Transgender debate: Gender Recognition Reform Bill protest at Scottish Parliament will see generations of women stand up for hard-won, sex-based rights – Susan Dalgety

There’s a lot to protest about this week. The fiscal and monetary incompetence of the new Prime Minister and her, frankly, rather strange Chancellor, has led to the prospect of unaffordable mortgage payments and collapsing pension funds.

Maya Forstater, seen on right with other campaigners in London, will join a picket of the Scottish Parliament on Thursday to protest against the Gender Recognition Reform Bill (Picture: James Manning/PA)
Maya Forstater, seen on right with other campaigners in London, will join a picket of the Scottish Parliament on Thursday to protest against the Gender Recognition Reform Bill (Picture: James Manning/PA)

Truss has callously threatened to cut benefits to the poorest households to pay for their generosity to the richest 600,000 and the bankers who caused the 2008 financial crash, for which we are still all paying – except the bankers of course. Failing public services, from the NHS to schools. Creaking public infrastructure, filthy streets, empty shops. Our country is in a mess.

So why are hundreds of women from across Scotland, and further afield, planning to picket the Scottish Parliament on Thursday – not about economic Armageddon, but about a rather obscure change to the law that will allow a handful of trans people to change their birth certificate. Or at least that is all the Scottish Government, sponsors of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, insist will happen if it becomes law.

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“This Bill does not introduce any new rights for trans people. It is about simplifying and improving the process for a trans person to gain legal recognition, which has been a right for 18 years,” Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison reassured parliament when she introduced it in March.

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Except she was being disingenuous with the truth. At the heart of the bill lies a change in the law that gives trans people a fundamental new right. Instead of living for two years in the opposite sex to the one they were born while undergoing gentle medical scrutiny before getting a new birth certificate, anyone over the age of 16 will be able to simply register their new identity with the National Records of Scotland.

A 16-year-old girl who believes she was born in the wrong body will be able to change her birth certificate to male without her parents knowing, without any emotional or psychological support.

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Similarly, a 60-year-old man who has worn women’s clothing in private – or public – for the last 30 years, will be able to claim he is legally a woman while keeping his penis and every other biological marker of his natal sex.

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Regardless of what Robison may claim, this freedom to change your legal sex with no scrutiny is a fundamental new right. Women are angry about the impact this will have on their hard-won rights – from safe, single-sex spaces to sport.

They are angry that politicians, keen to show their progressive credentials, are ignoring women’s voices, but angrier still at the cavalier attitude of Robison and others.

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There is an epidemic of young women who, once they hit puberty, believe that they are really men. They use binders to flatten their budding breasts and puberty blockers to stop their body’s natural development. Some are encouraged in their belief that they are male by trans clubs at school – and, crucially, many are heartened by the pronouncements of government ministers.

After all, if the First Minister says it should be much easier to change your sex, then of course it must be a perfectly natural thing to do. Except it’s not.

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And women are angry because their campaign to protect and strengthen women’s sex-based rights has been painted as transphobia. Long-time feminist campaigners like Johann Lamont, former leader of Scottish Labour, are caricatured as bigots, forcing many women – and men – uncomfortable about the proposed changes, and their impact on society, to remain silent.

But the women who will stand shoulder to shoulder outside Holyrood on Thursday will not be quiet. The organisers, grassroots campaign group For Women Scotland, have assembled an impressive line-up of speakers, including Maya Forstater, who recently won an employment tribunal after losing her job at a thinktank because she said that trans women could not change their biological sex.

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She will be joined by, among others, Rona Hotchkiss, former governor of Cornton Vale, Scotland’s only female prison, Elaine Miller, women’s health specialist and comedian, whose Fringe show won five stars from this newspaper, and the aforementioned Johann Lamont.

But the most significant women at the rally will be the ordinary women who have never protested in their lives. Women who are so angry about what is happening to their sex, to their children and grandchildren, that they will board a train bound for Edinburgh, ready to make their voices heard.

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It is these women that the politicians should listen to on Thursday, because they represent the silent majority. They are not members of civil society organisations that attract large government grants, or even grassroots groups that survive on crowdfunding.

They are nurses, retired university lecturers, hairdressers. Open-minded women from all political backgrounds, but mostly none. Women who embrace diversity, who don’t care if comedian Eddie Izzard wears a frock, but who do not believe that it is possible for human beings to change their sex.

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Women who know, from their own experience, that structural inequality between men and women remains entrenched in our society. Women who recognise that, by pretending someone can change their sex with a keystroke, the Scottish Government is spitting in the face of generations of women who fought hard for our sex-based rights.

And women who are not willing to surrender those rights or sacrifice their children’s long-term well-being on the altar of gender identity – a controversial ideology that says sex is not real, only feelings matter.

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These women will gather, politely, outside the Scottish parliament on Thursday morning. It will be interesting to observe which, if any, government ministers, party leaders or backbench MSPs leave the comfort of their cosy offices and come outside to the real world to listen to the women of Scotland.