Inaccurate commentary can leave everyone feeling confused on trans rights - Vic Valentine

​Vic Valentine fears more misinformation is on the horizon

Trans people’s legal rights have been in and out of the news most months for the last few years, with varying degrees of accuracy.

Understandably, this isn’t something most people know much about – why would they! For the overwhelming majority, it is never going to affect them. Yet this lack of knowledge combined with the intense spotlight on trans people’s lives and rights can cause real problems.

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If people are only hearing snippets of information, from loud but non-expert voices, then they may misunderstand the real situation. This can happen whoever you are: a person in a position of power, a person who just happens to be interested in that news headline, a trans person... Inaccurate commentary online and in the press can leave everyone feeling confused and unsure about what’s going on.

Unfortunately, I can see more of this coming over the horizon. This week, the Scottish Government introduced the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill in the Scottish Parliament. The Bill pretty much does absolutely nothing at all – it’s probably the shortest Bill ever before the Parliament.

All it does is delete a definition of the word ‘woman’ from an Act passed back in 2018 to improve the representation of women on boards of certain Scottish public authorities (like the Accounts Commission or the National Library). But the thing is, that definition has already not been law for more than 18 months. It was struck down by the Court of Session in April last year because, the court ruled, it infringed the reservation of equality law to Westminster. So the Bill introduced this week just deletes something, on paper, that was deleted, legally, from the 2018 Act many months ago.

My organisation was disappointed about that judgement last year. The definition that had originally been included in 2018 had specified that all transgender women who had already started to permanently live their lives in line with their identity rather than the ‘M’ on their birth certificate, would be counted as women when it came to board appointments. The decision of the court was that because equal opportunities is reserved to the UK Parliament, the Scottish Parliament couldn’t do this, and instead the definition had to be the same as it is in UK-wide equality legislation.

That restricts which trans women are treated as women for purposes of positive action measures like this to the tiny number of trans women who have updated that ‘M’ on their birth certificate to an ‘F’. Whilst the number of trans women, and trans people, is small anyway (we think about 0.5% of the population) the number who have updated their birth certificates is smaller still, as the process to do so is intrusive and difficult. So we supported the original, more inclusive approach taken in 2018.

But am I disappointed about this Bill? Only in as much as it is a reminder of that decision 18 months ago. It really does, in legal terms, do nothing at all. But I can’t help but worry that, given my experience of the way these topics have been talked about over the last few years, we may hear a very different story in the coming weeks and months – one that does not reflect the reality. Here’s hoping this time things will be different.



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