Gender Recognition Act reform: The views of these women’s groups may surprise you – Laura Waddell

A trans-gender rights protest outside the Scottish Parliament last year (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)A trans-gender rights protest outside the Scottish Parliament last year (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
A trans-gender rights protest outside the Scottish Parliament last year (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
The views of some experienced women’s groups are being overlooked in Gender Recognition Act debate, writes Laura Waddell.

Much discussion around the Gender Recognition Act is not about the act itself. Objections have spiralled in all directions, linking proposed reform to an array of concerns about online harassment, freedom of speech, children’s medical treatment, the content of school lessons, and much else which is not, contrary to popular belief, actually determined by this Act.

With the GRA consultation coming to a close, again, now is time to focus on the matter at hand. Here I write about how I reached the decision to support GRA reform.

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LGBT groups in Scotland have advocated for self-identification on the basis it will make it easier for trans people to gain legal recognition, cutting down on invasive bureacracy with demands for psychiatric reports. But often the cry of “listen to women” comes up. So let’s do that now. Here’s what women’s organisations across Scotland have actually said.

During the original consultation, Close the Gap, Engender, Equate Scotland, Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, Women 50:50 and Zero Tolerance released a joint statement supporting self-ID. At odds with the inflammatory phrase ‘war on women’, they clearly state: “We do not regard trans equality and women’s equality to contradict or be in competition with each other.”

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This grouping contains both well-established services who directly support women experiencing domestic and sexual violence, and others campaigning for gender equality more widely. Their expertise is directly relevant.

They also stated: “The complexity, restrictions and expense of the current gender recognition process particularly discriminates against trans people who are disabled, migrant, minority ethnic, unemployed, homeless, fleeing domestic abuse, young or non-binary. Enabling trans people to smoothly change their birth certificates at the same time as they change their other identity documents is a much needed positive step forward for society.”

Recommended reading

Also available to read are the public responses to the original GRA consultation. I highly recommend anyone interested (or indeed worried) about reform reads them.

Here, for example, is an excerpt from the Children & Young People’s Commissioner Scotland. They debunk the misconception GRA reform impacts children’s identities. “This does not impact upon children and young people’s right to affirm their gender identity in day to day life, including in schools... likewise, these proposals do not impact on children’s right to access and consent to medical treatment.” They conclude with a clear “we support the proposed self-declaratory model”.

Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, who have already operated self-ID for ten years, “encourage the Scottish Government to adopt this as practise for legal gender recognition and stress that the introduction of it would have no negative impact on our own service provision”. They add: “We are aware there are concerns relating to the impact of self-ID on gender-based violence services and would like to emphasise our support of the proposed changes.”

Forth Valley Rape Crisis are in agreement, saying “... this would not change the way in which we work with survivors and those affected by sexual relevance” and adding: “If we do not allow space for survivors to self-declare their experience of their gender, we are not a survivor-led organisation...”

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Scottish Women’s Aid broadly supports self-ID, with some caveats about women’s only services. They state: “Women’s Aid do not require sight of women, children, and young people’s birth certificates in order to provide services”, and conclude: “We do not foresee that the proposed changes to adopt a self-ID model would significantly impact Women’s Aid’s existing practise, and we therefore can support proposals to move to that model, with the caveats above.” You can read the full submission online.

‘At the core of our ethos’

Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (WRASAC) Dundee say of practising self-ID: “We have always done and we will always do so. The Scottish Government’s proposal to adopt a self-ID system for legal gender recognition would therefore not have any impact on who accesses our services. These rights are at the core of our ethos and values as a feminist organisation and so we fully support this proposed change to legislation and advocate that it is extended to include provision for non-binary people too. Further, WRASAC feels strongly that the current procedure and evidence requirements to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate are in conflict with our feminist values. They are disciminatory, humiliating and afford institutions the power to assess and police gender, thus stigmatising trans people further and reinforcing the gender binary which WRASAC work to dismantle.”

I have quoted a lot in this column as I believe direct testimony from women’s and equality organisations should be listened to. As mentioned, there are some submissions with opposing viewpoints to those quoted above. I recommend that anyone trying to navigate the GRA reform reads them all.

Stand together

Much about the debate has been destructive. As a feminist who supports self-ID, I do have some friends I disagree with, some of a different generation. I know they are in good faith when asking questions about gender feminists will always ask. But there is also appalling transphobia.

Politicians with weak egos are courted by the worst reactionaries. Pop-up lobbying groups relentlessly attack inclusive women’s and LGBT services. Iain MacWhirter has now written two columns pointing out he doesn’t usually take much notice of women’s issues but is suddenly outraged. The Glasgow Women’s Library, for their inclusive policy, is being accused of misogyny after two decades working with communities of women.

Using minority rights to attack women’s services says it all about how we should stand together. But while the furore is objectionable, the consultation is not about it, but something specific, addressed directly by those above.

Some organisations in favour of self-ID have supported Scottish women for decades, often as an inequal society has failed them, and with great grit and determination to fund services. It says something about how this work is valued that their testimonies have been so poorly reported. The consultation ends on 17 March. I hope others still making up their mind will listen to these experienced women’s groups rather than the bluster outside.



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