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UK government ditches plans to overhaul Gender Recognition Act

UK government ditches plans to overhaul Gender Recognition Act

  • Equalities Minister Liz Truss says changing the legislation is ‘not the top priority’ for trans people.
Equalities Minister, Lizz Trust

UK news today will focus on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s statement about new COVID restrictions. This means another announcement could well slip under the radar. As suspected, the government has officially decided not to overhaul the 2004 Gender Recognition Act (GRA).

The GRA concerns the legal process by which people change their gender.

Many trans people have complained about the process of obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate. They denounce the process as too lengthy, medicalized, bureaucratic and demeaning.

To get the certificate, trans people must obtain a medical diagnosis from a doctor. Also, they provide evidence they’ve been living in their identified gender. The act does not recognize non-binary identities.

Government publishes consultation results

In 2018, a public consultation was launched in England and Wales about reviewing the legislation. Suggestions included streamlining the process. In short, trans people would be able to self-identify their gender without providing proof they have gender dysphoria. Other countries, such as Denmark and Norway, have already introduced such changes.

Today (September, 22), the results of the consultation were published. Around 108,000 people responded. Of these, 80% said they were in favor of the legal process being changed to remove the need for a medical report.

Over three-quarters indicated they wish to see the requirement trans people provide ‘evidence’ of living in their gender removed. Furthermore, 64% said there should not be a requirement for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

However, in response, the government says it does not feel a major overhaul is necessary. It will therefore not be making legal changes.

Equalities Minister ‘deeply concerned’ over waiting lists

In a Ministerial statement published alongside the results, equalities minister Liz Truss said: ‘We want transgender people to be free to live and to prosper in a modern Britain.

‘We have looked carefully at the issues raised in the consultation, including potential changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

‘It is the government’s view that the balance struck in this legislation is correct, in that there are proper checks and balances in the system and also support for people who want to change their legal sex.’

‘We have also come to understand that gender recognition reform, though supported in the consultation undertaken by the last government, is not the top priority for transgender people. Perhaps their most important concern is the state of trans healthcare. Trans people tell us that waiting lists at NHS gender clinics are too long. I agree, and I am deeply concerned at the distress it can cause.’

Some respondents to the consultation strenuously opposed changes and want to see trans people banned from single-sex spaces, such as changing rooms. Truss pointed out that the 2010 Equalities Act already protects trans people from discrimination, and this will not change. She also said three new gender clinics will be opened this year to help cut waiting lists.

Reducing the financial cost

Truss said the cost of obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate would be reduced from £140 to a ‘nominal’ amount. She also said the whole process would be moved online, to make it quicker. Truss said the changes were to make the process, ‘kinder and more straightforward.’

However, the news has prompted disappointment among trans people and advocacy groups.

‘While these moves will make the current process less costly and bureaucratic, they don’t go anywhere near far enough toward meaningfully reforming the Act to make it easier for all trans people to go about their daily life,’ said Nancy Kelley, the chief executive of LGBTI advocacy organization, Stonewall.

‘Reforming the Act could have brought England and Wales in line with our neighbors in the Republic of Ireland, who have had a de-medicalized, self-determination system for gender recognition since 2015 without any problematic repercussions.’

Mermaids UK, which supports trans young people and their parents, said it was glad an announcement had finally been made, and that discrimination protections for trans people were not changing.

‘For too long, transgender and non-binary people of all ages have suffered ill-informed “debate”, whilst trying to pursue their education, jobs and personal lives in safety and dignity,’ said a spokesperson.

However, it lamented the fact more had not been done.

‘While we welcome news that the cost of the GRC process is to be lowered to an unspecified “nominal” amount and applications moved online, we know from our young service users that they hoped for more and we must repeat our disappointment that none of these proposals offer help to those aged under 18.’

Conservative government changes direction on issue

Amnesty International UK, Liberty and Human Rights Watch issued a joint statement. The organizations called the decision, ‘hugely disappointing’ and a missed opportunity.

‘Research has found that medical barriers to gender recognition for trans people are unnecessarily intrusive and can harm their physical and mental health. With medical requirements still in place, trans people will continue to be forced through harmful processes to have their gender legally recognised.’

The UK’s former Prime Minister, Theresa May, launched the consultation in 2018. She said at the time, ‘I want to see a process that is more streamlined and de-medicalized – because being trans should never be treated as an illness.’ This led many to hope that major changes were on the way.