Gender reform: How are things one year on from the doomed GRR vote?

We speak to four women about how the past year has been for them

We are now one year on from the controversial gender reform vote in Scotland.

Things have developed quite significantly since the vote on 22 December 2022.

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Quick recap – the Scottish Government wanted to bring in gender reforms, which ultimately would have made it easier for trans people to legally change their gender.

Trans rights supporters demonstrating outside the Scottish Parliament. Image: Lisa Ferguson/National World.Trans rights supporters demonstrating outside the Scottish Parliament. Image: Lisa Ferguson/National World.
Trans rights supporters demonstrating outside the Scottish Parliament. Image: Lisa Ferguson/National World.

The bill aimed to do this in three ways: allowing people to obtain a gender recognition certificate without the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, reducing the age limit for a certificate from 18 to 16, and reducing the amount of time a person had to live in their acquired gender.

It caused a huge amount of controversy at the time, with massive demonstrations on both sides of the debate being held outside Holyrood.

Ultimately the vote passed by 86 votes to 39, prompting angry protests, cheers and applause inside the parliament’s public gallery.

But that wasn’t the end of the matter – fast forward a few weeks to January 2023 and things took an unexpected turn.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack blocked the bill from gaining royal assent and becoming official law by issuing what is called a section 35 order.

He said the bill passed by the Scottish Parliament impinged on the UK-wide Equality Act, and was therefore not legally competent.

This is the first time such an order has been used, and it led to a huge constitutional row.

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One of the first things Humza Yousaf did on becoming First Minister in April was launch a legal challenge to Mr Jack’s section 35 order.

He says leaving this unchallenged opened the door for the UK Government to step in on other devolved areas of legislation.

This rumbled on until early December 2023, almost an entire year after the original vote in Holyrood, with the Supreme Court saying Mr Jack was right to do what he did.

Just before Christmas, the Scottish Government said it would not be appealing this decision and Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said it was “impossible” to see a way forward.

Ms Somerville insisted the bill was not “in the bin”, and expressed hopes that a future UK Labour government may back it instead.

She says the bill will not be withdrawn by the Scottish Government, saying it remains to be seen what a future government will do, adding she will “happily sit down with them”.

She said: “I recognise that many trans people will be disappointed by this decision.

“To them, I say this – he Scottish Government will never waver in our commitment to your rights.

“You deserve to be respected, included and supported.

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“You are not a threat and you will always be able to live your lives free from prejudice and abuse in the type of Scotland we want to see.

“We will continue to work towards a society that is equal and fair and where people can live as they are, just as we will continue to protect the democratic pillars of this, Scotland’s parliament.”

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said an application will be lodged with the court “seeking our expenses in defending this matter”.

He added he was pleased to see the courts upholding his decision to veto the legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament

Mr Jack said: “The Scottish Government chose to pursue this litigation in spite of the cost to the taxpayer.

“These resources would have been better spent addressing the priorities of people in Scotland – such as growing the economy, cutting NHS waiting lists, and improving our children’s education.

“The UK Government now intends to lodge an application with the court seeking our expenses in defending this matter.”

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So how have things been in the past year? Are things better than they were this time a year ago?

I’ve been catching up with four women for their thoughts on the past year, and one thing is clear - no one is happy.

Ellie Gomersall

Ellie Gomersall is a trans activist and a member of the Scottish Greens who attended a number of the demonstrations outside the parliament and the stage one debate of the bill.

She says it has been a “really tough” year, particularly as things were “positive” and “optimistic” after the vote passed in Holyrood.

Ms Gomersall said: “We had no inkling Westminster would block it, and when the section 35 order was announced it was pretty traumatic.

“This was one of the most scrutinised bills and people put a lot of time and effort into getting it right.

“It is clear the section 35 order was a political manoeuvre.

“There is a transphobic rhetoric in UK politics which is incredibly hostile, and that filters down to individual trans people.”

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She said there has been a “record increase” in transphobic hate crime, and she personally has had to speak to the police on multiple occasions and out in “significant” safety measures because of death threats and threats of violence made against her.

She added: “It has been a toxic and uncomfortable year.

“Things are definitely much worse now and I can say with absolute certainty this has a very real impact on individual people on the ground.”

Elaine Miller

Elaine Miller is a gender-critical activist and physiotherapist who hit the headlines after “flashing” MSPs from Holyrood’s public gallery to protest the passing of the bill.

She said the past year has been “depressing” and she doesn’t know how to fix the political stalemate.

Ms Miller said: “I think things are worse, and this debate has highlighted the lack of intellectual rigour in the Scottish Parliament.

“There have been flashes of brilliance, but there are others who won’t do their job, don’t argue, and don’t listen to evidence, which is how we got this appalling, badly thought out legislation.

“We have a situation now where I am politically homeless and I am not alone in that - that is really worrying for a democracy.”

She added it is “shocking” this debate had to be brought to the attention of the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls Reem Alsalem, and that someone external needs to come in and give the debate “a complete overhaul”.

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Ms Miller said: “But we have a good bunch of middle-aged women who are very resourceful, determined and talented and we are lucky to have them.

“If it were not for them we would be gubbed, it is frightening.

“The abuse women are getting online is vicious - I have had arson threats made on my house.”

Maggie Chapman MSP

Maggie Chapman is an MSP for the North East region and the Scottish Greens’ justice, equality and human rights spokeswoman – she was one of the main drivers of the bill.

Ms Chapman says it has been a “tough” and “traumatic” year for trans people who have had their existence debated and their identities “weaponised”.

She said politicians and the media have “relentlessly stoked a culture war” to distract from the climate crisis, the NHS and the economy.

Ms Chapman said: “They have ruthlessly scapegoated and targeted marginalised people.

“Of course, we’ve seen this before, especially in times of economic crisis, infamously in the 1920s and 1930s.”

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She said she wishes the bill had been more focused on the lives of trans people as too much time was taken up by “those who would not be affected by the bill’s provisions”.

Ms Chapman added: “I hope the democratic legitimacy of the Scottish Parliament will be upheld and that gender recognition reform legislation - supported wholeheartedly by the Scottish Greens, and by members of every other party group in parliament - will soon become law.

“Justice, dignity and compassion must prevail if we are to create a better Scotland, not just for trans people but for us all.”

Meghan Gallacher MSP

Meghan Gallacher is deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives and cut her maternity leave short so she could vote against the bill, something she says she was “proud” to do.

She said: “One year on I have no regrets at having done that.

“The stance taken by Alister Jack in using a section 35 order was vindicated almost immediately when a male rapist was inexplicably sent to a women’s prison.”

She then branded the court decision to uphold Mr Jack’s decision as a “resounding victory”.

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Ms Gallacher added: “We should be starting 2024 seeing this legislation consigned to the history books and for the SNP-Green government to be fully focused on the real priorities of Scots such as appalling NHS waiting times and falling educational standards.”



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