It was 30 years ago today…

It seems extraordinary to me that it is thirty years since I stood with others in Deans Yard in London outside the meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England waiting for news.

It was a long day and one that many had worked towards tirelessly, for many years.

It was the day that the Church of England finally decided that women should be ordained to the priesthood.

Well, I say that people had worked tirelessly towards that day but the reality was that many were extremely tired. Women had been ordained deacons some years before and were waiting to find out whether their vocations to priesthood would be affirmed or rejected simply on the basis of their gender. There were cruelties along the way. There was a great deal of abuse along the way and some people were just plain exhausted by the time the vote came.

Thias was the only period of my life when I ever was connected with the Church of England for any time. I was working in the chaplaincy of the University of London at Mile End, whilst pursuing ordination in the Scottish Episcopal Church. I was in the Church of England but not of it and the Scottish Episcopal Church was engaged in the very same conversation.

In England, the Movement for the Ordination of Women was the organisation which was pushing for change. In Scotland it was the Movement for Whole Ministry that was rallying the troops. In theory at least, the Movement for Whole Ministry did not see its purpose as being solely about the ordination of women. The idea at the time was that once it had got that priority out of the way, then attention turn to other matters. In the event, once women were ordained in the Scottish Episcopal Church and the focus moved to issues surrounding same-sex couples, the Movement for Whole Ministry shut itself down rather than take up that cause – the first time that I realised that not all ordained women were going to be helpful on LGBT issues, something that remains strikingly clear in the Church of England even today.

That’s worth coming back to on another day but today isn’t the day to linger on it, for my mind keeps going back to Dean’s Yard. In any case, progress for LGBT causes would be unimaginable without the fundamental assertion of feminism that people should be treated equally.

From that day in November in Westminister, I can remember the agony of so many women whom I knew as they were waiting for news. The result when it came was not a foregone conclusion.
For me, today is a day of rejoicing in the gifts of so many astonishing priests that the churches would not have had if those decisions had not been made in those years. I think of the weddings blessed, the mourners comforted, the hundreds of thousands of communicants who have been fed and nourished by the ministry of women who have been ordained in the years since. These things are impossible to quantify; love and grace in ministry, so wide and broad and deep that it cannot be measured.

I remember with thanksgiving those who were pioneers. And I remember today that only so many battles have been won. Ordained women often get abuse in the streets when in clerical wear even now, younger women being particularly targetted. And women still don’t have parity of opportunity either in secular environments or in ecclesiastical ones.

There are battles still to be won. But thank God for progress when it comes. And thank God for the decision made 30 years ago today.

Gender Recognition Act Reform – It’s Time

This week the Scottish Government will be considering a piece of legislation which will affect most people’s lives very little but which has great significance for those seeking legal recognition that their gender is different to that which was assigned to them at birth.

People being recognised legally as having a changed gender is nothing particularly new – it has been happening for years. What it means is that people are able to have access to documents that reflect their lived experience in the world. After all, if everyone experiences you as being one gender and yet your passport indicates that you are legally a different gender then that is going to cause you trouble sooner or later.

The proposals being discussed this week are mostly about the simple question of who should make the decision about someone’s changed gender. Up until now, it has been necessary to get a medic to agree, after a long process of living in one’s new gender that one is in fact now legitimately the gender that one already knows oneself to be.

One of the problems with this is that doctors (as represented by their professional bodies) don’t seem to feel that this is an appropriate decision for a medic to make about another individual.

There has been a great deal of debate in recent years about this. Some of it reminds me of the very worst public prejudice about gay people that we used to see in the public realm all the time. Some of it has been barely hidden hatred of trans people.

Now, I’m not trans, so people might wonder whether I’ve got any skin in this game, so to speak. Well, I have been the victim of an anti-trans hate crime. (That’s not just my opinion, that was the determination of a Sheriff Court judgement). Being the target of that hatred was horrible. How much more horrible it must be to be trans and be subject to the current discourse day in, day out.

The question that I always ask people who are worried about changes to the Gender Recognition Act is always the same. “Who do you think should decide whether someone has changed gender?”

I don’t always get an answer to this. It seems to me that the driving force in all of this should be those who are at the heart of these matters – those seeking to be recognised as having a gender expression different to that with which they were born.

The current proposals don’t have any effect on the right to use gendered spaces – access to spaces and services generally was determined with the Equality Act. The current proposals have no effect on anyone’s rights, other than the right of someone to access a passport and other similar official documents that are appropriate to who they are.

I’ve yet to meet anyone objecting to reforming the Gender Recognition Act who has witnessed any crime involving access to gendered spaces that they thought should be reported to the police.

Yes, oddly, they still often claim to be against “self ID” for trans people.

At that point in the conversation I usually say that I can think of no-one other than a trans person who is better qualified to determine their gender and that they should be able to do so, subject to it being a criminal offence to make a fraudulent application to be recognised in a gender that was not assigned to one at birth.

“Yes,” cry those who claim to be against self-ID – “Yes, that’s what we need! We need it to be illegal to make a fraudulent claim that one is a different gender – that’s what the government should do”.

I then find myself having to explain patiently that this is exactly what the government is proposing and what trans people are asking for.

It is time, for reasons of dignity and justice and common sense that the Gender Recognition Act was amended to allow this to be the way that people get access to the documents that they need and which reflect who they are.

The time for Gender Recognition Act reform in Scotland is now. The government should press on ahead confident that they are doing the right thing.