Responding to the Women and Equalities Select Committee gender recognition Inquiry 2020

This briefing aims to support organisations as well as individuals to respond to this Select Committee call for evidence.

What is the Inquiry all about?

On 28 October, the Westminster Parliament’s Women and Equalities Select Committee launched a public Inquiry into the UK Government’s recent announcement of changes to the gender recognition process for trans people in England and Wales.

The Women and Equalities Committee holds Government to account on equality law and policy, so Inquiries like this are a good opportunity to recommend to MPs what needs to be improved.

This is different to the public GRA Consultation for England and Wales brought by the Government Equalities Office in 2018.

Why is it important to submit evidence?

To ensure the Select Committee tells the Government that they must deliver on their promise and go further to meaningfully reform the Gender Recognition Act. We feel it is important to discourage any opening of the Equality Act 2010, as the mechanisms within that are already fit for purpose.

Thousands of trans people in England and Wales – after years of delay after delay – have been let down, and this has clearly made their lives much harder.

We must ensure that the outcome of this Inquiry does not bring about more hate and misconceptions about trans people and their lives.

How can I submit evidence?

You can submit your evidence HERE.

All submissions to the Select Committee must be received by 27 November, so time is short.

Is responding to this complicated?

No, however there are some key things to be aware of, which are listed up here.

Your evidence is the written responses to 16 questions in the Inquiry; you can respond to as many or as few questions as you like. Your response can be short but should be concise.

Can you provide guidance in relation to the Inquiry Questions?

Please find here below some suggestions how you could shape your answers.

Consortium and its Trans Organisations Network will be publicising our full Inquiry Evidence shortly.

1: Will the Government’s proposed changes meet its aim of making the process “kinder and more straightforward”?

We believe that the minimal administrative changes to improve the process for legal gender recognition of trans people in England and Wales are not sufficient. See the Government’s ‘proposed changes’  HERE. The Government has reneged from their responsibilities to implement positive and meaningful reforms—something that had been promised.

In this section, you can state why you don’t think these proposals are adequate and what more could be done to reform the GRA to make it ‘kinder and more straight forward’.

2: Should a fee for obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate be removed or retained? Are there other financial burdens on applicants that could be removed or retained?

We believe that the fee should be removed or substantially reduced.

You could write about why there should not be a fee at all, or how much a fee ‘nominal’ should be.

You could mention that acquiring medical and other documents for the required ‘evidence’ involves further costs.

You may wish to say that costs for replacement of official documents such as birth certificates and passports should be significantly reduced.

3: Should the requirement for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria be removed?

 A diagnosis of gender dysphoria positions being trans as a medical condition and therefore we believe this requirement should be removed.

Trans people have been fighting stigma and discrimination globally, much of which can be traced back to a medical system that historically has pathologised trans identities as mental illness.

A simple administrative process based on self-determination does not need a medical diagnosis. This is in line with international best practice, for example in Ireland, Malta, Argentina and Norway.

The ICD-11 (2018), published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) re-frames ‘gender identity disorder’ as ‘gender incongruence’ and moves the diagnostic codes from the chapter on mental disorders to one on sexual health.

You might like to talk here about experiences of your group or the services your organisation provides to trans people in the UK.

4: Should there be changes to the requirement for individuals to have lived in their acquired gender for at least two years?

We believe that evidence of living in an acquired gender for any period of time should not be required.

What constitutes evidence of living as any gender is culturally, socially and historically specific. It is also subject to individual interpretation and preference.

According to the GEO GRA consultation, 78.6% were in favour of removing the requirement for individuals to provide evidence of having lived in their acquired gender for a period of time.

Here, you can give your reasons why this requirement is not a good thing.

5: What is your view of the statutory declaration and should any changes have been made to it?

There are a number of problematic elements to the current declaration. We think that including a ‘reformed’ statutory declaration as part of a system of self-determination is a sensible approach, as long as it is the only requirement to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate.

The process for statutory declaration is simple and straightforward and is used very commonly by people applying to change their legal name. The process is fully accessible and can be done by printing off a basic format from several locations online.

A simple statutory declaration system is widely recognised as best practice internationally, having been implemented in a number of countries.

While it is important that individuals looking to change their legal gender intend their declaration to be permanent, we believe that the inclusion of an ‘until death’ clause is unnecessary.

A reformed Gender Recognition Act must recognise non-binary and fluid identities.

Here, you can write about whether you think the requirement of a statutory declaration is a good thing or not and your reasons why.

6: Does the spousal consent provision in the Act need reforming? If so, how? If it needs reforming or removal, is anything else needed to protect any rights of the spouse or civil partner?

We believe that spousal consent provisions, sometimes referred to as ‘the spousal veto’, must be removed.

The system must enable a trans person to obtain GRC without needing the permission of their spouse.

You might talk about how many trans people experience domestic abuse and intimate partner violence, and how the spousal consent provision affects this.

7: Should the age limit at which people can apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) be lowered?

We believe that all trans people, regardless of their age, deserve respect and recognition. Legal recognition would ensure that no young person suffers because of the discrepancy between their legal and social identities.

