Trans people make up just 0.2% of the UK population. Yet, this tiny, already marginalised, vulnerable community is the latest group being used to drive fear and division in the culture wars gripping Britain, and the UK government is culpable.
Westminster blocks Scotland’s gender recognition reform bill
For the first time, the UK government has enacted Section 35, causing democratic outrage and rightly so.
According to the SNP’s Hannah Bardell, the gender recognition reform bill has been one of the most consulted on pieces of legislation in the Scottish parliament. It was democratically passed by a large majority and with cross-party support. For the UK government to override is an attack on devolution and further drives a wedge into the heart of an already fragile Union.
Bardell said: “It is sickening that with the strike of a pen, the Tory government at Westminster, who have systematically brought forward legislation that damages our equalities and human rights, with very little consultation or consideration, are doing this to the democratically elected members of the Scottish parliament.”
Other nations have similar legislation
Scotland’s gender recognition reform bill brings it into closer alignment with leading international practice endorsed by the United Nations and adopted by 30 countries, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Pakistan, Portugal, Chile, Belgium, Malta, Uruguay and most of the United States of America. And just this week the Welsh government announced they are looking at similar legislation. Yet instead of choosing progressive, inclusive politics, the UK government is using the bill to distract the population from the many crises ensuing in Britain.
This policy would have put Scotland on the global map but also left the rest of the UK lagging. Instead of Westminster ‘levelling up’ on equality, they have chosen to ensure they are not put to shame by the kinder, more inclusive politics of Scotland.
Currently, the UK’s Gender Recognition Act 2004 is demeaning to the individual. This bill, by allowing self-ID, deals with the degrading process trans people have to go through. The organisation TransActual explains the current system:
- Does not comply with United Nations Human Rights Commission’s guidance
- It is overly complicated and bureaucratic
- Requires a wait of at least two years
- Requires medical reports and pathologises trans identities
- Depends on a panel of strangers deciding a trans person’s identity for them
- Doesn’t offer legal recognition to trans people under 18
- Ignores non-binary people
- Requires married trans people to get permission from their spouse
- Leaves people in a legal grey area
How much do people care about this?
The polling company YouGov states that “The fight over transgender rights has become increasingly prominent in recent years. The government caused a major row in April 2022 when it sought to exclude conversion therapy aimed at transgender people from its ban on the practice”. A YouGov poll conducted in May showed that the majority of the public disagreed with this decision.
Listening to sections of the media and considering this unprecedented intervention from Westminster over Scotland, you may think that the British public is in a moral panic around trans rights. Although this polling is from last year, and the toxifying of the debate since could have influenced peoples thinking, just 8% said they paid “a lot” of attention.
The campaign group Stonewall states that in July 2022, the research group Opinium presented a closed list of 28 issues to more than 500 Conservative members and asked them to choose up to four they were passionate about. Cost of living polled first at 43%. Trans rights were bottom at just 3%.
It is not just divisive, it’s cruel, and it’s dangerous
The UK is in freefall decline. The country is experiencing a thousand excess deaths a week. One in three children are living in poverty, there are unprecedented levels of homelessness, people are unable to heat their homes, the NHS is collapsing, and we have an economy predicted to be 19th in the G20 this year. Even heavily sanctioned Russia is expected to do better than the UK. These are the issues they are trying to distract us from.
The Conservatives know the crisis is mainly their doing and are clueless about how to fix it. Still, they deploy dirty tactics to stop us from being enraged about the crucial issues that genuinely affect us and our families, inventing manufactured crises and enemies, whether the EU, immigrants, people in dinghies, ‘lefty’ lawyers and judges, trade unions, or the trans community. They have all had their turn, but there are consequences.
Official hate crime figures for 2021–2022 showed “a 41% increase in hate crimes against LGB people and a staggering 56% increase in transphobic hate crimes” in the UK. Words and policies have consequences, and innocent people suffer. These are the highest figures ever recorded. Similar to the US, the ‘war on woke’, which is fundamentally a war on empathy, has also shifted to the trans community.
