The government’s disappointing decision not to modernise the Gender Recognition Act

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The English government has finally announced its plans regarding reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004. Following initial indications of a plan to modernise and an extensive public consultation nearly two years ago, which showed overwhelming support for change, the government has in the end decided to retain the existing legislation and do little more than tinker at the edges. We are hugely disappointed to see our transgender clients let down in this way.

What is the Gender Recognition Act?

The UK’s Gender Recognition Act was, in 2004 when it was passed, an important legal landmark. It enabled trans men and women to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate to change the gender marker on their birth certificate and thus secure a full ‘whole of life’ identity in their identifying gender.

Why does the Gender Recognition Act need updating?

The process of getting a Gender Recognition Certificate is unnecessarily cumbersome and reflects outdated understanding of gender identity. Given that trans people can change their names and gender markers on all their other identity documents relatively easily, the process for changing a birth certificate is difficult and, for many, demeaning. 

The GRA requires trans men and women to make an application to a panel of strangers proving they have lived in their ‘acquired’ gender for two years. They must provide medical evidence of gender dysphoria (something which is burdensome and suggests that being trans is a disorder) and they need their spouse’s permission. They can only secure an identity of male or female, with no recognition of non-binary or gender diverse identities.

Our consultation response, and those of many others, had asked the government to introduce a simpler and more compassionate system, enabling trans people to have more autonomy and recognising non-binary identities. Many other countries around the world have introduced such systems successfully (and it looks like even Scotland may do so). 

Our consultation response also asked for reform for trans people conceiving children to ensure they could choose whether they were a mother, father or parent, rather than having an inappropriate legal title imposed upon them. We understand there was overwhelming support for reform, with 80% of consultation respondents supporting the removal of the need for a medical report, and even the British Medical Association last week making a public statement in favour of reform.

However in a Ministerial statement to Parliament on Tuesday, Liz Truss Minister for Women and Equalities, confirmed that the government will not pursue any of the hoped-for reforms. The only changes to the Gender Recognition Act will be to reduce the £140 fee to something ‘nominal’ and to enable GRC applications to be made online. Given that England has been in so many other ways a leader in LGBT rights, this is disappointingly meagre reform, and we know it will be felt hard by trans people who face significant marginalisation and discrimination. 

More welcome is the announcement of increased funding for gender identity healthcare services, although this may be modest too and we will wait to see if this has a significant impact on waiting times for accessing healthcare services in practice. 

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