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SNP delays plans to make it easier for trans people to change legally recognised gender

Government calls for second public consultation to build 'maximum consensus' on divisive issue

Conrad Duncan
Friday 21 June 2019 00:23 BST
Scottish government delays plans to make changing gender easier for trans people

Plans to make it easier for people to change their legally recognised gender in Scotland have been delayed after a backlash from women's groups.

The Scottish government had planned to update the 2004 Gender Recognition Act (GRA) to remove the need for trans people to provide evidence, such as medical records, that they have lived in their acquired gender for at least two years.

However, the proposed reforms have been controversial, as some women’s groups have raised concerns the changes could endanger legal protections given to women under the Equality Act, such as the right to single-sex spaces.

Shirley Anne-Somerville, the social security and older people secretary, has argued that the proposed changes would not damage women’s rights and warned that the current gender recognition process can be "deeply traumatic and stressful" for trans people.

The 2004 act already allows people to change their legally recognised gender but sets out conditions for applicants to be approved by a panel.

For example, current applicants must prove they have, or have had, gender dysphoria – a condition where a person feels distress due to a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity.

Despite holding a 16-week public consultation last year, the government announced it would be postponing the reforms to build “maximum consensus” on a divisive issue that has split the governing Scottish National Party.

Ms Somerville argued that the proposal would not be an “unprecedented” change and would introduce legal processes similar to those in the Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Belgium and Norway.

Nevertheless, while she said the government remained committed to reforming the GRA, she added: “I am acutely aware of how divided opinion is on this issue and I want to proceed in a way that builds maximum consensus and allows valid concerns to be properly addressed.

"For that reason we will not introduce legislation to parliament immediately.

"Instead, it is my intention to publish a draft Gender Recognition Scotland Bill later this year."

Ms Somerville noted that more than 15,500 responses were received for the 2018 consultation, with 49 per cent of those responses coming from Scotland.

From those responses, 60 per cent of all responses and 65 per cent of the Scottish responses were in favour of the reforms.

The social security secretary said the government had a “duty” to address concerns that changes to gender identification will endanger women-only spaces but argued that the Equality Act already allows trans people to be excluded in certain circumstances “where that is proportionate and justifiable”.

"I have stated before, as has the first minister [Nicola Sturgeon], that I don't feel a conflict between my support for women's rights and for trans rights, but I know and I understand that many do," she said.

In response to the delay, Colin Macfarlane, director of Stonewall Scotland, said: "The proposals outline the government's intention to replace the current outdated, intrusive and medicalised process in favour of one that ensures trans people are respected.

"Any further delay will allow more fear and misinformation to spread and that will profoundly impact on trans people's quality of life in Scotland. Trans people have suffered for far too long from inequalities that can be easily removed."

Opposition MPs in the Scottish parliament have raised concerns that the delay will mean legislation may not be brought forward in time to pass during the current parliamentary term.

Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "The Liberal Democrats asked for reform of the GRA in the last parliament because it was harming trans people then just as it is harming them now.

"If a draft bill will be ready later this year, the Scottish government should run this second public consultation concurrently with the stage one process to give us a fighting chance of delivering reform in this parliament."

Patrick Harvie MSP, co-leader of the Scottish Greens, added: "In a parliament where every single member stood for election on a manifesto promise to deliver this reform, it is vital that legislation is introduced in time so it can be completed before the parliament ends."

Agencies contributed to this report

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