Much of the discourse around self-identification for trans people is based on safety for women. I see no logic in the ‘this could happen’ scenario because, as a woman, I, like all women and girls, know that a man does not need to ‘pretend’ to be a woman to access women’s spaces, rape or assault us. Indeed, every woman I have ever asked, including my adult daughters, my mother, my aunts, and friends, every one of them has had an experience of unwanted male sexual attention, assault or sexual harassment.
Sexual predators and men who risk the safety of women, girls and boys exist all around us. They are our husbands, brothers, teachers, strangers and even friends. They live in religious organisations like the Catholic and English Church, sports and social clubs, hospitals, and the police force.
Risk assessment processes are of course essential for women-only spaces where women are vulnerable. Yet thousands of women are being abused every single day and you don’t see the tabloids and online commentators driving fear, hate and suspicion towards all cis men. Where is the hysteria around women’s rights when it comes to this far more likely reality? You are much more likely to be abused, raped or murdered by a cis man than a trans person. A case of femicide happens every three days in the UK (the killing of a woman or girl by a man, because of her gender). Rape convictions are at an all-time low of just 1.6%. If you want to be enraged, or genuinely care for the safety of women and girls. Maybe start here?
Gender is more than male and female
Human civilisations and cultures throughout history have had many ways of viewing gender and sexuality; it hasn’t always been the rigid male/female binary that some sections of society seem to be obsessing over now. Hundreds of distinct societies around the globe have their long-established traditions for third, fourth, fifth, or more genders.
For example, Pakistan has a third gender known as Khawaja Sira and introduced self-ID for four different genders in 2018 in the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act. And in many Native American cultures, intersex or androgynous people (known as ‘two-spirit’) were held in high regard in their communities. There are the Muxe in Mexico and the Bakla in the Philippines. As the BBC says in this article on gender identity, “the space these people have occupied has receded with the spread of the Judeo-Christian ethic and western culture, but they are still very much there”.
Self-ID and the gender recognition certificate
Two primary forms of ID are used in the UK: driving license and passport. Both can be used to regulate access to members-only same-sex spaces, though formal ID can’t be demanded in places to which the general public has access. Of note though, is that your gender can be changed without the requirement of a gender recognition certificate (GRC), including on your passport. A letter from your doctor will do. This process is basically ‘self-ID’. Neither do you need a certificate to update medical, employment, or bank records. In fact, a birth certificate is the only remaining official document that records legal sex and cannot be changed based on self-identification alone, other than in some cases where a person is intersex or has variation in sexual characteristics.
The Scottish gender recognition reform bill:
All this information is available on one page on the UK government’s website about the GRC. It’s the first thing that comes up if you google ‘gender recognition certificate UK’. There is no reason for people to be so confused, especially the politicians themselves.
To obtain a GRC, you need medical reports from at least two doctors, your GP and a gender specialist. You must also provide documentation that you’ve been living as your desired gender for at least two years. This takes up a lot of time and resources for the NHS and is very invasive and often demeaning for trans people. It is why self-ID is the preferred option.
Legislation like Scotland’s gender bill removes the need for a psychiatric diagnosis of gender dysphoria. It reduces the time someone must have been permanently living in their gender before they can apply, from two years to three months – or six months for 16 and 17-year-olds.
Having a GRC lets you update your gender on a birth or adoption certificate, a marriage or civil partnership license, and your death certificate, giving legal clarity.
The gender issue has become a hot potato, but there is so much misinformation and ignorance around the topic.
Trans people do not endanger us any more than other humans do, and giving rights to a minority group does not remove rights from you or the rest of society.
The people of Britain are not naturally transphobic. We were a country known for its tolerance, acceptance, diversity, progressive rights, and values. Yet now, for the first time in modern history, the United Kingdom is ruled by a new party and a new type of politics.
They may be called the Conservative Party, but they no longer deserve that name and are unrecognisable from traditional Conservatives. They are hard-right populists, and populism operates by a whole new set of rules, the most important of which is divide and conquer.
With the backing of their right-wing supporting tabloids and commentators, they keep us anxious and inflamed, splitting us into tribes and removing all nuance from complex issues that deserve our understanding. They are playing us. Don’t let them get away with it.