Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill
WHAT WILL THE LEGISLATION DO?
Introduced at Holyrood earlier this month, the long-awaited bill will reform the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, making it easier for a person to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), which legally recognises their ‘acquired gender’ is not the same as their recorded sex at birth. Under the bill’s provisions, those seeking a GRC will no longer require a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and the application process will be extended to 16 and 17 year olds. However, applicants will be required to make a statutory declaration that they have lived in their acquired gender for a minimum of three months. A new offence will be created for those making a false declaration on their application, carrying a punishment of up to two years in prison.
WHY IS THE LEGISLATION PROVING CONTROVERSIAL?
Critics of the legislation say it will put women at risk by allowing men to access female-only spaces, an argument that is rejected by supporters of the bill. Social justice secretary Shona Robison caused some consternation when, during her speech in parliament to introduce the legislation, she said there was no evidence “predatory and abusive men ever had to pretend to be anything else to carry out abusive and predatory behaviour”. The minister said “all the evidence” showed the main cause of violence against women and girls is “abusive men – not trans people”. But her comment angered some women, including author J.K. Rowling who said the legislation would “harm the most vulnerable women in society”. Rowling was responding to a tweet from a woman in Melbourne who claimed men there were “self-identifying” to gain access to sexual assault recovery services. Rowling tweeted: “Exactly this. The law Nicola Sturgeon is trying to pass in Scotland will harm the most vulnerable women in society: those seeking help after male violence/rape and incarcerated women. Statistics show that imprisoned women are already far more likely to have been previously abused.” Meanwhile, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has called on the Scottish Government to pause the legislation to give more time for detailed consideration, citing concerns over data collection and potential impacts on both competitive sport and the criminal justice system.
WHAT DOES THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT SAY?
The Scottish Government says the right of women to access single-sex spaces is enshrined under the 2010 Equality Act, which allows trans people to be excluded from such spaces under certain circumstances. According to Robison, nothing in the new bill will “erode or undermine women’s rights”. The pressing need for reform was a view shared by the cross-party Women and Equalities Committee in the House of Commons, which was looking at the law in England. The committee’s chair, Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, said the Gender Recognition Act was “crying out for modernisation”. In a report published in December, the committee called for new guidance which would clarify the rules around single-sex spaces. However, critics of the Scottish legislation say it’s “fanciful” to suggest it would not impinge of women’s rights, saying that by removing any medical gatekeeping the new law would vastly increase the cohort of people who could identify as women. Murray Blackburn Mackenzie, a policy analysis group, says allowing for self-id will “send a message” which will “seep into social conventions”.
WHAT IS LIKELY TO HAPPEN?
Based purely on arithmetic, the legislation is likely to pass with the support of the SNP and the Greens. However, its passage through parliament is likely to be fraught if the public debate so far has been anything to go by. It’s also worth remembering that ahead of last year’s Holyrood election, all the main political parties, except the Tories, committed to reforming the GRA. When Tory MSP Murdo Fraser raised the issue of women protesting about GRA reform outside the Scottish Parliament, Sturgeon said the criticisms were “not valid”. However, figures from within the SNP have raised concerns about the legislation, including finance secretary Kate Forbes and community safety minister Ash Regan. For now, there appears to be tentative public support for reform. A poll carried out for the BBC found 57 per cent of respondents in favour of making the process of obtaining a GRC easier. However, the survey of more than 2,000 people over the age of 16 found that while 40 per cent of people support the right of trans people to self-identify their gender, 38 per cent do not. More than two-thirds of people said they had not been following the debate closely.