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“Historic” Gender Recognition Reform Bill Passed in Scotland

The Gender Recognition Reform Bill passed by 86 votes to 39 in an “historic” vote in the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Government put forward the landmark legislation which will improve the system by which transgender people can apply for legal recognition through a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).

Lowering the legal age to 16, the legislation allows trans people aged 16 and older applying for a GRC to make a legally binding declaration that they are already living in their acquired gender and intend to do so permanently.

For 16- and 17-year-olds, this will be six months.

Manager of Scottish Trans, Vic Valentine welcomed the vote saying the “simple but important” changes would allow trans people to live “with the dignity and recognition that everyone deserves”.

They added: “Trans people across Scotland today will be feeling pleased and relieved that this bill has passed, after many years of difficult public debate that has often felt like people are talking about us and not to us.”

Gender Recognition Reform Bill has divided Scotland'a Parliament
First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has been praised for taking a principled approach towards trans rights (Image Scottish Parliament)

Additional protections

The Bill includes safeguards against misuse of the system. It will be a criminal offence for applicants to make a false application. A new statutory aggravator and a risk‑based approach in relation to sex offences strengthen these protections.

Following concern by some feminist groups, the Scottish Government accepted an amendment from SNP MSP Gillian Martin which affords a police constable the power to notify authorities after a “risk assessment” about applicants who are already on the sex offenders register.

It was confirmed that Police Scotland will apply for a sexual harm prevention order or sexual offences prevention order.

People in Scotland have been able to change their legal gender from male to female or female to male since 2004.

Commenting on the vote, Social Justice Secretary, Shona Robison MSP said:

“This is an historic day for equality in Scotland with the Gender Recognition Reform Bill being approved by parliament and by members of all parties.

“It simplifies and improves the process for a trans person to obtain a gender recognition certificate – which many currently find intrusive, medicalised and bureaucratic.

“The legislation makes no change to the reserved Equality Act 2010 and that principle is enshrined in the Bill. As I have made clear, the Scottish Government continues to support the provision of single-sex services and the rights of women.

“The passing of this bill is a significant step forward in creating a more equal Scotland, where trans people feel valued, included and empowered.”

UK Government to “examine” reforms

Following the vote, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said it is “completely reasonable” for the UK Government to examine the Scottish Government’s reforms that will make it easier for people to change gender.

Visiting a homeless shelter in London, the Prime Minister said, “I think it is completely reasonable for the UK government to have a look at it, understand what the consequences are for women and children’s safety in the rest of the UK, and then decide on what the appropriate course of action is.”

The Scottish Parliament voted yesterday to lower the age when people can apply to change their legal gender to 16 and remove the need for a medical diagnosis.

This has prompted disagreement with the UK Government that have expressed concerns over safety for women and children.

Speaking to the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Scotland’s Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison who steered the Bill through Parliament said:

“The bill as passed is absolutely within legislative competence and of course was backed by an overwhelming majority with support from all parties.

“It would be unfortunate to say the least of the UK Government were to go down this road.”

In a statement, Scottish Secretary, Alister Jack said: “We will look closely at that, and also the ramifications for the 2010 Equality Act and other UK-wide legislation, in the coming weeks – up to and including a Section 35 order stopping the Bill going for Royal Assent if necessary.”

Gender Recognition Reform Bill background

Trans people have been able to apply for legal gender recognition through a Gender Recognition Certificate in Scotland since 2004. Not all trans people have a GRC and no-one is required to have one.

Removing the current requirement under the Gender Recognition Act 2004 for applications to have evidence of a diagnosis of gender dysphoria aligns with international best practice and the consensus view of United Nations Human Rights bodies.

Applicants must make a statutory declaration that they have lived in the acquired gender for at least three months before applying (six months for 16- and 17-year-olds).

Making a false application will carry a maximum penalty of imprisonment for up to two years or an unlimited fine or both. There is also provision in the Bill for a person with interest such as the Registrar General to make an application to the sheriff on the grounds an application was fraudulent.

Final thought

Ben HEad

Ben Howlett

Chair LGBT+ Commission and CEO Curia

Former Member of Parliament and Member of the Women & Equalities Select Committee gives his take on the result of the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill

Often controversial social changes cause a great deal of heated debate. It is hard to recall whether a protester flashed their nether regions covered by fake hair during the Equal Marriage debates, but there was definitely much division that took years to lay to rest.

However, a decade on – has society imploded from equal marriage? Despite the protests at the time, has the country gone to pot as a result of the lowering of the legal age of consent? Is democracy undermined by women having the vote. No, no, no.

The trouble with Westminster getting involved is that north of the border, this will look like interference – increasing the sense of subservience and undermining the union even further. Politically, it would be wise for the UK Government to let this one go.

Legally, for a government to spend time on something that is pretty constitutionally and legally solid, seems a waste of time and resources.

The decision by the Minister for Inequalities, I mean Equalities (oops Freudian slip) Kemi Badenoch to review the decision of the Scottish Parliament seems like a vindictive campaign against trans people. Westminster does not have time to worry about things right now, the Government needs to focus its attention on the economy, strikes and public service reform.

As we move into the New Year, my message to the Equalities Minister is look elsewhere to start a row.

Sturgeon ain’t budgin…

Find out more

Find out more about the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill.

(Image: Scottish Trans)

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