government announced that it would block the bill from proceeding to Royal Assent. This is an unprecedented attack on Scotland’s devolved powers. There’s been speculation that it could increase support for independence. The reason given was that the bill could impact on the operation of GB wide equalities legislation, though how it might do this hasn’t been explained.

Where does Labour stand on this ?

Previously, the Labour front bench has consistently expressed its support for gender recognition reform. This has begun to unravel as a result of Keir Starmer’s recent interviews. Two months ago, he confided to Mumsnet that he didn’t agree with children making these importance decisions without parental consent – a departure from the principle of Gillick competence. Speaking to Laura Kuenssberg on 15th January he said that he wasn’t comfortable with the Scottish Parliament’s decision to lower the age to 16 at which people could apply for a GRC. He repeated this on LBC radio the next day, adding that he was concerned about preserving safe spaces for women – a clear indication that he doesn’t really get what the bill is about.

Up to now Labour has been shamefully silent on this massive attack on Scottish democracy.

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