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The Gender Recognition Act proposals will hurt trans teens, say activists

UK equalities minister Liz Truss says she wants to ‘protect’ under-18s from making ‘irreversible’ decisions about their gender

LGBTQ+ campaigners have spoken out to condemn comments made by the UK’s equalities minister Liz Truss on Wednesday (April 22), after she said she wanted to protect under-18s from “irreversible” decisions about their gender.

Truss’ comments came as she announced the government’s highly-anticipated response to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) – reviewed in 2018 – which will arrive this summer. The minister said: “I believe strongly that adults should have the freedom to lead their lives as they see fit, but I think it’s very important that while people are still developing their decision-making capabilities that we protect them from making those irreversible decisions.”

LGBTQ+ activists are concerned by this announcement, which could affect access to counselling and medical provisions for gender-questioning children and teens, who often use puberty blockers ahead of deciding whether to start hormone therapy.

Laura Russell, Stonewall’s director of campaigns, said: “While it’s good to hear that the government will set out its proposals for next steps on reform of the Gender Recognition Act, we’re concerned about comments that relate to protecting trans people who are under 18 from making ‘irreversible decisions’. We’d welcome an opportunity to discuss this with the minister, as it’s crucial that all young people who are questioning their gender identity are able to access high-quality, timely support. Every trans young person should be given the care they need, in an informed and supportive manner, so they’re able to lead a happy, healthy life.”

Speaking to Dazed, Voices4 London organiser Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin called Truss’ comments “a direct attack on the rights of some of the most vulnerable members of our society”. She added: “Access to healthcare for young trans people is a matter of bodily autonomy; a basic human right.”

“With trans people having one of the highest suicide rates, it’s important to note that recent studies have shown that access to puberty blockers is life-saving for trans teenagers,” continued Maheshwari-Aplin. “In light of this, it’s extremely concerning that access to this crucial healthcare is being discussed alongside the Gender Recognition Act. The GRA has no bearing on medical care, and this conflation of the two suggests the priority here isn’t a concern for young people’s wellbeing at all.”

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 (GRC) that legally recognised their gender identity. However, it’s been 16 years since its introduction, and it’s in need of reform.

The process of obtaining a GRC can be intrusive and humiliating (and, at £140, costly) – trans people are required to receive a mental health diagnosis of gender dysphoria, despite the fact it hasn’t been considered a mental illness in the UK since 2002. A panel then decides upon each case, despite never meeting applicants. According to the government, just 4,910 people have legally changed their gender in the UK, proving that trans people aren’t using the complex and inaccessible process as it is now.

In 2018, the government opened a public consultation, seeking people’s views on how best to reform the GRA – over 53,000 people took part. Campaigners called for a new look act that would require no medical diagnosis or presentation of evidence, which recognises non-binary identities, and gives trans people the right to ‘self-determination’, including 16 and 17 year-olds.

Ahead of the government’s full response in the summer, Truss confirmed that the GRA review will “protect single-sex spaces”, though did not make clear if this is trans-inclusive. In a statement on its website, Mermaids – a charity that supports trans and gender-questioning youth – said: “We agree with Ms Truss that single-sex spaces must be protected for everyone, including for trans women and non-binary people who can face increased risk of abuse and violence in public.”

Addressing Truss’ comments about under-18s, Mermaids stated: “We believe that transgender young people should have the same right to make important personal decisions as non-trans people.” 

Maheshwari-Aplin added: “Young trans people deserve to make personal decisions about their own bodies, and have access to all the support they need to live a happy, healthy life. Restricting access to healthcare could have a hugely damaging impact on these young people’s mental health, and would be a significant step back in our fight for equality.”