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Finland has passed life-changing laws for trans people. Why can’t England?

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Other countries are introducing gender recognition laws and recognising trans rights, but the UK government falls shamefully behind.

03 Feb 2023

Content warning: This article contains mention of transphobia and suicide.

Finland has become the latest country to pass life-changing legislation for trans people. On 1 February, the new gender recognition law was introduced to ease the process for trans people to change their legal gender (for example, on passports) by eradicating outdated and dehumanising practices. Prior to this, trans people were required to undertake painful and invasive medical procedures – such as sterilisation and psychiatric assessment – in order to obtain legal gender recognition. 

Though it’s been hailed as a ‘major step’ by rights groups, there are still limitations. At present it is only in use for adults, however campaigners like LGBTQI+ rights group Seta, are already fighting for the legislation to include 16 and 17-year-olds. Regardless, these important moves undeniably put countries like England to shame, which continue to pursue an anti-trans agenda.  

Finland joins other countries like Spain and Argentina in passing essential legislation, and we know this has a positive impact on communities. Meanwhile, England is working in reverse. Just two weeks ago on 16 January, Westminster vetoed the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill under Section 35 of the Scotland Act. This is the first time the power to intervene in a Scottish bill getting royal assent has been used by the UK government since the devolution in 1998. The Scottish bill would have made it easier for trans people from the age of 16 to ascertain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), but was blocked no doubt due to the hysteria and scaremongering rooted in transphobia. 

“As always, they’re whipping up anti-trans rhetoric disguised as a fight for women’s rights”

Prominent media outlets debated the bill fuelled by bogus concerns for women’s safety and gender pay gaps while excluding trans people from the conversation entirely. The terf agenda – for example, the argument that cis women are unsafe if trans women can access female changing rooms – infiltrates the media to incite a moral panic. As always, they’re whipping up anti-trans rhetoric disguised as a fight for women’s rights. 

Currently, in the UK you must have a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria in order to get a certificate. Considering the ‘unlawful and extreme’ waiting times for referrals and underfunding of gender clinics, it can take years, perhaps even decades to get this diagnosis. For trans people, these barriers are debilitating and can even be life-threatening. According to Stonewall’s 2017 School Report, four in five young trans people self-harmed and two in five young trans people attempted to take their own lives. Being stuck on the referral waiting list can leave trans people in a “painful, indefinite limbo”, whereas being able to legally self-identify would certainly lighten the load. 

Westminster’s blocking of the Scottish bill speaks to the wider political climate in the UK. Even when millions of people are having to choose between heating and eating, hundreds of thousands of workers are striking, the Metropolitan police is rife with corruption and the country is being run into the ground by Tory austerity, trans issues continue to dominate the agenda. The Tories are playing a damaging game of distraction that directly attacks the human rights of thousands. 

When the 2021 census (released this January) included gender identity for the first time, it gave trans people and those from under-represented genders vital visibility. At least 262,000 people in the UK identify as a gender different to the sex they were assigned at birth. They should be free to have this legally stated too; yet still the Tories fail to acknowledge the rights and dignity they deserve. While places like Finland, Argentina, Norway, Ireland, New Zealand and Spain are taking progressive and much-needed steps to allow trans and non-binary people to self-declare their identity, Britain is once again exposing its blatant transphobia

In the UK, call Galop’s National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans+ Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0800 999 5428, the national domestic abuse helpline on 0808 2000 247 or visit Women’s Aid. In the US, the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines can be found via