We think that the age for gender recognition should be lowered to 16.

It is vital that trans young people under 16 are able to access gender recognition.

Whether or not parental approval should be required, particularly for those under 16 who are not independently competent, needs to be carefully considered. Parental approval or otherwise should not however be determinative of whether a child’s identity should be recognised.

You might like to talk about the evidence that shows trans people can know from a very young age what their gender identity is.

8: What impact will these proposed changes have on those people applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate, and on trans people more generally?

Implementing less costly and bureaucratic processes does not go far enough in making a significant difference for trans people. Therefore, we think that these changes would not have a significant impact on trans people applying for a GRC.

More generally, trans people continue to face huge inequalities across all areas of life as highlighted through the  together.  campaign.

9: What else should the Government have included in its proposals, if anything?

We would say that the GRA needs to be reformed in the following ways:

  • the £140 fee to be removed or reduced 
  • the requirement of a diagnosis of gender dysphoria to be removed;  
  • The Gender Recognition Panel to be removed;   
  • the spousal veto to be removed;   
  • the two-year waiting time to be removed;  
  • the statutory declaration to be removed (unless it is the only requirement);   
  • the age limit to be lowered; legal recognition for non-binary people to be introduced.

In this section, you could explain the many barriers in accessing the GRC process faced by many trans people e.g.  with poor literacy, disabled, and asylum seekers.

We believe, Intersex people also should appropriately recognised and included in the reformed Act, offering a specific pathway to them.

You may wish to consult the GRA 2018 background information and discuss some of the elements that trans communities were asking for.

10: Does the Scottish Government’s proposed Bill offer a more suitable alternative to reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004?

The Scottish Government’s proposed Bill overall appears more favourable than the English and Welsh proposed Bill, as it intends to reduce the requirement of ‘living in your acquired gender’ for 2 years, lower the age a person can obtain a GRC from 18 to 16 years old, and abolish the current requirements for medical evidence to be submitted to a Gender Recognition Panel.

Further information around the Scottish Government Reform Bill proposals can be found  here.

Wider issues concerning transgender equality and current legislation:

1: Why is the number of people applying for GRCs so low compared to the number of people identifying as transgender?

Obtaining a GRC is difficult, costly, time consuming and intrusive. The National LGBT Survey revealed why so few trans people have a GRC.

You may wish to address the barriers that trans people face in relation to the way in which the application process currently works.

2: Are there challenges in the way the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010 interact? For example, in terms of the different language and terminology used across both pieces of legislation.

There should not be any challenges in the way the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010 interact as to have the protected characteristic of gender reassignment, and therefore to be protected under the Equality Act, trans people do not have to have a Gender Recognition Certificate.

There is a significant amount of misinformation around the way that the GRA interacts with the Equality Act and the Government must do more to clarify with public services and the government that the Equality Act and the GRA do not interact.

Here, you could also refer to specific pieces of language either or both Acts use.

3: Are the provisions in the Equality Act for the provision of single-sex and separate-sex spaces and facilities in some circumstances clear and useable for service providers and service users? If not, is reform or further guidance needed?

We believe, guidance should make it clearer that as a default, single-sex and separate-sex spaces must be inclusive of anyone identifying in line with the gender/ genders they are provided for.

You may wish to discuss the barriers faced by trans and non-binary people who wish to access services that are single sex.

4: Does the Equality Act adequately protect trans people? If not, what reforms, if any, are needed?

The Equality Act protects all trans people regardless of whether they have taken steps such as obtaining a GRC, having medical interventions or legally changing their name.

Non-binary people should be also protected against discrimination on the basis of their non-binary or fluid identity.

You may wish to talk about the lack of explicit protections for non-binary people within the Equality Act.

You might talk about the exemptions that single sex spaces give, and how these affect trans people.

You might talk about the hate crime, abuse and discrimination experienced by trans people, and how easy or difficult it is for trans people to get support.

5: What issues do trans people have in accessing support services, including health and social care services, domestic violence and sexual violence services?

Trans people face a multitude of barriers and issues when accessing, or trying to access support services.

More needs to be done across the public sector, private sector and VCSE sector to ensure that trans people can access services that are free from discrimination and that meet their needs.

Here, you can provide the Committee with an insight into the issues trans people face in daily life when accessing, or attempting to access, support services. This may include reference to access to healthcare, including public services and facilities, domestic violence and sexual violence services.

6: Are legal reforms needed to better support the rights of gender-fluid and non-binary people? If so, how?

GRA reform should provide legal recognition for non-binary identities.

Changes to identity documents and records to include non-binary gender identities would strengthen the legal recognition of people with non-binary genders in the UK.

A general move to remove gender from official documents is vital and should not raise any particular problems.

You may wish to discuss how having to use binary genders on legal documentation affects non-binary people, and how it affects your clients or group members.

Still not sure how to go about this?

No problem. Feel welcome to contact Consortium and its Trans Organisations Network via email. We have also collated some great ‘Inquiry’ resources from our members that we are happy to share with you.

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