Plans to make it easier for Scots to change gender have been launched by the Scottish Government including legal recognition for people who regard themselves as ‘non-binary’ - neither male or female.
“Non-binary” people would be officially acknowledged under the plans, which include reducing the age at which people can change gender from 18 to 16.
Controversially, ministers are also exploring options that would enable pre-pubescent children under the age of 16 to change gender.
Ministers believe Scotland should adopt a “self-declaration system” for legal gender recognition, a process that would remove the current need for a medical diagnosis to change from male to female or vice-versa.
The consultation outlining the plans to make it “simpler and less intrusive” for people to change gender was welcomed by equality organisations and LGBTI rights campaigners.
But suggestion that it could be made easier for children to change gender triggered a furious backlash from religious groups and campaigners for traditional marriage.
“State-sponsored child abuse”
Dr Stuart Waiton, a sociologist at Abertay University, Dundee, condemned the proposal as “state-sponsored child abuse”.
Under the current system, the Gender Recognition Act 2004 makes it possible for an individual to apply to a Gender Recognition Panel and obtain a full Gender Recognition Certificate.
To do this applicants have to produce two medical reports demonstrating a diagnosis of gender dysphoria – a condition that sees an individual experience discomfort because of a mismatch between their sex at birth and their gender identity.
Applicants also have to show that they have lived in their acquired gender for two years. Adopting a self-declaration system would remove those barriers to changing gender.
The consultation document published by Equality Secretary Angela Constance said the Scottish Government favoured lowering the age at which people can change gender from 18 to 16.
For under 16s, the document said children aged 12 and over could raise a court action if they wanted to change gender. Another option would be for their parents to make an application on the child’s behalf. Lowering the age to 12 was also considered but the Government said it “did not favour” that option.
Dr Waiton said: “In a liberal society, it is up to individuals to make decisions about their lives for themselves but this does not mean that we should be cheering on this culture of narcissism.
“Eighteen year olds can do what they like with their bodies. But for a government to suggest that 12-year-olds, immature young people, who don’t have the ‘right’ to go to bed when they want, let alone anything else, can have gender reassignment should be seen as a form of state sponsored child abuse.”
Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute, added: “Politicians must stop and ask themselves if jumping on this bandwagon is really helping children.
“The more trans politics grips our culture, the more young people are being rushed into damaging hormone therapy and mutilating surgery by people motivated more by political posturing than the best interests of children.
“We are seeing more and more cases of young people experiencing profound regret at the damage done to their bodies and mental health by being placed on a conveyor belt to trans-identity simply for questioning their gender.”
Thomas Pascoe, campaign director of the Coalition for Marriage, said: “These proposals are terrifying. The proposal to allow children as young as 12 to change gender without parental consent is deeply damaging. At 12 a child is too young to understand the long-term effects of such a big decision. Instead, of turning these vulnerable children against their parents, the Scottish Government should be supporting families as the best environment to provide the love and support confused children need.”
“We need to do more to progress equality”
Ms Constance said: “Scotland rightly has a reputation as one of the most progressive countries in relation to LGBTI legal and human rights equality in Europe – but we need to do more to progress equality for trans people.
“Both our Fairer Scotland Action Plan and this year’s Programme for Government commit to renewing the 2004 Gender Recognition Act.
This Act was once considered ahead of its time but it now needs updated so we can ensure we are creating a fairer Scotland for those who are transgender and non-binary.
“By holding a full and wide ranging consultation we can make sure that our law is fit for purpose and in line with international best practice.
“This is a vital conversation and one which will ensure transgender and non-binary people in Scotland are treated with dignity, fairness and respect.”
The consultation was welcomed by equality campaigners. LGBTI organisations the Scottish Trans Alliance, Equality Network, LGBT Youth Scotland and Stonewall Scotland all welcomed the plan.