A three-day protest will be held by transgender campaigners at the Scottish Parliament to highlight a “major threat” to the rights of trans people.
The Scottish Trans Alliance said potential changes to the next census are equivalent to the Section 28 law which used to ban the teaching of the acceptance of homosexuality in schools.
The organisation claims that being unable to answer the sex question in the census, in the gender in which they live, is rolling back trans people’s rights and “undermining established practice”.
Scotland’s next census will, for the first time, ask voluntary questions on sexual orientation and transgender status, after the Census Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament in its last session.
The Bill had attracted controversy with concerns raised by statisticians that conflating sex and gender would skew vital data and, as a result, public service planning. However equality groups, including the Scottish Trans Alliance believe the “male or female” question should be answered according to transgender people’s “lived sex”.
The National Records of Scotland has yet to publish its guidance on how trans people should answer the sex question and the final proposed questions will be laid before Parliament for agreement next year.
However, from today, a protest will be held outside Holyrood as MSPs return from summer recess, aiming to raise awareness of transgender people’s concerns about the census.
James Morton, manager of the Scottish Trans Alliance said, “In all previous censuses, trans men and trans women have answered using their lived sex, and that has worked well. To change that would fundamentally undermine the long established practice, and internationally established human right, of recognising our lived sex.
“There is no doubt that if those who want this change to be made in the census are successful, they will move on to try to stop trans people being recognised as our lived sex in other areas such as our use of services including the NHS and education, and in government and other equality policies.”
He added: “If the census is changed in this way, it will be the first time that LGBT equality in legislation has gone backwards anywhere in the UK since the introduction of section 28 under Margaret Thatcher in 1988.
“Section 28 labelled same-sex relationships as ‘pretended’. The suggested change to the census sex question would similarly state that trans people’s lived sex is not real. That’s why we’re here at the Parliament to defend against this threat to trans rights, and to say our lives are real.”
However, Dr Kath Murray of MurrayBlackburnMackenzie, a policy group which has researched the census questions, said that the guidance which accompanied the 2011 census and allowed transgender people to answer the question as they saw fit, was introduced “without wider consultation and scrutiny”.
She also pointed to evidence given to Parliament from a leading staistician Professor Susan McVie, who said: “I think that the General Register Office for Scotland got it wrong when it redesigned the census in 2011 and conflated sex and gender identity into one question. We are now trying to disentangle those things. Arguably, the measure of sex in the 2011 census data is not accurate.”
Dr Murray added: “MSPs from all parties voted to include a new question on trans status in the 2021 census.
“Gender reassignment is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, so it is right that the census collects data on the number of Scottish citizens who identify as transgender.
“The 2021 will continue to collect data on sex, as it has since 1801. We are concerned that the National Records of Scotland is proposing guidance for the sex question which would make it a question about gender identity.
“Guidance that accompanied the 2011 census was introduced without wider consultation and scrutiny, and it is not known how far it influenced answers to the sex question. We believe the census should collect data on both sex and trans status separately, to generate the richest, high quality data on both characteristics, and that the question on sex should mirror the legal definition of sex under the Equality Act 2010.”
The STA also said that while it believed the Scottish Government wanted transgender people to fill in the census as to their “lived sex”, it was the SNP’s culture committee convener, Joan McAlpine who wanted to require trans people to answer with their “biological sex at birth”.
Ms McAlpine said that her committee is yet to consider the 2021 Census Order or the guidance, but added that during the consideration of arguments while the Bill was being debated, it was “argued by statisticians and data users that it is important to recognise biological sex in order to plan services such as health and to understand discrimination, because sex is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act.”
She went on: “The 2021 census will allow people to voluntarily state their transgender history, so it is misleading to suggest trans identified people are somehow erased in a census which actually recognises them for the first time.
“Sex is different from gender identity and unless an individual has a gender recognition certificate, their sex is legally what is on their birth certificate. One compromise suggested is that transsexual people with gender recognition certificates could state their legal sex, a very small number of people that would not affect the overall data.
“Transgender people quite rightly have protections in law through the anti hate crime legislation and the Equality Act. However it is not a “human right” to change your sex at the stroke of a pen, or keyboard, in the census. The census is about recording accurate information and remains completely confidential for 100 years.”
Susan Smith of campaign group ForWomen.Scot, which has been fighting against proposals to change the Gender Recognition Act, added: “It is extraordinary that the STA would protest moves to allow a discrete question on gender identity while still ensuring robust sex-disaggregated data.
“As highlighted in Caroline Criado Perez’s book, the latter is still crucial to ensure we have the tools to fight systemic sex-based discrimination. This is yet more evidence that our publicly funded organisations consider the rights of women and girls as secondary at best, disposable at worst.”