A campaign against the Scottish Government's proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act was launched by a new LGB organisation today, as Nicola Sturgeon was challenged on the issue of transwomen being placed in female prisons.
The LGB Alliance, which was set up last year by a group of lesbian, gay and bisexual equality campaigners, says it is concerned about the impact of the reforms which it claims promote a "gender free-for-all" and want the Bill withdrawn.
The organisation is launching full page adverts in Scottish newspapers tomorrow as part of its campaign, and has been backed by two new women's groups ForWomen Scotland and Women Make Glasgow, who both also object to the proposals.
The Scottish Government has launched a second consultation on its proposals which would give trans people the ability to request a Gender Recognition Certificate - which changes their birth certificate and their "legal sex" - without requiring a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, without having to live in their "acquired gender" for two years, reducing it to three months, and to lower the age that a GRC can be applied for to 16.
Equalities Minister Shirley-Anne Somerville, who is spearheading the government's plans, has said that she believes women's rights would be unaffected by the changes, in particular those which relate to having single-sex spaces such as changing rooms, refuges and women's prisons. She says the changes are necessary as those who wish to apply for a GRC find the current system "traumatic and demeaning".
But the LGB Alliance claims the changes are "profoundly dangerous to women" and "sweep away current safeguards".
Its campaign launch came as MSPs today raised the issue of transwomen in women's prisons with both the First Minister and the Justice Secretary in Holyrood.
READ MORE: Scottish Government accused of putting women in Scottish prisons at risk
At First Minister's Questions, SNP MSP Kenny Gibson asked Nicola Sturgeon if it was time that trans prisoners who were "still physically male" were no longer placed in women's prisons.
He said: "Last night I attended a meeting with 12 other MSPs and around 50 people, mostly from frontline women's organisations to discuss women's sex-based rights. We heard from one of my constituents, a retired prison governor who said while the Scottish Prison Service would not contemplate placing a transman in a male prison, they have fewer qualms about placing a transwoman, who's still physically male, in a female prison
"A risk assessment only takes into account a transwoman's propensity for violence, it does not assess the potential psychological impact on female prisoners, many of who are extremely vulnerable having endured years of violence at the hands of male perpetrators. This can, and has, had serious impacts on the mental well being and rehabilitation of vulnerable female prisoners. Is it not time therefore First Minister, to ensure that people who are still physically male are not admitted to female prisons?"
The First Minister said she was "more than happy" to ask Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf to respond to Mr Gibson in detail on the issue, and added: "More generally, this is a sensitive issue, it's obviously a controversial issue.
"It's very important we respect and protect women's rights, I've spent a lifetime as a committed feminist doing that, but that we also respect and protect trans rights, and that we allow a proper debate as the govt is seeking to do with draft legislation to convince those who have concerns about this that there is not a tension and an inevitable conflict between women's rights and trans rights and that is work that is underway and the government will continue to take that forward in a responsible and sensitive manner."
Last May the SPS said it was reviewing its trans policies, admitting it had failed to consider the impact on women prisoners of housing transwomen in the same prison.
READ MORE: In dispute over trans rights, feminists must have free speech – Susan Dalgety
The subject was raised again later by Labour MSP Johann Lamont, directly with Mr Yousaf. Ms Lamont said prison staff were concerned about the impact the changes to the Gender Recognition Act could have on female inmates "who are among the most vulnerable in our society."
Mr Yousaf said: "Acquiring a gender recognition certificate does not and will not give a prisoner any new legal rights regarding the decisions made by the Scottish Prison Service about their accommodation.
"Decisions as to the most appropriate location to accommodate transgender people are made on an individualised basis after careful consideration of all relevant factors - including risk. Such decisions seek to protect both the wellbeing and rights of the individual, but also crucially the welfare and rights of others including staff and of course other inmates in order to achieve an outcome that balances risk with the safety of all.
"No changes are planned to this specific part of the process as a consequence of the proposed reforms to the way in which a person can obtain a gender recognition certificate."
Mr Yousaf confirmed the review of the SPS policy - which was originally developed in 2014 - will take place in "early 2020" and will involve "consultation with MSPs, criminal justice partners and other interested parties".
The LBG Alliance campaign is also focused on the potential impact on women's single-sex spaces of the changes to the Gender Recognition Act. It also believes the definition of same-sex attraction is under threat from "pseudo-scientific gender ideologies" and has a stated aim to "uphold the definition of homosexuality as sexual orientation towards people of the same sex; and of bisexuality as sexual orientation towards people of either sex".
READ MORE: The one thing the bitter debate over feminism and trans rights needs right now: a bit of humanity – Laura Waddell
However the group has been criticised as "transphobic" as unlike other similar representative bodies, such as Stonewall Scotland, it does not represent trans people.
LGB Alliance founder Kate Harris said: “There are many faults with this dog’s dinner of a bill but perhaps the greatest is the fact it will erode the rights of women and girls by effectively
allowing anyone who was born male to say he’s now a woman and gain legal recognition of this new status, and a birth certificate to prove it.”
Malcolm Clark of LGB Alliance (Scotland), which will lead the organisation's campaign in Scotland, also raised the issue of lowering the age at which a GRC can be applied for, and claimed the reforms promoted the idea to children that they could be "born in the wrong body".
He pointed to statistics showing the number of children aged four to ten who had been referred to gender identity clinics last year in Scotland had risen by 80 per cent.
"By lowering the age at which young people can gain a gender recognition certificate from 18 to 16 this Bill will encourage many more kids to begin their transition at 13 or 14 … ready to get their certificate when they turn 16.
"We believe that the rush to transition is being driven by social contagion and fashion. In fact the vast majority of these kids would grow out of these ideas if left to go through puberty as normal. Instead activists promote giving children powerful puberty blockers and set them on a path that could mean life-long medicalisation and sterility.”
In response, Colin MacFarlane, Director, Stonewall Scotland said: ‘Trans people have waited far too long for equality and to be recognised for who they are. We urge everyone who wants to improve life for trans people to be visible, active allies and respond to the government’s consultation.’