The UK’s Gender Recognition Act needs reforming: let’s act now

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Support trans rights and respond to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) consultation now (deadline extended to 22 October 2018). You can use Stonewall’s simple tool, or if you only have a few minutes, Level Up’s quick portal.

The Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA) is an important piece of legislation that enables transgender people to change their legal gender. However, it currently doesn’t go far enough.

According to the current Act, trans people have to go through a costly, complicated and humiliating process that involves a huge amount of bureaucracy as well as a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria – a diagnosis that harks back to a time when being trans was considered a “disease” or mental illness.

A government consultation has proposed a suite of reforms that would make it simpler for trans people to get a Gender Recognition Certificate – the document that legally recognises a person’s affirmed gender.

This consultation closes on Friday 19 October, and positive change is possible if we speak out now to support trans rights.

We are all fighting the same oppressors: trans people and cisgender women alike are hurt by misogyny. According to YouGov and Stonewall research, 41% of trans people and 31% of non-binary people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in 2016-2017.

Trans women and gender non-conforming people are also frequently victims of gender-based violence. More than a quarter of trans people in a relationship have experienced domestic abuse in 2016-2017, and black trans women and feminine people are most vulnerable to harassment, assault and even murder.

The primary perpetrators of gender-based violence are cisgender men”

The primary perpetrators of gender-based violence are cisgender men, who have the privileges and social legitimacy that trans, non-binary people and cisgender women have all been fighting for, for centuries.

To achieve true social equality, oppressed groups must continue to challenge institutional structures and those in power hand in hand. Trans women and cis women must support each other in the pursuit of liberation – as Audre Lorde says, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

One thing is clear: reforms to the GRA will not make it easier or more likely for cismen to pose as trans women in order to access women-only spaces and commit gender-based crimes.  Believing this narrative simply punishes every trans person for the crimes of some cismen, and does nothing to solve the very real threats of violence facing women, girls and gender non-conforming people across the world.

A recent Stonewall report also found that domestic and sexual violence services across England and Wales have been supporting trans women for decades. Many providers – including refuges – take “proactive steps” to ensure their services are trans-inclusive.

“Women’s sector organisations said that reforming the GRA would have no impact on how they run their services”

Several women’s sector organisations told Stonewall that reforming the GRA would have no impact on how they run their services, particularly as trans women can already access women-only spaces under the Equality Act 2010.

Robust risk assessment processes in refuges and other women-only spaces will also continue to prevent perpetrators from accessing women’s services and women-only prisons. If issues have the potential to arise, scrutiny and checks should be applied to the adequacy of the risk assessment itself.

The greatest threat to women-only spaces is public funding cuts and the subsequent decimation of specialist women’s services and refuges – not trans rights or the GRA reforms.

Proposed reforms to the GRA are about making a costly, bureaucratic and degrading processes compliant with human rights standards.

Currently, trans people must prove that they have been living as their “acquired gender” for at least two years, and the decision to issue a Gender Recognition Certificate is made by a secret panel that never meets the applicant. There is no right to appeal the panel’s decision.

This process clearly contravenes fundamental democratic principles of open justice, transparency and accountability. The GRA reforms would finally get rid of the panel, the excessive costs and the medical barriers to self-determination.

“Excessive bureaucratic barriers to gender recognition violate trans people’s fundamental human rights”

UN guidance outlines that “abusive preconditions” to self-determination violate international human rights standards, and recommends that States provide “a straightforward administrative process to officially recognise the self-identified gender identity and name of transgender persons through a simple declaration without such requirements as medical certification or diagnosis, surgery or medical treatment”. In a recent European Court of Human Rights ruling – S.V. v Italy – the court also found that excessive bureaucratic barriers to gender recognition violate trans people’s fundamental human rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to respect for private and family life. Argentina, Denmark, Malta and Ireland have already passed laws that prioritise self-identification over medical evidence – yet in the UK, we are not meeting any of the UN’s recommendations from 2016.

Trans allies and people who care about human rights must unite to respond to the GRA consultation and call for urgent reforms in order to uphold the human rights of hundreds of thousands of people in the UK.

As Professor Sally Hines says, “the separation of bodies in public space is the cornerstone of segregation policy and has long been practised to regulate bodies in relation to race, but also gender, age, class, disability and sexuality.”

If feminism is fundamentally about inclusivity, equality and empowerment then the fight for trans equality should be a feminist issue.

Bodily autonomy and self-determination are basic human rights that we all want to enjoy. To deny those rights to one group is perpetuating the very system that oppresses us all. It is now our collective responsibility to resist hate, and take an important step towards equality, dignity and liberty for trans people in this country.  

Support trans rights and respond to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) consultation now (deadline extended to 22 October 2018). You can use Stonewall’s simple tool, or if you only have a few minutes, Level Up’s quick portal.

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