Credit :University of Stirling

University Chancellor in Gender Recognition Reform Comment Controversy

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Writing in The Times on Sunday, Lord Jack McConnell, former first minister of Scotland and current chancellor of the University of Stirling, spoke out against proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) in Scotland. McConnell stated that he believes that the proposed reforms could “lure sex offenders to Scotland.”.

McConnell also suggested that there should be a three-month pause on the bill so “a summit could address concerns.”.

When reached for comment, Lord McConnell made the following response:

“I have consistently called for the First Minister and others to detoxify this debate around de-medicalisation of gender recognition by initiating more dialogue and agreement to guarantee safe spaces for women, and the impact of different systems within the nations of the UK. 

“This has not happened, in fact the debate has deteriorated rather than improved, but it is never too late to do the right thing. 

“I strongly support gender recognition reform, but I have campaigned in support of safe spaces for women since I was a Stirling student and I hope even now the Scottish Parliament will pause and secure both of these important objectives.”

“The proposed reforms to the gender recognition act are a devolved issue and have been in consultation with the Scottish Parliament since 2017. The reforms do not change the freedoms afforded to transgender people which were set out by the Equality Act 2010, instead focusing on streamlining the process and eliminating the bureaucracy associated with official recognition of a person’s assumed gender.

“A University of Stirling spokesperson said: “We strongly value the diversity of our students and our staff and we aim to create an environment where everyone is equally valued and respected. On specific matters, the University is guided by the legislative framework, including the Equality Act 2010.”

Even under the reformed bill, a person wishing to obtain a gender recognition certificate must make a notarised statutory declaration that they intend to live permanently in their acquired gender.

However, the BBC reported that there is still the chance that Westminster could still mount a court challenge to the reform and has not ruled it out.

A trans rights protest in Scotland with several people holding "Trans Rights now!" placards
Image credit: Jane Barlow/PA via AP

Gender Studies Students “shocked and saddened”

The University of Stirling is home to a respected Gender Studies course as well as the Gender Research Group. The students on the Gender Studies masters course have provided the following comment.

“As students studying a Gender Studies postgraduate degree at the University of Stirling, we are shocked and saddened to hear the comments about the Gender Recognition Act reforms from the university’s chancellor, Jack McConnell. These comments are not based on fact but instead are fuelling dangerous rhetoric about the trans community. If the government is truly committed to protecting women, they should be committed to protecting them in ALL spaces, including at home and at university (where a majority of abuse occurs) instead of pitting cis women and trans women against each other.

“It is infuriating that people are using possible male violence as an excuse to forbid trans people the right to identify as they choose. Other countries such as Argentina and Iceland have introduced more accessible self-ID laws and have not witnessed an increase in sexual assaults or harassment. As the current first minister Nicola Sturgeon has previously said, “Men are the risk to women, not trans women. Any man who seeks to abuse any process to attack women, we should deal with that.”

UN expert says the debate is promoting discrimination against trans people

A United Nations (UN) expert speaking at Holyrood has suggested that the debate encompassing the reforms to the GRA in Scotland is acting as a “proxy” for some to question the legitimacy of trans people and promote discrimination against them.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz is the UN independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. He presented evidence on Monday to the Equalities, Human Rights, and Civil Justice committee, stating that the narratives deployed by critics of the bill “often use the stigma against trans men and trans women, generally through a trio of rhetorical levers: the rights of non-trans women and girls, the rights of children, and the issue of sports.”

He went on to say “I have also grown concerned about the toxicity of this debate and its impact on the safety and security of all, but particularly trans, persons. As these are the very myths that drive much of the violence and harassment that is inflicted upon them.”

Tory MP Rachel Hamilton asked whether he thought stopping convicted sex offenders from applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate was a “reasonable” measure to take. Madrigal-Borloz responded that it is “problematic” to connect sexual violence and transgender people when there is no evidence of this being an issue in other countries with more relaxed self-identification processes. 

“I am convinced that women are, of course, right to fear violence at the hands of predators – predatory men, in particular. They are massively affected by it.

“But one of the ideas that I find quite problematic in relation to these connections is there is this connection made with the idea that trans women are actually just men in dresses. There is something that is quite off about that, and I think creates significant possibilities for stigma and discrimination.

“Trans women are not men in dresses. They are certainly not predatory men in dresses. They are not men at all.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity

“And although, of course, I don’t think that trans communities and populations need to provide evidence of lack of abuse in the systems that have legal gender recognition based on self-identification, I think it is telling that in none of those countries is there administrative or judicial findings of predatory men abusing the system to obtain access to places that they, as men, would not be entitled to gain access.”

Image Credit – University of Stirling

Stirling Student’s Union “extremely disappointed”

The Student’s Union has also responded with disappointment at the chancellor’s statements.

“As a Union Officer Team, we are extremely disappointed in Lord McConnell’s recent comments on the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill. Whilst we agree with Lord McConnell that it is absolutely right that safe spaces for women exist, especially trans women and those dealing with the trauma of abuse and sexual violence, we are incredibly frustrated that a man of his integrity and forward-thinking has conflated trans rights with sex offenders.

“We are resolute that using the rhetoric of fear about the rights of trans and gender-diverse persons is not evidence-based and ultimately exclusionary.

“We are proud to support our LGBTQ+ students against the all too common challenges and oppression they face.

“We will be approaching Lord McConnell’s office to invite him to a forum with students from our LGBTQ+ community to listen and engage with students at the University he is Chancellor of.”

The GRA does not affect single-sex spaces

As noted by Scottish Trans, the reforms to the GRA will not affect single-sex spaces and services. Trans people who do not have gender recognition certificates can already access single-sex spaces which align with their gender. The GRA reform will not increase access to single-sex spaces that trans people are eligible to access.

The bill which outlines the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act in Scotland is currently in Stage 3 and is due to be debated in its complete form with amendments today, Thursday 22nd December. If it passes, there will be a further four-week period when the bill may be challenged by the Advocate General, the Lord Advocate, the Attorney General, or the Secretary of State for Scotland. 

Featured Image Credit: University of Stirling

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