Why we need gender recognition reform

Guest writer Sophie Robinson discusses why we need to de-bunk the myths surrounding reform of the Gender Recognition Act and Self-Declaration.


The much needed reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA) was announced by Theresa May last year. Since that time, there has been a sustained attack on the trans community in both mainstream and social media. This has predominantly focussed on trans women and has attempted to whip up a frenzy of fear related to the issue of ‘women’-only safe spaces.

There has been a campaign aimed at exploiting the fears of vulnerable people, those who may have been subject to sexual abuse, domestic violence or rape. It has attempted to create fear of ‘young girls and women’ being at risk of sexual predators when using public facilities, such as changing rooms or toilets.

Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs), as they are known, have referred to trans women as ‘men’, coined phrases such as ‘women don’t have penises’ and made false claims about what self-declaration actually is. They imply that anyone will be able to change their gender on a whim, allowing men to access safe spaces in order to commit crimes.

After a long wait, the consultation for reform of the GRA was officially launched on 3 July 2018. What has followed has been nothing short of abhorrent.

Look no further than the situation that unfolded at Pride in London. Here, a small group of anti-trans activists hijacked the front of the march and spread a message of hate and bigotry, which for the whole, appears to have been unchallenged by the organisers. These protesters used slurs such as ‘Transactivism erases Lesbians’ and ‘a man who says he is a lesbian is a rapist’.

They attempt to deny the existence of trans women claiming that trans women are men.

What they fail to understand is that the GRA does not impact on the protections of trans people’s human rights. That in fact lies within the protections covered by the Equality Act 2010. Under the protected characteristic of Gender Reassignment, trans men and women have been using facilities and safe spaces with legal protection for years.

Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) as they are known, have referred to Trans Women as ‘men’, coined phrases such as ‘women don’t have penises’ and made false claims about what self-declaration actually is

So why do we need a change in the GRA?

As it stands, the GRA is the legislative framework for a trans person to legally change their gender in the form of a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). This process can cost in excess of £300, is bureaucratic and cumbersome. It requires a trans person to live their life in their true gender for a minimum of two years, throughout which time they need to collect evidence, which is forwarded to a panel. On this panel, a group of medics and legal professionals will consider the evidence and then make a decision.

The individual applicant will never meet this panel and will have no right of appeal if the decision goes against them.

In addition to this, if the individual is married, this can cause complications as their spouse must give permission. If they decline, the marriage needs to be annulled before the trans person can get their GRC. This can lead to additional costs and slow the process down.

As part of the evidence required by the panel, a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation must be included. This can be intrusive and cause a great deal of distress for the individual. On 18 June 2018, the World Health Organisation released a version of the ICD-11. This is the International Classification of Diseases and is used in many parts of the world to standardise medical diagnoses. Within this, transsexualism will be replaced by the diagnosis of gender incongruence of adolescence and adulthood and, more importantly, will be taken out of the category of mental disorders and be moved into conditions of sexual health. So, with this in mind, the GRA would need to be updated in any case.

In addition to this, if the individual is married, this can cause complications as their spouse must give permission. If they decline, the marriage needs to be annulled before the trans person can get their GRC.

The proposals of any reform are quite simple and will in no way impact on the lives of anyone other than the individual concerned. The consultation is focussed on the following:

  • Making the process less bureaucratic. This will be done by self-declaration, reducing cost to the individual and removing the need for a panel. It will still require a legally binding declaration made by the individual and is not something an individual can change on a regular basis.
  • Including non-binary identities which are not currently covered by the GRA. This will validate the identities of those who do not consider themselves as fitting within the binary identities of male or female.
  • Removing the stigma attached to Gender Incongruence as being a mental disorder.
  • Removing the demeaning process of making an individual ‘prove’ to others who they already know they are.

So, please consider this. How would you feel if, say at the age of 18, you had to prove to a faceless panel who you are? And how would you feel if they decided you are wrong and refused you the right to challenge their decision?

This is why reform is so important.

Follow Sophie on Twitter (@SWR666)