Women protest at Holyrood as Scottish Government confirms controversial gender reforms to go ahead

Hundreds of women demonstrated outside the Scottish Parliament protesting against proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), as the government published a delayed consultation report on its plans to change the law.

The consultation, which closed in March last year, received more than 17,000 responses and the analysis found a slight majority of organisations to be in favour of the reforms, but it gave no indication of the balance of individual responses.

The analysis also found 55 per cent of those who responded were in Scotland, while 32 per cent lived elsewhere in the UK. A total of 14 per cent were from respondents outside of the UK, including New Zealand, Canada, France and Norway.

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Overall the report found those in favour and those against the reform proposals were deeply entrenched in their beliefs, with consensus only on a “shared concern around the nature and tone of the debate”.

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The consultation analysis was published as around 400 women took to the streets outside the Scottish Parliament on Thursday to demonstrate against the proposed reforms of the GRA.

Carrying placards saying “women’s rights are not hateful”, they chanted “women won’t wheesht” and booed at mentions of Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Greens, with the First Minister accused of “ignoring biology while advancing trans rights”.

A smaller counter demonstration by trans activists was held at the same time, with campaigners yelling the slogan “transwomen are women, transmen are men”.

The women’s demonstration had been organised in the belief the Scottish Government would have announced its latest Programme for Government this week, with a draft Bill to reform the GRA included.

However, the programme was delayed as this week saw the parliamentary approval of and swearing in of two Scottish Green MSPs, who have committed to ensuring the GRA reform Bill passes through Holyrood.

Pulled from the legislative programme in 2019 by the Scottish Government after an outpouring of concerns by women, with the subsequent launch of a second public consultation, the Bill will now be brought back by social justice secretary Shona Robison.

It is not yet known if, in the light of the consultation responses, it will contain all the original reforms first proposed.

These included removing a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and allowing transgender people to “self-identify” the change, and reducing from two years to six months the time it takes for transgender people to get a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). The reforms also seek to reduce the age at which someone can apply for a GRC to 16.

The analysis report states most respondents to the consultation tended to take one of two overall positions – those broadly in support of, or broadly opposed to, a “self declared” statutory system.

"An analysis of comments made suggests that a small majority of organisations broadly supported changing to a statutory declaration-based system,” the report says.

“Around four in ten organisations did not support changing to a statutory declaration-based system and around one in ten either did not take a view or their view was not clear.”

Of those in support, including the “considerable majority” of children and young people's groups, LGBT and trans groups, unions, political parties, councils and NHS services, it adds: “These respondents tended to see the case for change as being clear and pressing, with the current system in desperate need of reform.

"They often thought the draft Bill offers some improvement relative to the current approach, primarily because of the change to statutory declaration and, more generally, because it would make acquiring a GRC simpler.”

On those opposed, including the “considerable majority of women’s groups and religious organisations”, the report states: “These respondents generally thought a convincing case for change has not been made, and that the current system is broadly fit for purpose.

"These respondents were often very concerned about the potential impact of the proposed changes on society in general, but on the safety and wellbeing of women and girls in particular.”

An area of shared concern, it adds, was the “nature and tone of the debate".

“One perspective was that those identifying as trans and/or supporting and advocating for trans rights are being subjected to transphobic abuse, with any delays to changing the legislation fuelling this discriminatory narrative,” the report said.

"Others suggested anyone who expresses concerns about the proposed changes, in particular in relation to the rights of women and girls or based on their belief system, is accused of being transphobic with any debate being shut down, including through support for no platforming.

"On these issues, and more widely, many respondents' strength of feeling, anxiety and sometimes hurt was clear.”

Ms Robison confirmed work on the draft Bill had resumed. She said: "The Scottish Government is committed to making necessary changes to the Gender Recognition Act to improve and simplify the process by which a trans person can obtain legal recognition."

She stressed this would be done "whilst ensuring we uphold the rights or protections that women and girls currently have under the Equality Act".

Scottish Greens equalities spokeswoman Maggie Chapman said: "Now that the consultation responses report has been published, we look forward to progressing this overdue reform in Parliament, as outlined in the co-operation agreement between the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Government."

Tory MSP Meghan Gallacher, who had attended the demonstration, said: “The consultation responses published by the Scottish Government confirm what we already know – this is a sensitive topic and opinions are firmly split.

“We must protect women’s rights and take concerns that those rights are being eroded very seriously. We will consider and scrutinise any legislation that comes forward.”

The consultation analysis was published just a day after the National Records of Scotland (NRS) confirmed people in Scotland would be able to self-identify their sex in next year's census.

Scots will not be required to give the same sex as that recorded on their birth certificate, while there will also be a voluntary question on trans status.

A court challenge by women’s groups on a similar move south of the border saw the Office of National Statistics forced to drop guidance that allowed the sex question to be answered by self-identification.

Asked if the NRS had liaised with the ONS in the light of its losing the court case, a spokesperson said: “The decision of the High Court of Justice for England and Wales related to the 2021 Census in England and Wales only and was not binding in Scotland.

“The guidance published on Tuesday has been informed by stakeholder feedback and testing, and will enable inclusive participation of all of Scotland’s people in the census.

"NRS continues to work with ONS and NISRA to support users to manage the impact of the different census dates and any variation in guidance.”

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