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London’s inaugural Trans Pride 16
Photography Netti Hurley

Activists on why reforming the Gender Recognition Act is a priority

The UK government has abandoned plans to make it easier for trans people to have their gender legally recognised, despite overwhelming support during the 2018 consultation

Yesterday (September 22), the UK government published its long-awaited response to the 2018 consultation on the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). In a statement, equalities minister Liz Truss said the amendments – which would make it easier for trans people to have their gender legally recognised – were “not a top priority”.

Instead of streamlining the process for gender recognition, the government will “place the whole procedure online” and reduce the current £140 fee to an unspecified “nominal amount”. 

Truss also announced the opening of “at least” three new gender clinics this year, with the aim of cutting waiting lists. However, as reported by PinkNews, these clinics are not new. In fact, they were announced by the NHS several months ago, and are entirely unconnected to Truss’ GRA conclusions.

“It is the government’s view that the balance struck in this legislation is correct,” Truss said in her statement, “in that there are proper checks and balances in the system and also support for people who want to change their legal sex.”

This decision means that trans people will still need a mental health diagnosis of gender dysphoria – something that hasn’t been considered a mental illness in the UK since 2002 – in order to self-identify their gender or change their birth certificates.

Truss’ dismissal of the reforms have been widely criticised, with many pointing out that the consultation – which got over 108,000 responses – showed that 80 per cent of respondents were in favour of demedicalising the process of obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). A separate YouGov poll conducted in July showed that 57 per cent of women agree that trans people should be able to self-identify.

At the time of writing, over 120,000 people have since signed a petition calling on the government to implement the proposed reforms to the GRA.

“GRA reform is important so that trans folks can exist within a system that sees them as worthy of respect, because currently it doesn’t,” writer Jamie Windust tells Dazed. “It will allow people to feel that their lives are more manageable and potentially accessible.”

“GRA reform is important so that trans folks can exist within a system that sees them as worthy of respect, because currently it doesn’t” – Jamie Windust

“It was also important for us because of how much energy we exhausted throughout the three year culture war that the GRA has whisked up,” they continue. “The fact that there were minimal changes, such as lowering the fee and three new Gender Identity Clinics to lower wait times, shows that our three years of fighting has only led to minimal change.”

Windust says the reforms were “supposed to be a complete overhaul of the system to ensure trans folks could legally change their gender in a safe, comfortable, and respectful way”, but that the minor additions announced “feel inconclusive and rushed”.

In a statement, Nancy Kelley, the chief executive of Stonewall, called the decision “a shocking failure in leadership” and said the government had “missed a key opportunity to progress LGBTQ+ equality”. 

“Stonewall stands with, and sends our solidarity to, trans communities across the UK, whose lives and identities have been made the subject of a relentless ‘debate’ ever since the government announced its plans to reform the Act through a public consultation,” she continued. “In the three years since, waiting times for Gender Identity Services have grown longer than ever, recorded anti-trans crimes have trebled, and anti-trans bullying remains endemic in our schools.”

Kelley says the “UK’s stalled progress on trans equality is now one of the main reasons we continue to fall behind other European countries on LGBTQ+ equality in ILGA-Europe’s annual ranking”, where the UK is number nine.

Writing in The Independent, journalist Gemma Stone condemned the government for “sitting quietly by when they have the resources and authority” to shut down the anti-trans hate campaigns that arose in the three years since the consultation happened. Stone also criticised Truss’ announcement, asserting that not only are the changes “not what we asked for, they aren’t what we need”.

In a post on Instagram, Munroe Bergdorf directed her followers to the new reform petition, writing: “@borisjohnsonuk and are ignoring the Great British Public in favour of exercising their own anti-trans agenda. Make your voice heard.”

Mermaids, a charity that supports trans youth, said in a statement: “We are disappointed that the government reforms make no mention of non-binary identities and fall short of self-declaration.” The organisation also referenced last week’s announcement by the British Medical Association (BMA), which saw it back the right of trans and non-binary people to self-identify.

The Gender Recognition Act was implemented in the UK in 2004, and was a significant step for trans rights, giving trans people the opportunity to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate which legally recognised their gender identity. However, the process of obtaining a GRC can be intrusive and humiliating, with a panel deciding on each case despite never meeting applicants.

In 2018, the government opened a public consultation seeking people’s views on how best to reform the GRA. Campaigners called for the elimination of a medical diagnosis or presentation of evidence, recognition of non-binary identities, and the right to ‘self-determination’, including for under 18s – none of these demands have been addressed by Truss.

Speaking to Dazed, Windust vocalises the importance of a complete upheaval of the system, as opposed to small amendments to legislation. “We should be building more Gender Identity Clinics,” they conclude, “but within a system that has been changed so they aren’t susceptible to the same failings and dangers that occur currently.”

Sign the petition urging parliament to reform the Gender Recognition Act here.