GRA Bill Scotland: Reform to 'simplify and streamline' gender recognition process could lead to drastic rise in applications, announces Shona Robison

Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison says the number of people applying to the gender recognition process may rise from 30 to up to 300 as ‘streamlining’ reform introduced to Parliament.

The social justice secretary also said violence against women and girls is caused by “predatory and abusive men not trans people” as she introduced reform to ‘simplify’ the gender recognition process for trans people to Parliament.

The long-awaited Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill was tabled at Parliament on Thursday as MSPs were urged to take a ‘respectful tone’ during considerations of the reform.

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Obtaining a GRC means a trans person is legally recognised in their acquired gender, and can obtain a new birth certificate showing that gender.

Equalities Secretary Shona Robison introduced the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill to Scottish Parliament (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA).Equalities Secretary Shona Robison introduced the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill to Scottish Parliament (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA).
Equalities Secretary Shona Robison introduced the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill to Scottish Parliament (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA).

The current process means applicants have to be medically diagnosed as having gender dysphoria, go through a minimum two year process and be aged over 18.

Extensive consultation has shown that applicants have found the current system “invasive and intrusive”, Ms Robison told Parliament.

Reforms introduced mean trans people will no longer need to provide medical reports or evidence, and the process will be substantially quicker and made available to those aged 16 and over.

Under the reform, GRCs would be issued on the basis of statutory declaration made by the applicant, rather than on a judgement by a tribunal based on a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

Instead of applying to a UK tribunal, the Gender Recognition Panel, applicants would apply to the Registrar General for Scotland.

The Bill also proposes that applicants must have lived in their acquired gender, but the minimum period for this should be reduced from 2 years to 3 months, with an additional 3 month reflection period.

Based on international comparison – particularly with Ireland which introduced a similar process seven years ago – the Scottish Government estimates the number of applications might rise from around 30 to between 250 and 300 per year on the basis of this reform which looks to “streamline” and “simplify” the current process, according to Robison.

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The Social justice secretary also announced there will be no application fee for the GRC as initially noted in the draft bill.

Making a false application for a GRC will be an offence with penalties of up to 2 years imprisonment or an unlimited fine.

The reform has caused much controversy on both sides – those in favour and those against – of the reform.

Many gender critical people who oppose the reform have mentioned the ‘threat to women’s and girls’ as a reason for not passing reform.

Asked if the SNP will offer MSPs a free vote, a party spokeswoman said: "Proposals for reform of the GRA were in the SNP Manifesto. Any decisions on votes is for the Group to take."

A spokesman for the First Minister said it would be a matter for the SNP group in Holyrood, but ministers are bound by collective responsibility.

He said: "It would be a matter for the group, but it's probably worth adding SNP MSPs were elected on a specific manifesto commitment."

Despite saying proposals to the current system would be ‘beneficial’, Meghan Gallacher Conservative MSP said: “The proposals as they stand do not protect women’s rights.

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"They do not offer enough protection for women’s safety. The concerns of women are legitimate, they are reasonable and legitimate.”

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Speaking at parliament today, Ms Robison said: “We must be clear: all the evidence tells us that the cause of violence against women and girls is predatory and abusive men; it is not trans people. We must not conflate the two.

"There is no evidence that predatory and abusive men have ever had to pretend to be anything else to carry out abusive and predatory behaviour.

"I have often found the tone of debate on social media to be angry, unpleasant and abusive; both of trans people and of those who oppose gender recognition reform.”

Ms Robison made clear the reform “does not introduce new rights or remove rights”.

She said: “It does not change public policy or prevent single-sex services being offered where appropriate. It does not change rules or conventions in place, and in place for years under the current system, for example access to toilets and changing rooms.”

If the the reform to reduce the age to include 16 and 17-year-olds is passed, there will be support and guidance provided to young people through schools, third sector bodies and National Records of Scotland (NRS).

Every 16 or 17 year old who applies will be offered the option of a conversation with NRS to talk through the process.

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Amy Winter, Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament, said: "Myself and other trans including non-binary young people have been waiting on this moment for a long time and are looking forward to the changes we hope this bill will make for our future.

"As much as I am excited about the proposed changes I would be lying if I said I was 100% happy with everything.

"I am still saddened by the fact that those of us who are non-binary have not been included. That being said I am in full support of this bill and think it is a massive step in the right direction for trans rights in Scotland."

The social justice secretary said moving towards a system based on personal declaration will bring Scotland into line with systems in Norway, Denmark and Ireland, and recent reforms in Switzerland and New Zealand.

Trans people have been able to apply for legal gender recognition through a Gender Recognition Certificate, or GRC, since 2004.

Not all trans people have Gender Recognition Certificates and no-one is required to have one.

The UK Government estimates there are up to 500,000 trans people in the UK, of whom only around 6,000 have a GRC.

There is little robust evidence of how many trans people live in Scotland, however, the first official estimate is expected to be gained through the 2022 census.

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