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.

Statement on Transgender Day of Remembrance 2019

Earlier this year, someone was convicted in Glasgow Sheriff Court of sending me threatening and abusive messages. The offence was found to be aggravated by prejudice related to both sexual orientation and transgender identity. Someone had threatened my life, and my own association and support for trans people was one of the reasons for the prejudice and one of the reasons that the court and the police took the offence as seriously as they did.

Whilst it was unpleasant having to deal with that incident, I’m well aware that it was the one time in my life when I’ve seriously suffered myself from prejudice against people with a trans identity. Those who are trans have to deal with this prejudice every day as they make their way through life. Such prejudice seems to have become more vocal and confident recently.

My own limited and partial experience of dealing with this is one factor in why I am prepared to stand alongside those who mark today as the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Violence and prejudice against people is wrong. Trans people are simply people. Prejudice and violence against trans people is simply wrong.

However, in stating that I stand alongside trans people in remembering that they suffer from violence and prejudice, I also am reminded that as I stand alongside trans people I stand alongside people whom I’ve known to be creative, brave, funny, interesting and whole. I know and have worked with trans priests and admire them. My own congregation includes trans people with all kinds of diverse experience who are not simply defined by their trans identity. When I think of them, I think of people who make the world a better place.

The world will be a better place when violence against anyone because of their identity is eliminated.

Remembering trans people whose lives have been taken from them, I lament their loss and pray that they may rest in peace and rise to make heaven more glorious.

Remembering trans people who are alive, I thank God for them and pray that their lives may be filled with joy.

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