Theresa May has unveiled long-awaited plans to look at the “bureaucratic and intrusive” hurdles faced by people who want to legally change their gender.
The government is launching a 16-week consultation into the process transgender people must follow to obtain legal recognition, as part of efforts to break down the “significant barriers” they face in society.
Under current rules, trans people must obtain two medical reports to change their gender on their birth certificate, one of which must show a diagnosis of “gender dysphoria” – where a person feels distress due to a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity.
Ministers announced their intention to reform the Gender Recognition Act 2004 last year but the prospect was met with criticism from some feminist groups, who are concerned at the prospect of self-identifying trans people being able to use single-sex spaces.
The government will review the whole process, including requirements for people to pay £140 to officially change their gender, to obtain the consent of their spouse if they are married and to show that they have lived in their acquired gender for at least two years.
Launching the consultation, the prime minister said: “What was very clear from our survey is that transgender people across the UK find the process of legally changing their gender overly bureaucratic and invasive.
“I want to see a process that is more streamlined and de-medicalised – because being trans should never be treated as an illness.”
It comes after the government published the world’s largest survey of LGBT+ people in the UK, which revealed major dissatisfaction with the current process among the trans community and considerable misunderstanding about how to apply for a certificate.
Equalities minister Penny Mordaunt said: “The discrimination and bigotry that the trans community currently faces is unacceptable in today’s society – we need a culture change.
“In response to our national LGBT survey trans people have told us that the current system to legally change their gender isn’t working and they find the process bureaucratic, costly and intrusive.
“We want to help people to thrive and to go about their daily life, living in the gender they choose without intrusion or fear of humiliation.”
Existing equalities legislation will remain in force, which means that single-sex services such as women’s refuges can provide services in a different way, or exclude a transgender person from the service, if this is proportionate and justified, the government said.
Nearly 5,000 people have secured gender recognition certificates since the law came in, but this is far lower than the estimated size of the UK’s transgender population
Cara English, policy engagement officer at the charity Gendered Intelligence, said: “Meaningful reforms to the gender recognition act are desperately needed if we’re going to make the process easier, less bureaucratic and exclusionary for trans and non-binary people.
“It’s encouraging to see the government take the needs of LGBTQI people seriously, recognising that the act needs to be reformed to make it more transparent for those who need to access it.
“This consultation is all about highlighting the lived experiences and needs of people disenfranchised from the current act and giving value to their voices.”
Dawn Butler, the shadow equalities minister, said it was “appalling” that it has taken over a year for the consultation to emerge.
“While the government has done nothing, the void has been filled with hate and misinformation against the trans community,” she said.
“What the Tories have finally announced is not good enough. Starting from the basis that they won’t make any changes to the Equality Act 2010 seems to pre-judge the consultation.
“Labour pledged to reform the act to include ‘gender identity’ as a protected characteristic as a necessary step to improve protections for trans people.
“This has no timescale, it lacks commitment and the ambition shown in Ireland. Rather than just consult, the government should show some moral courage and act.”
Maria Miller, Conservative chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, said: “Equality issues affecting transgender people was the first subject our committee tackled when it was established in 2015, because we recognised the marginalisation of trans people and the widespread transphobia they face.
“We argued that the Gender Recognition Act – pioneering at the time it was introduced – is now very dated in some respects.
“I am glad that the government has recognised that this legislation does not currently work and I welcome its consultation on how it could be improved.”
The consultation will not look at lowering the minimum age limit to below 18.
Work will be done to examine whether safeguards are needed, especially with issues relating to prisoners.
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