Response to the reported plans by the UK Government to dismiss the reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004
24 June 2020
It has been reported [1, 2, 3] that the Government plans to abandon its pledge to reform the GRA, which governs trans people’s access to Gender Recognition Certificates. Currently, the process of obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate is lengthy, stigmatising, and deeply flawed. It requires trans people to go through a series of onerous gatekeeping measures in order to access support, care, and acknowledgement. The imperative need to reform this Act has been a central facet of transfeminist activism in the UK for years.
The Government’s 2018 consultation on changing the GRA signalled a commitment to implementing reforms that would affirm the human rights and dignity of trans and non-binary individuals. The vast majority of responses to the consultation (around 70%) argued for a revised GRA which would legally affirm the autonomy of trans people over their gender identities, admit self-identification as the only and sufficient grounds for obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate, and recognise non-binary gender identities.
Yet, despite resounding calls for, and support of reform, the current Government, and the Minister for Women and Equalities, have indicated that they are turning their backs on trans and non-binary people. Instead of implementing reform, the Government intends to explicitly exclude trans people, particularly trans women, from single-sex spaces and services, including domestic violence refuges and public lavatories, claiming there is a need to protect cis women. The protection rationale is inaccurate and evidence shows it to be entirely baseless. Effectively, this move will codify discrimination against trans people, entrenching structural transphobia in policy and law. This is unacceptable and must be challenged.
Research has found that services in England and Wales have been supporting trans women in their single-sex, women-only services for some time with many taking proactive steps to ensure their services are trans-inclusive. They have been doing so against a landscape of austerity and Government-imposed budget cuts which have severely curtailed their capacity to provide care to vulnerable populations. It is our position that trans people - with or without a GRC - should not be excluded from single-sex services, particularly those single-sex services provided for vulnerable populations such as refuges and shelters. The exclusion of trans people from these spaces makes them even more vulnerable to abuse, destitution, and homelessness, which already disproportionately affect them.
The Government has also indicated that it will “strengthen” guidelines regulating access to healthcare for trans and non-binary people under the age of 18, based on the principle that they “should be protected from making decisions that are irreversible about their bodies”. Details of the new rules have not been given, but this announcement sends a worrying message about the Government’s intentions. Trans and non-binary children and young people already face long waiting lists to access medical treatment - which can be life-saving - and any new restrictions to their bodily autonomy could cause immense harm.
The leak of the Government’s plans for scrapping the GRA reform take place in a critical context marked by the Covid-19 crisis, and the massive and transversal mobilisations against anti-Black racism, and so its timing can only raise suspicion. As we are all too aware, Black trans people are extraordinarily and disproportionately vulnerable to the violent workings of racism, misogyny, and transphobia. The policing of sex and gender is part of a longer racial and colonial history of determining the confines of humanity, worth, and dignity. As such, the current actions by the Government which threaten the livelihoods of trans people, and seek to regulate the boundaries of sex, must be understood as contributing to the structures of anti-Blackness. Recent attacks on trans rights in Hungary, the US and India, in addition to gender-segregated rules to contain the spread of coronavirus in some Latin American countries, show that anti-trans policies are a transnational phenomenon, and we join activists and scholars resisting such legislation across the world.
In this context, we stand by our original demand to support trans and non-binary people and in solidarity with the demands made by a number of LGBT organisations, trans movements, leaders and politicians, call on the Government to commit to support trans and non-binary people by taking on a full reform of the GRA under the outlined principles of autonomy and equality and abandon its proposed reforms limiting trans people’s access to single-sex spaces and trans young people’s access to healthcare.
We at the Department of Gender Studies unequivocally state our collective support for trans and non-binary people. We refute the popular-press representation of feminism as predominantly trans-exclusionary and transphobic, and reject feminisms that deny the rights and freedoms of trans and non-binary people. As a Department we reaffirm our commitment to trans and non-binary rights and will continue to strongly support efforts to resist such clear violations of human dignity.
The faculty, professional services staff and PhD students of the Department of Gender Studies