Trans activists are angry after the UK government dismissed demands for a review on the law on gender recognition.
Britain has better-than-average laws on recognizing trans people’s true genders. But the latest legislation was passed in 2004 and is now widely seen in trans circles as out of date.
A petition, launched in July 2015 by York student Ashley Reed, complains trans people must pay to obtain official recognition of their gender through the Gender Recognition Panel.
It condemns this process as ‘humiliating, outdated and unnecessary’.
Instead it asks that the UK join a growing list of countries, including Ireland, Italy and Argentina, in allowing ‘trans people to self-define their gender’.
And it says non-binary people – who do not see themselves as exclusively masculine or feminine – should have their identities recognized.
The petition attracted over 30,000 signatures.
But the response by Britain’s Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has so disappointed one leading trans activist, Sarah Savage has branded it an ‘insult to trans people’.
The MoJ say the Gender Recognition Act 2004 ‘was developed as a result of the government’s commitment to allowing trans people to gain legal recognition in their acquired gender’.
However, as many trans people have pointed out on Twitter today, the motivation was rather different: the UK government had lost several high profile European Court of Human Rights cases in respect of trans issues. Failure to put in place a legal framework to deal with trans gender would have meant the UK was in permanent breach.
The MoJ response goes on to make three key points.
First: ‘A person’s gender has important legal and social consequences. The state has a legitimate interest in ensuring that people who take on a new legal status can establish that they meet certain criteria.’
Second: ‘It is quite normal for people to pay for a whole range of services, for example, passports, birth and marriage certificates, drivers’ licenses’.
And third: ‘Non-binary gender is not recognized in UK law. We recognize that a very small number of people consider themselves to be of neither gender. We are not aware that that results in any specific detriment, and it is not government policy to identify such people for the purpose of issuing non-gender-specific official documents.’
People have gone on their blogs and Twitter to say this response is at odds with the legal facts.
In law, the legal consequences of gender have diminished greatly over the last decade: remaining distinctions when it comes to pensions will slowly disappear as the population ages; in theory, gender is also no longer an issue when it comes to marriage.
Why, they therefore ask, is the MoJ saying gender has ‘important legal consequences’.
This also appears to contradict the MoJ’s later argument, that obtaining a gender recognition certificate is little more than a personal choice and of little consequence.
The greatest outrage appears to be coming from non-binary people who feel their concerns have been dismissed.
Ruth Hunt, of British LGBT campaign organization Stonewall, says the MoJ’s claims there is no ‘detriment’ to non-binary people of their identity not being officially recognized is not true.
She said: ‘Stonewall is aware of cases of detention and arrest where individuals have been forced to identify with a specific gender in order to be processed.’
She also complained about changing rooms in sport and leisure centers run by both local councils and private companies. The Equality Act should apply to all these facilities – public or private. But Hunt said ‘individuals haven’t been allowed to use a third space [to change] but had to use male or female facilities.’
Others have also questioned the timing of the MoJ response, as it comes at the end of a week in which the UK Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee have just begun to take evidence on transgender equality in the first parliamentary inquiry of it’s type in the country.
The committee is considering not only the working of the Gender Recognition Act, but also discrimination against trans people who are non-binary.
Some in the trans community have said the MoJ response is a deliberate attempt to head off any calls for too radical change by this investigation.