Trans people in Scotland just want to be counted equally by the Census – Vic Valentine

Next Wednesday, the Court of Session will hear a case to decide whether the National Records of Scotland, which runs the Scottish Census, must change the guidance they’re planning to publish on one of the first questions we will all be required to answer: “What is your sex?”

Trans rights activists demonstrate in Edinburgh in September last year (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Trans rights activists demonstrate in Edinburgh in September last year (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

That this requires guidance may seem strange, surely a question could not be more straightforward than that? Well for some trans men and trans women, being confident on how to answer it can be a little more complicated.

Most trans people, after a fair amount of reflection, make changes in our lives so we can be happy as ourselves. We come out to friends and family. We change our names, and the sex on our ID like our passports and driving licences.

We start using services that fit our identities, rather than our sex recorded at birth. This is so we can live our lives as who we really are. Hopefully, we’re treated with acceptance and warmth when coming out, and many of us are.

But sometimes we can face barriers; family members may not respect our identities, saying they still see us as the boy or girl we were born as.

We may approach services that say they don’t know enough about trans people, and refuse us support. And we may encounter difficulties updating some of our ID, particularly our birth certificates.

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The process for changing them continues to be distressing and difficult, requiring a psychiatric diagnosis, extensive medical evidence, and a period of at least two years since we’ve taken those other steps to start living as ourselves before we can apply.

Because of these experiences, when some trans people are asked “What is your sex?”, we want reassurance we can answer in a way that accurately describes who we are now, not who we were expected to be at birth.

NRS plans to provide that reassurance to trans men and trans women with their guidance for the Census sex question, which says your answer can reflect how you live, and need not be the same as the sex on your birth certificate.

The same guidance was used for the 2011 Census. The group taking the court case want the guidance changed to insist people must respond with the sex on their birth certificate.

This would be a serious step back for trans equality in Scotland. It would mean those trans men and trans women who have not yet changed the sex on their birth certificate could feel forced, under threat of criminal penalty, to give an answer that fundamentally undermines how they live their lives. That completely contradicts how they are seen by loved ones, use services, and are recorded on their passport, driving licence, and medical records.

The Census says it “must ensure all citizens are represented, and reflect how they live in Scottish society”.

The NRS’s planned guidance has been extensively tested, with the general public and trans people. It works, has been used before, and means we truly will get a picture of what Scotland is like in 2022.

If this case were to succeed, it would send a very damaging message – that trans men and trans women should not be counted equally as everyone else will be.

Vic Valentine is manager of Scottish Trans

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