We can have reform of the Gender Recognition Act and protect women’s rights, say Natalie Gamble and Sue Breen, solicitors at NGA Law, a leading family law firm specialising in LGBT issues.
The government consultation on reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA) closes this Friday. Having been part of a discussion on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, we know that the debate around this is often emotive. Those opposed to reform argue that making it easier for men to ‘self-identify’ as women will erode women’s rights and endanger women in single-sex safe spaces such as domestic violence refuges.
The two principles are not mutually exclusive; we can protect women’s rights and support transgender people.
But the two principles are not mutually exclusive; we can protect women’s rights and support transgender people. Those who provide domestic violence services are highly skilled at risk assessment on an individualised basis, and already successfully support transgender women (who we must not forget can also themselves be victims of violence and exceptionally vulnerable).
We should do everything we can to support whatever procedures are necessary to ensure that these spaces are not infiltrated by people who would do harm to the women in them. Legal rights in relation to these issues are carefully balanced in the Equality Act 2010. However – as the government felt necessary to clarify in a public statement last weekend following media coverage of the consultation on the GRA – this law is not up for review.
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The Gender Recognition Act 2004 deals with something else entirely, and that is the legal process by which a transgender person changes their birth certificate. In the UK a trans or non-binary person can change their gender identity simply by choosing to do so; they can change their name, their passport, their driving licence and their appearance.
What the government is considering is whether the currently cumbersome process for obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate to amend their birth certificate should be reviewed.
What government is considering is whether the currently cumbersome process for obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate to amend their birth certificate should be reviewed. There are good reasons why it should. Currently the process involves an application to an anonymous Gender Recognition Panel of doctors and lawyers with evidence that the applicant has lived in their acquired gender for two years and that two doctors have confirmed a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.
The implication that they have a mental health disorder is out of step with modern thinking on gender identity, and is considered by many trans and non-binary people to be unnecessarily demeaning. In England and Wales the applicant’s spouse has an absolute veto and can block an application from proceeding altogether.
The law is also silent on important issues such as parental titles for children conceived post-transition.
Non-binary identities cannot be recorded. The law is also silent on important issues such as parental titles for children conceived post-transition. Progressive reform would bring the UK into line with other countries like Ireland and Malta which have already successfully introduced modern laws for gender recognition based on self-determination.
So we can relax – reform of the Gender Recognition Act is about the process for amending a birth certificate, not legal rights to access single-sex spaces like changing rooms and domestic violence shelters (no one needs to show their birth certificate to access such spaces).
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That does not mean that we should not worry about the safety of vulnerable women in protected spaces. We should do everything possible to ensure that appropriate individualised safeguarding keeps such places safe.
But there is no reason why we cannot also write modern law for transgender and non-binary people which enables them to choose to amend their birth certificates via an appropriate process which respects their personal identity and right to decide for themselves who they are.