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Scottish Parliament votes to progress Gender Recognition Act Reform

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A long debated reform to the Gender Recognition Act has passed from stage 1, debating general principles, to stage 2 after vote in the Scottish Parliament on October 27.

The bill passed with a vote of 88 for, 33 against, and four abstaining.

Seven MSP’s for the SNP voted against the party whip and two abstained.

The community safety minister, Ash Regan, has resigned her position, stating that her “conscience” would not allow her to support the bill.

The bill was supported by all Scottish Green Party MSPs and Liberal Democrats, as well as 21 Scottish Labour members, for whom the issue was a free vote.

Two Tory MSPs also supported the bill.

The bill, which has been in consultation twice since 2017, proposes reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to make it easier and less medicalised for trans people to be recognised as their ‘acquired’ gender.

This is seen as a vital step forward and would bring Scotland in line with 30 other countries where the process of changing gender officially has been separated from the medical process of gender transition.

Obtaining a gender recognition certificate allows trans people to change their gender markers on other official documents such as their birth certificate.

Nicola Sturgeon has stated previously: “This is about an existing process by which people can legally change their gender and it’s about making that process less traumatic and inhumane for trans people – one of the most stigmatised minorities in our society.

“It doesn’t give trans people any more rights, nor does it take away from women any of the current existing rights under the Equality Act.”

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, attending a Pride celebration in 2018.
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, attending a Pride celebration in 2018. Image Credit BBC.

Stage 1 of a bill in the Scottish Parliament is characterised by the examining of the bill by committees, who then present reports before a debate by MSPs.

The next stage, Stage 2, is a process by which the bill is examined line-by-line. Amendments can be introduced at this stage, and it is carried out either by the relevant committees or the whole Parliament.

One of the key changes proposed by bill is the removal of the requirement for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

Currently, trans people wishing to obtain a gender recognition certificate must provide medical evidence which, due to overburdened and underfunded NHS clinics, can take several years to acquire.

There are currently only four Gender Identity Service clinics in Scotland, and only one of these serves young people. They are also required to undergo psychiatric evaluation, which has been described as “invasive” by LGBT+ charity Stonewall.

The bill also proposes to reduce the length of time that people need to be living as their acquired gender from two years to three months, and to introduce a three-month “cooling off period” between applying for a gender recognition certificate and confirmation that they wish to proceed with the process.

This means that there will be at least six months of an applicant living as their acquired gender before a gender recognition certificate is granted.

We welcome the proposals in this Bill, that would see a massive improvement in how trans men and trans women in Scotland are able to be legally recognised as who they are

Vic Valentine, Scottish Trans Alliance Manager

The provision which is causing the most controversy is the reduction in age requirement to apply for a gender recognition certificate from 18 to 16.

This has been applauded by Mhairi Crawford, Chief Executive of LGBT Youth Scotland, who has said to Stonewall: “We welcome this significant step on a long journey improving trans people’s access to their rights. 

“Young people tell us that this is particularly important as they move between education institutions, out of the family home, or start work and significantly benefit from consistent gender markers across their documentation. 

“Positively this will be extended to 16 and 17-year-olds, in keeping with the rights and responsibilities afforded to this age group in other aspects of their lives. They would also like to see a process put in place for those under 16 to be able to access a GRC and we call for this addition.”

Featured image credit: CNN

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