Government opens consultation on Gender Recognition Act

trans

The government has opened a consultation on the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) to make it easier for transgender people to change their legal gender on their birth certificates, it has been announced.

The consultation will look at ways of making the process of obtaining a new birth certificate “less intrusive and bureaucratic” for transgender people.

Alongside this, the government intends to advance equality for non-binary and intersex people, but says it will not “water down” the protections single-sex services or transgender people receive under the Equality Act.

The plans to consult on changes to the GRA were first announced in 2017, when the largest national LGBT survey of its kind, with over 108,000 participants, found there is considerable misunderstanding about the requirements of applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), with many also finding it too expensive.

This 16-week consultation, affecting only England and Wales, will review the process of acquiring this certificate, with the aim of reducing the time and cost for people applying.

The GRC is a document given to people who are legally recognised as being of their new gender.

Currently the requirements of obtaining one include providing two medical reports, one showing a diagnosis of ‘gender dysphoria’ (perpetuating the false assumption that being trans is a mental illness) and the other outlining details of treatment received.

While a trans person can change their name and gender on any government-issued forms of identification they hold, if they do not have a Gender Recognition Certificate their birth certificate still carries their birth gender. This means that the trans person is ‘outed’ as trans if they ever need to provide their birth certificate for administrative reasons.

Trans people wanting to obtain a certificate must also obtain the consent of their spouse if they are married, and demonstrate that they have lived in their acquired gender for at least two years. On top of this, they must pay £140.

While a trans person can change their name and gender on any government-issued forms of identification they hold, including a driving license, work records, and bank details, if they do not have a GRC their birth certificate still carries their birth gender.

This means that the trans person is ‘outed’ as trans if they ever need to provide their birth certificate for administrative reasons. Their national insurance number is also still linked to their birth gender, along with the name registered for them on the electoral role.

This leaves some transgender people facing potentially awkward or confusing situations when accessing services, or even dangerous situations where they could face discrimination or harassment.

The legal recognition process is separate from the pathway that trans people follow to obtain any medical treatment that they may wish to have, such as hormones or surgery.

One potential different method of obtaining legal recognition is a ‘non-assessment based’ model, whereby a trans person fills out a form themselves that changes their gender identity and can be recognised on that basis, though usually with some kind of statutory declaration to show the seriousness of intent.

The consultation comes at a time when trans people still regularly experience harassment and discrimination. More than a third of trans repondents to the government survey reported experiencing verbal harassment, insults or other hurtful comments over the last 12 months because of their LGBT status.

Around 1 in 3 trans respondents in education said they experienced a negative reaction in the last year due to someone disclosing their LGBT status without their permission.

More than 40% of trans respondents who had accessed or tried or tried to access specialist services at gender identity clinics said there were ‘not at all easy’ to access.

The consultation comes at a time when trans people still regularly experience harassment and discrimination. More than a third of trans repondents to the government survey reported experiencing verbal harassment, insults or other hurtful comments over the last 12 months because of their LGBT status.

The current GRA was passed in 2004, when it was deemed ground-breaking in allowing some trans people to have their gender legally recognised.

However, the act doesn’t give any recognition to non-binary people, and the ‘gender-dysphoria’ aspect of it means that people have to be diagnosed with a mental illness to have their gender recognised. The act only covers two genders: man and woman.

Getting a GRC can be hugely important for some people, meaning they can get a birth certificate with the correct gender on it, making life admin easier, as well as receiving acknowledgement that the state recognises their gender as legitimate.

For many, however, making self-determination the norm would be life-changing, although the government has stated that the current consultation will not result in this.

The consultation will not be making any changes to the Equality Act 2010, which states that individuals must not be discriminated against because they are trans, but that single-sex services such as domestic abuse refuges can provide services in a different way, or exclude a transgender person from the service if this is “proportionate and justified”.

Those opposing reform argue that that men will misuse a streamlined system by posing as trans women or identifying as women on a whim, an argument that is unproven and unsubstantiated.

“Women-only spaces should be open to all women, including trans women, and women’s safety, including trans women’s safety, within the criminal justice system, in services and in the community must be prioritised.”

In response to this argument, LGBTQ and women’s rights activist Shon Faye Tweeted: “I know this is nonsense because of the level of transphobia I personally have experienced from those campaigning against this. I meet all requirements for legal gender recognition under the present system – I could change my birth certificate to female in a matter of weeks.

“I am not, by any reasonable estimation, ‘trans on a whim’. That hasn’t protected me from such an accusation: anti-trans lobbyists are not worried about creepy men pretending to be trans, they insist all trans women – or any with a spine – are deceitful men.”

In response to the consultation announcement, the Women’s Equality Network Wales, Chwarae Teg, Women Connect First, and Welsh Women’s Aid all welcomed a reform of the GRA, but also highlighted that women-only spaces should be open to all women.

In a statement, they wrote: “Women-only spaces should be open to all women, including trans women, and women’s safety, including trans women’s safety, within the criminal justice system, in services and in the community must be prioritised.”

Government figures show the number of people who have successfully obtained a Gender Recognition Certificate (4,910) since the legislation came into effect is far fewer than the estimated size of the trans population in the UK.

Writing in the Huffington Post, Bex Stinson, head of trans inclusion at Stonewall, said: “Today’s hostile climate has been terribly damaging to trans and non-binary people who already face tremendous barriers and discrimination in everyday life.

“Two in five trans people (41%) have had a hate crime committed against them in the last year, and one in eight trans employees (12%) have been physically attacked at work.

“We need to ensure trans and non-binary people are respected for who they are, and have the same fair chance in life as everyone else.

“If you believe in equality, whatever your background, we’re asking you to respond to the Government’s consultation and come out in support of trans equality.”

You can respond online or in writing to the government consultation, which is open until 19th October 2018.

Imogen Robinson

Deputy Editor, The Femedic

Imogen joined The Femedic after working as a news reporter. Becoming frustrated with the neverending clickbait, she jumped at the chance to work for a site whose ethos revolves around honesty and empathy. From reading articles by doctors to researching her own, and discussing health with a huge variety of women, she is fascinated by just how little we are told about our own bodies and women-specific health issues, and is excited to be working on a site which will dispel myths and taboos, and hopefully help a lot of women.

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