Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Gender Recognition Act

It's hard to keep up with anything but coronavirus news at the moment, but I had Liz Truss' statement on potential reforms to the Gender Recognition Act flagged up to me on Twitter and, just, ugh. I do not know where this idea that getting a Gender Recognition Certificate and full reassignment surgery is something that happens one day on a whim comes from. It is an extremely long and complicated process, with endless layers of red tape - not to mention discrimination - in your way.

Anyway, here is the email I sent off to my own local representatives in the hope of raising awareness and maybe even getting some clarity... 


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I was really concerned to see the statement from Liz Truss about the proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act - rather than simplifying the process of getting a Gender Recognition Certificate, which was what campaigners have been calling for, the govt are suggesting putting more steps in and potentially denying treatment to under 18s. My big worry around this is the mental health impact; it is not a simple or short process as it is, and suicide rates within the community are horrific. (Eg. Stonewall found 1 in 4 young trans people have attempted suicide.)

Wait times and the burden of proof are both very high, so most people won't start receiving treatment until their late teens. If there is early intervention the legislation already prevents under-16s from being offered more than reversible puberty blockers, and 17/18 year olds aren't eligible for surgical treatment. I would argue, personally, that 17/18 year olds should have the right to make their own decisions on surgery, in line with other irreversible procedures from abortion through to cosmetic surgery, but at the very least this right should not be eroded further.

The statement was also big on preserving same sex spaces but without spelling out what that means - on the one hand it could be a positive move to be inclusive and allow self-determination. Or, more likely, it will look to exclude anyone without a GRC certificate which, combined with extra steps to get one, could put individuals at real risk. You would expect an individual to be living full time as another gender before they get a GRC, so explicitly excluding them from services would be a dangerous move. 

Obviously this is a busy and stressful time for everyone, but I worry that announcements like this might slip through the net during the crisis. I would really appreciate any clarity you can get on this going forward, and any support you can give to improving gender recognition services in the UK. 

Thank you,
Jess

Please find the full text of the form letter circulating on this which has lots more detail and references:

I am writing to you to express my concerns about the statement that Liz Truss MP, the Minister for Women and Equalities, recently made regarding the Government’s intentions towards the rights of trans people in the UK.

While introduced as being ‘on the issue of the Gender Recognition Act’, I would first like to clarify that the issues raised by Ms Truss in her statement to the Women and Equalities Committee on the 22nd of April[1] are largely unrelated to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA). In particular it is erroneous and dangerous to suggest that the protection of single sex spaces has anything at all to do with the GRA.

Gender Recognition Act reform
The GRA describes and enshrines a process for applying for alterations to a birth certificate, which requires the applicant acquire a Gender Recognition Certificate. This process is frequently arduous, humiliating, expensive and unsuccessful, and requires that the applicant share significant quantities of personal and medical information and fulfill certain strict criteria[2]. The Government’s consultation on reform of the GRA made it clear that it does not intend to alter the current legal protections in place which allow trans people to access services appropriate for their gender, which are enshrined in law under the Equality Act 2010, nor seek to add or maintain burdensome ‘check and balances’, as suggested by Ms Truss. In fact, the consultation documents themselves stated that the aim of reform is to “make it easier for trans people to achieve legal recognition”[3].

Single sex spaces
Ms Truss stated that “the protection of single sex spaces is extremely important". (I would note here that any debate into the issue of what constitutes sex and what constitutes gender is irrelevant when the two are constantly socially and legally conflated[4].) I agree with Ms Truss that single sex spaces, and their protection, are very important. However, banning trans people from such spaces or insisting that they use ones designed for their sex assigned at birth is legally and socially regressive, and preventing trans people from being able to use gender specific services effectively bars them from accessing them at all. It is also unclear how this could reasonably be policed, and is likely to result in individuals taking it upon themselves to discriminate and withhold access based on their opinion of “what a woman should look like” or “what a man should look like”, often at times when individuals need supportive services the most.

Trans people, particularly trans women and girls, and trans and non-binary people of colour, are at elevated risk for needing sexual health services, rape crisis services, domestic violence shelters and homelessness shelters[5],[6]. Forcing trans people to use services inappropriate for their gender in the very best instance will ensure that they do not get the help they need, and in the worst instance, open them up to violent assault. Trans women have been accessing women’s services across the country for decades, and many women’s services have themselves spoken out against transphobic discrimination[7], in favour of reform of the GRA ‘furthering the dignity of trans people’, and against amendments to the Equality Act[8].

[We recommend you add in any examples you may have of needing or providing these services, or any personal objections to the exclusion of trans people from single-sex spaces here.]

