Another Governmental U-turn: scrapping reforms to the Gender Recognition Act
Isabel Murray discusses the recent decision to scrap the proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act and how this a missed opportunity from the UK government to protect trans folk.
In the latest in a series of governmental U-turns, ministers have decided against making changes to the Gender Recognition Act. While this may seem inconsequential, the planned changes would have allowed trans people to have their gender legally recognised much easier than the current procedure.
As it stands, the Gender Recognition Act 2004 requires trans people to be medically diagnosed with gender dysphoria before being able to change the name and gender present on their birth certificate. Not only is this an uncomfortable process which medicalises trans bodies but also the label of suffering with gender dysphoria was until recently still classified as being a mental health problem by the WHO. Other stipulations that must be met before legal recognition of trans people’s gender is granted include being at least 18 years old, paying an £140 fee (which is notably more costly than getting a marriage certificate, a driving licence or a passport), and providing evidence that you have been living as your ‘acquired gender’ for a minimum of two years.
The concept of a self-identification process offered a glimpse of hope for a less complicated, less emotionally exhausting method of gaining legal recognition of gender.
While the proposed changes to the procedures laid out by the Gender Recognition Act weren’t made entirely explicit, the concept of a self-identification process offered a glimpse of hope for a less complicated, less emotionally exhausting method of gaining legal recognition of gender. This idea was introduced during a discourse set up by Theresa May’s government. This produced a grand total of 102,818 responses, with 64% of these expressing that mandatory diagnoses should not be part of the process due to trans identity not being a medical or mental health problem.
The reforms also had the potential to allow non-binary people to change their legal gender to adequately reflect their identity, as currently there is only the option to change your ‘gender marker’ from female to male, or male to female. Hence, non-binary people have been overlooked altogether. Given these apparent neglections, it isn’t hard to see why organisations like Amnesty International UK are branding this refusal to change as a “missed opportunity” to protect the marginalised and to ensure equal human rights.
Although the news of the outright rejection was seen as a win for some critics of the suggested reforms, such as Fair Play for Women and other such ‘women’s rights’ organisations which place emphasis on excluding trans women, it has crushed the hopes of many longing for the most basic recognition of identity. In response to the news of self-identification being ruled out by the government, a petition that garnered over 100,000 signatures circulated, demonstrating a level of backlash against the conclusion.
The refusal to amend the Gender Recognition Act demonstrates how today’s legislation can fail to observe the most vulnerable in our society
Without a simpler process to get gender legally respected, many trans people choose not to put themselves through that and instead depend on the Equality Act 2010 which shields trans people from discrimination based on self-identification. Despite this, the Equality Act is also flawed in that it “effectively permits service providers not to allow a trans person to access separate-sex or single-sex services—on a case-by-case basis”.
The refusal to amend the Gender Recognition Act demonstrates how today’s legislation can fail to observe the most vulnerable in our society, making life harder for trans people to live their truths without prejudice. Given these reforms have been in motion for a fair few years now, it’s understandably devastating for ministers to have ruled them as not “top priority” for trans people.