MSPs Kate Forbes, Ash Denham and Ivan McKee, who are all government ministers, have signed a public letter laying out their concerns about the increasingly bitter debate around proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA).
SNP colleagues Joan McAlpine, Ruth Maguire, Christine Grahame and Kenneth Gibson, along with their MP colleagues Carol Monaghan, Angus Macneil, Joanna Cherry and Patricia Gibson, are co-signatories.
The statement has also been signed by leading SNP councillors, including Chris McEleny, group leader at Inverclyde council, Caroline McAllister, deputy leader of the SNP group on West Dunbartonshire Council, Shaun Macaulay, deputy leader of the SNP group on North Ayrshire Council, and Lynne Anderson from North Lanarkshire Council.
In a challenge to the government and their own party, which meets for its annual conference this weekend, the 15 say that “conflating sex with gender identification affects a wide range of policy and service delivery, including data collection, education, health and social care, justice and sport. New information about this topic is emerging all the time and deserves to be properly scrutinised”.
The letter adds: “Changing the definition of male and female is a matter of profound significance. It is not something we should rush.”
The group welcomed last week’s intervention by equalities secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville in which she said people discussing transgender issues, self-identification of gender and women’s rights should “not be subject to knee-jerk accusations of transphobia”. They said all parliamentarians should be able to “discuss questions of law, policy and practice in relation to definitions of sex and gender in good faith, and without being subject to abuse of any kind”.
The politicians’ letter comes just a day after a group of 14 transsexuals wrote to every MSP outlining their concerns about proposed changes to the GRA, which they claim could detrimentally affect the rights of women, and how a potential backlash could also undermine their own rights.
The past month has seen internal warfare over trans rights within the SNP spill out into the public domain after Ms McAlpine became the first MSP to publicly express her views on the conflation of sex and gender and how self-ID could impact the collection of statistics. She found herself at the centre of online abuse from trans activists and SNP party members who accused her of being a transphobe and said they would seek to have her de-selected as an MSP.
The rights row centres on two pieces of legislation – the Census Bill, which will govern the questions asked on sex and gender in the 2021 census, and amendments to the GRA. Those amendments would allow gender recognition certificates to be granted solely on the self declaration of the applicant, rather than the current standard of a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and proof of having lived for two years in the gender desired.
The Scottish Government has committed to retaining a male or female sex question in the census, rather than adding a third “non-binary” option and it will add a voluntary question on people’s trans status. Its consultation on the GRA reforms ended some months ago, but it is yet to report on what action it will take.
LGBT organisation Stonewall Scotland said the delay had been causing “real concern and anxiety” for trans people.
James Morton of the Scottish Trans Alliance said: “The SNP included the commitment to reform the Gender Recognition Act in their 2016 Holyrood manifesto. So did other parties. Scotland is dropping behind countries around us on LGBTI equality. We welcome Parliamentary scrutiny of the legislation. We had a robust debate about equal marriage, and reform of the Gender Recognition Act should be no different. This will enable parliamentarians to be reassured that there will be no unintended consequences.”
A spokesperson for Ms Somerville said: “No-one is proposing to change the definition of male and female. Trans men and women are amongst the most stigmatised groups in our society. They deserve to know that their government is working to change that – and we remain committed to doing so, whilst seeking to understand and address the concerns being raised.”