Parliament yesterday began its debate on whether to make non-binary a legally recognised gender identity in the UK. The debate comes after more than 140,000 people signed a petition to bring forward non-binary legal recognition. The petition called for non-binary gender identities to be included as an option under the Gender Recognition Panel and Gender Recognition Certificate “in order to allow those identifying as non-binary to be legally seen as their true identity.”
As it stands, non-binary gender identities are not recognised in UK law. The Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA) allows people to change the sex on their birth certificate, however it makes no provision for the recognition of any other genders. While the Government has made clear that it does not intend to reform the GRA, the 2021 report of the Women and Equalities Select Committee on called on the Government to clarify the reasons preventing the legal recognition of non-binary gender identities and for the Equality and Human Rights Commission to undertake research in this area.
Non-Binary Recognition: What was debated?
Well, almost everything except the legal recognition of non-binary gender identities.
The debate began with Conservative MP Nick Fletcher suggesting that some people or organisations are “putting” the idea of non-binary gender identity into the “minds” of children, and instructed parents: “do not ever give into [their children with gender dysphoria] or to peer pressure of other adults”, insisting that parents should “push back” if their child says they are non-binary or transgender.
Rather than debating the merits of the petition, Fletcher went on to talk about trans women in sports, bathrooms, insisting no trans person under the age of 18 should receive gender affirming care.
To be clear, some MPs spoke powerfully in defence of the non-binary and transgender communities and transgender rights. However, even among these MPs, the instances in which they focused on the debate at hand were few and far between, often focusing on the state of transgender healthcare in the UK. Perhaps the one exception was Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities Anneliese Dodds MP, who eloquently criticised the Government’s handling of reforms to the GRA.
Commenting on the debate, the world’s first openly non-binary mayor, Owen Hurcum of Bangor, North Wales, commented that the first three speakers “spent the entirety of their speeches not actually addressing the petition at hand – legal recognition for non-binary people in the gender identification – but attacking the trans community.”
Won’t somebody think of the children?
There were no non-binary people in this debate, somehow even in a debate about non-binary people’s rights they barely get a mention. There seemed to be limited understanding of the fact that being non-binary and being transgender are (while related) different things.
Instead of debating the petition signed by 140,000 people, Westminster became a stage for anti-transgender bigotry, falling into a myriad of culture war topics that are entirely immaterial to the issue of legal non-binary recognition.
Particularly shocking is how easily senior politicians are dusting off the old methods of othering people we are supposed to have grown past. The accusations of the brainwashing of children were levelled against Jews, other ethnic minorities, homosexuals and now apparently transgender people (and non-binary people if anyone remembers).
Parliamentary debate assumed language more suited to the replies of a J.K. Rowling Twitter thread and fell into a pattern we have seen time and time again as minorities are othered and marginalised through fear and ignorance.
This is a deep shame. This debate could and should have been used to address the legal and administrative complexities involved in legally recognising non-binary gender identities. Some form of legal non-binary recognition exists in 20 countries, so it is far from impossible, even if it is not simple. The question is how far up the agenda this issue is for the Government Equalities Office. At the moment it doesn’t seem to be a priority.