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A message to anyone who believes self-ID for trans people will end society

A message to anyone who believes self-ID for trans people will end society

Women protesting against Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) at Pride Glasgow, Scotland, last weekend

Birth certificates have rarely been so important. The UK government is consulting on reforming the Gender Recognition Act. The act’s sole purpose is to reissue birth certificates for trans people.

For at least the past year the UK’s press seems to have been swamped by pieces which allege that it’s the end of women-only spaces, that men will be allowed in to them, that children will be “transed” – basically that civilisation as we know it will end. Where have we heard those kinds of arguments before?

The opposition to reform has loud mouths and seemingly deep pockets, and accuse trans people of silencing them regularly.

What did the government want to do for trans people? 

Photo: @NUS_LGBT

So let’s look at what the government is asking, and what led it to ask.

A newly formed House of Commons committee in 2015 did an inquiry into trans peoples’ experiences.

In 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May caught pretty much everyone by surprise. She announced she wanted to reform the Gender Recognition Act in line with the recommendations from the cross-party inquiry. And then the problematic press commenced.

The current process requires trans people to assemble a set of medical evidence and a set of documentary evidence that they’ve been ‘living as their acquired gender’ for a minimum of two years. Just getting this evidence can be costly. They then send it off to a panel, who they will never meet, for them to determine whether gender recognition should be granted.

When the law was originally passed in 2004, it was assumed the panel would operate a fairly light touch. In practice, the opposite seems to have happened. As the inquiry heard in 2015, applications are declined or questions are raised if applicants haven’t provided a full audit trail of documentary evidence, if the medical evidence doesn’t detail every single step taken, if there are other circumstances (such as having a three year old child).

The only meaningful right of appeal is on process. Given the panel meets in secret, it’s impossible to determine what process was followed, let alone whether it was followed ‘correctly’. The effect – there is no right of appeal. Therefore the existence of the panel fails the most basic of justice tests – it’s opaque, it’s unaccountable, it’s costly and there is no appeal.

Changing the Gender Recognition Act

Flag saying respect transgender
A call for respect and equality | Photo: Flickr/Franziska Neumeister

Many trans people viewed this process as bureaucratic, costly and inhumane. Parliament agreed. The recommendation was to do away with the panel, reduce the cost, and streamline the process so it became largely administrative, in the same way as has happened in a number of other countries (Ireland, Norway, Malta, Argentina) without any problems whatsoever.

The way to derail the consultation was to make it controversial and seem big. And press coverage over the last year has tried to do this. By implying the change in process will mean that men invade women-only spaces with impunity, the impression was given this was a big, fundamental change. It also was positioned as controversial.

The facts: single sex spaces are protected by all sorts of laws, including but not restricted to the Equality Act, public order acts and acts around gross indecency. None of these will change. No one is advocating for single-sex spaces to be eliminated.

Single sex spaces, like women’s refuges, undertake risk assessments to determine who is safe to enter. They have to do this, otherwise they could unwittingly unleash an abusive or violent lesbian on their female partner who is seeking refuge. That won’t change either. Prisons also work on a risk assessment basis. That’s what the revised policy, issued in 2016, sets out. If the prisoner is deemed to either be a risk or be at risk, then any GRC they may have can be ignored.

If abusive men are the problem, why should trans people suffer? 

Trans marchers holding signs at a protest. | Photo: Tumblr

I’ve never had to show my birth certificate in order to enter changing rooms or toilets. A gender recognition certificate does not magically protect someone from being charged with rape, assault or other offences. The likelihood that someone intending to commit such a crime would have the forethought to apply for a GRC beforehand, in the mistaken belief that somehow that would give them protection, is incredibly small.

This hasn’t happened in other places which have moved to a self-declaration process.

Why are the campaigners positioning British men as more violent or dangerous than men anywhere else in the world?

Some women do have penises. Since 2004, the law has recognized as women those trans women who have not yet had or who cannot have surgery. Waiting lists in the UK continue to be problematic, running into years. A

re these campaigners really saying that trans women only become women once the surgeon’s knife has seen some action? If not, then they must admit that some women do have penises. However some are simply denying that any trans woman is a woman.

While the simple message seems compelling, like Newtonian physics, it isn’t the whole, rich picture. It’s for this reason that the anti-reform campaign can be seen as wanting to roll back trans people’s existing rights.

If abusive men are the problem, why should trans people suffer?

Face the facts

The ask is simple – replace a costly panel with an administrative process, such as exists in an increasing number of other countries without any problems whatsoever. Drop the need for medical reports, which can be difficult or impossible to obtain, particularly for intersex people. Allow the individual more control over one of the most basic aspects of their identity.

If there was a campaign to fight, trans people would probably have picked the one over provision of healthcare, followed by inclusiveness in employment and education. But GRA reform is the battle we’ve been given. It’s becoming clear the opposition has been given lots of funding and has played on theoretical controversy. Now is the time for trans people and our allies to speak up. It’s time to demand fairness and to focus on the facts.

Helen Belcher works with Trans Media Watch to better trans representation in TV, film and journalism.

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