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Q&A: The Gender Recognition Act and Self ID

James Mildred

Scottish parliament

In Scotland, the government has introduced a Bill that aims to change how a person can legally change gender. It's already promoted a strong backlash from campaigners. But what's being proposed and how does it differ from the current law? Here's a short Q&A to help you engage.

Q: What is the Gender Recognition Act?

Passed in 2004, the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) allowed people in the whole of the UK to legally change sex recorded on official documents.

Q: How does the current law work?

To get a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), a person needs to demonstrate they are 18+, have lived in their ‘acquired gender’ for the past two years and intend to do so for the rest of their life. Two medical reports are needed: confirming gender dysphoria diagnosis and setting out any transition-related medical treatment to a Gender Recognition Panel. They will decide whether to approve or deny the application.

Q: Why are some people pushing for changes to this process?

Campaigners argue this process is overly intrusive and slow. It can take up to five years for a person to be approved for a GRC. These campaigners think people should be able to ‘self-identify’ by signing a statutory declaration without having to prove a diagnosis.

Q: What’s so controversial about self-ID?

Women’s groups and many others argue that simplifying the process will erode protections for women and girls. The rules around who can access women-only services like prisons, lavatories and changing rooms would be completely changed. The new system could be exploited by men who seek to hide their sex to access to such spaces.

Q: What’s happening in Scotland?

Two public consultations have been held over the past 5 years. In both, women’s groups in particular have registered strong concerns about the ‘potential impact on society in general and on the safety and wellbeing of women and girls.’ In the second consultation, there was much said about the toxicity of the current debate.

On Thursday 3 March, the Scottish Government introduced the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill which will remove the need for a medical diagnosis and people will be able to self-identify. After three months when people will have to live in their new gender, there will be another three-month ‘reflection period’ before the change is made permanent.

Q: What happens next?

The Bill will be considered by a committee of the Scottish Parliament before all MSPs have the chance to debate and vote on the legislation. If successful it will mean Scotland’s laws on gender recognition will be significantly different to the rest of the UK. It remains to be seen whether MSPs will have a free vote on the Bill, allowing them to vote with their conscience rather than party lines.

Q: What can you do?

You can pray for justice to be done and you might also consider writing to your MSPs, graciously making the case against this law.

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