Ms Truss went on to suggest that she wishes to make sure “...transgender adults are free to live their lives as they wish without fear of persecution, whilst maintaining the proper checks and balances in the system.[9]” I of course welcome any move by the government to support trans people to live free of fear of (or actual) persecution, and would encourage you to support all genuine moves to achieve this, including those in the Government LGBT Action Plan[10], and through the protection of the rights afforded by the Equality Act. I am concerned, however, by the idea that trans people may need to be subject to specific ‘checks and balances’ while accessing their human rights.

Treatment of trans children and young people
Finally, I wish to address Ms Truss’s statement in relation to trans children and young people. Ms Truss wishes to see that they “are protected from decisions that they could make, that are irreversible in the future.”

Currently, under-16s can only access puberty blockers, the effects of which are reversible[11]. Cross-sex hormones are accessible to over 16s after 12 months on blockers, and surgeries only to over 18s. In reality, due to very long waiting times and the process of assessment that young people have to undergo, most young people are unlikely to receive medical intervention before their late teens. To assert otherwise displays a worrying ignorance of the facts of what is currently lawful in the UK. To disallow treatment for trans young people in any way has very concerning consequences for all young people’s rights to bodily autonomy (currently determined according to the Gillick competence principle, and the Fraser guidelines), and potentially their confidential access to contraception, abortion services, and mental health services. I ask that you act to block any attacks on Gillick competency and the Fraser guidelines by any route.

If Ms Truss, or you yourself, wish to prevent trans young people undergoing irreversible changes which they may regret, the best course of action would be to improve access to blockers, alongside more, and better informed, mental health support (including from CAMHS). This will support young people to make informed decisions and will have the additional benefit of reducing the pressure on adult gender identity services, mainstream physical health services, and mental health services as these young people grow into happier and healthier adults[12], whatever their decisions about how to express their gender.

The UK as a leader on trans rights
In a time particularly hostile to trans people both domestically and abroad (Hungary is about to reverse legal recognition for trans people at all[13], for example), the UK must seriously consider how it stands by the rights of trans people everywhere to live authentically, free from prejudice and harm. The most recent Stonewall Trans Report (2018)[14] found that two in five trans people experienced a hate crime or incident in the year preceding, and personal testimony has seen this becoming more acute, tethered to malicious media misrepresentation. If we wish to, as a country, be a world leader in how we protect the rights (and living environment) for our trans citizens, then we must move forward, and not seek to remove, directly or indirectly, the rights of trans people.

I ask that you write to the Women and Equalities Minister and ask her to:
  • Commit to reform of the Gender Recognition Act (2004) only if it ensures full legal recognition on the basis of self-determination, streamlining the process and removing the requirement for medical diagnosis
  • Explain what checks and balances she feels are necessary when it comes to ensuring that trans people are free to live their lives without persecution
  • Reaffirm the government’s commitment[15] that they are not proposing to amend the Equality Act 2010 and the protections contained within it
  • Clarify that the Government does not intend to remove the rights that under 18s, including trans children and young people, currently have to access healthcare, including Gillick competency and the Fraser guidelines.

I ask that you write to the secretary of State for Justice and ask them to:
  • Explain how they will police any law which prevents trans people from accessing single sex spaces in line with their identity
  • Describe the likely cost of this.

I ask that you write to Caroline Nokes MP, chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, and ask her to direct the Committee to:
  • Hold the government to account on their response to the 2015 Transgender Equality Inquiry[16] and seek an update to the LGBT Action Plan[17].

Yours sincerely,
[YOUR NAME]
[YOUR ADDRESS - Make sure to include this so that your MP knows you are one of their constituents]

[1] Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss sets out priorities to Women and Equalities Select Committee https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/minister-for-women-and-equalities-liz-truss-sets-out-priorities-to-women-and-equalities-select-committee (hansard not yet available)
[4] Whittle, Stephen and Turner, Lewis (2007).
'''Sex Changes'? Paradigm Shifts in 'Sex' and 'Gender' Following the Gender Recognition Act?''. Sociological Research Online 12(1) http://www.socresonline.org.uk/12/1/whittle.html 
[8] Women’s Aid responds to the launch of the government’s consultation, ‘Reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004’
[9]  Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss sets out priorities to Women and Equalities Select Committee https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/minister-for-women-and-equalities-liz-truss-sets-out-priorities-to-women-and-equalities-select-committee (hansard not yet available)
[12] Mental health of transgender children who are supported in their identities https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/137/3/e20153223 

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