'Being trans is not an illness': MPs blast 'outdated laws' for gender change

21 December 2021, 06:11

The decision to scrap reforms designed to allow people to "self-identify" their gender has been branded "unfair"
The decision to scrap reforms designed to allow people to "self-identify" their gender has been branded "unfair". Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

The decision to scrap reforms designed to allow people to "self-identify" their gender has been branded "unfair" by MPs who accuse the of being Government "unwilling to engage".

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A new report from the Women and Equalities Committee calls for the process to "move closer to a system of self-declaration" which involves strong legal safeguards but not medical scrutiny.

The report states transgender people should not have to live in their acquired gender for two years before they can obtain legal recognition because this "entrenches outdated gender stereotypes".

But they should still be required to make a formal statutory declaration - a safeguard which ensures "genuine intent" - and "robust guidance" is needed on how this would work in practice.

The committee is calling for the Government Equalities Office (GEO) and Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to urgently produce guidance, including practical examples, on how to apply single-sex exceptions under the Equality Act.

It notes that some service providers, such as women's refuges, are "unclear as to whether the exclusion of trans people from certain spaces is in violation of the law".

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And it calls for both bodies to work with trans rights groups to produce guidance on how best to provide trans and non-binary inclusive and specific services, particularly those relating to domestic violence and sexual abuse.

In July 2018 the Government Equalities Office (GEO) launched a consultation into the reform of the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, and in September 2020 set out what steps it would take.

These included making the process available online, reducing the certificate fee from £140 to £5, and opening three new gender clinics that year to cut waiting lists.

The following month, the Women and Equalities Committee launched its inquiry into whether the Government's proposals were enough, receiving more than 800 pieces of written evidence as well as oral witness evidence.

Its report, Reform Of The Gender Recognition Act, notes that debate in this area has "become extremely toxic at times", with many stakeholders disagreeing.

The committee's chairwoman, Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, said the Government's response to the 2018 consultation "amounted to little more than administrative changes".

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She said: "The GRA is crying out for modernisation, and the Government has spectacularly missed its opportunity.

"This is an area of reform which has attracted strong opinions and debate, but there are areas - such as the removal of a time period for living in an acquired gender - which many can agree on.

"The Government's failure to implement even these changes - made clear in its consultation - suggest its lack of willingness to engage.

"Being trans is not an illness. It is imperative that the Government de-medicalise the process of gender recognition by removing the outdated requirement for a gender dysphoria diagnosis."

The MPs also criticise the GEO and EHRC over their "negligible" engagement with the inquiry and the "inexcusable" refusal of GEO ministers to attend.

The report also calls for the removal of the requirement for spousal consent, improved support for young people seeking to transition and the Government to update language in all official documents that conflate the terms "sex" and "gender".

Labour's shadow women and equalities secretary, MP Anneliese Dodds, said there has been a "total absence of any action" by the Government to address the issues addressed in the report, and accused the Conservatives of having "failed LGBT+ people".

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A Government Equality Hub spokesman said: "The Government believes the current provisions in the Gender Recognition Act are effective and allow for those who wish to legally change their gender to do so.

"We listened to those who responded to the GRA consultation and are taking steps to modernise the way that individuals can apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate as a result, including reducing the cost and moving the process online."

An EHRC spokeswoman said: "Our guidance for service providers on single-sex spaces will be published in January.

"We engage regularly with the Women and Equalities Committee and last appeared before them in October.

"We are considering the committee's further recommendations to us and will respond in due course."