Call 8: Reform the Gender Recognition Act and give trans young people the chance to live full, happy lives
By Jade Reynolds
Themes identified by our young people’s advisory group Changing our World as ‘hot topics’ and regularly highlighted by our network include inclusion, health and wellbeing, discrimination and participation.
We asked Jade, a queer activist, to tell us about an area of equality and discrimination that matters to her.
In the UK, one of the greatest issues facing transgender people of all ages is gender recognition. This is a process used to change a person's gender on their birth certificate, allowing them to marry as their correct gender and change their registered gender details with HMRC. Not every trans person wishes to go through this but, for those that do, attaining a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) involves an arduous journey.
The Gender Recognition Act (GRA) of 2004 was, at the time, viewed as a groundbreaking step forward for trans rights. However, 14 years later it falls short of international best practice and ultimately makes it difficult for many trans people in the UK to live their lives.
The gender recognition process is very difficult due to the expectations placed on those going through it. This includes having to live as their gender for two years to prove their commitment – a humiliating and arbitrary manner of measuring the legitimacy of a person’s identity – while providing extensive documentation to prove they have not wavered in their ‘choice’ during this time period.
The process is also heavily criticised for not acknowledging non-binary transgender people and, most pressing to young people, for insisting applicants have to be aged 18 or over.
The fact people can only select between male or female offers no alternative for those who do not identify within the traditional western template of gender. This leaves non-binary trans people without the legal protections offered to binary trans people under the GRA – effectively not recognising or representing them in the system.
Excluding 16 and 17-year olds can have serious implications. Not only is it inconsistent with the rights of other 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland, it ignores them and their needs. They will not have the same legal rights – for example being able to marry as their correct gender – or, if transitioning while at school, receive the same protections, potentially leaving them at greater risk.
Due to these issues and the often unattainable cost of a GRC, the UK has a lower percentage of applicants compared to countries with a self-declaration model. Overall, applying for a GRC is a gruelling endeavour that forces transgender people to prove the legitimacy of their identity to gatekeepers who they never meet, and who have the power to dramatically change the course of their life. The entire process is geared towards discouraging transgender people from seeking out support or recognition.
Recently published research including the findings of the UK Government’s National LGBT Survey (2018) and LGBT Youth Scotland’s Life in Scotland for LGBT Young People (2018), shows that transgender people in the UK are at a higher risk of homelessness, violence, self-harm and suicide. We have lots of information like this, and we know we need to do more to improve the lives of trans people now. But there is hope.
The UK Government is currently consulting on reforming the GRA but, even better, the Scottish Government completed its own consultation in March this year. There were more than 15,000 responses with Scottish respondents clearly in favour of change:
Sixty-six per cent (UK/62 per cent) said Scotland should take action to recognise non-binary people
Sixty-five per cent (UK/60 per cent) support proposals to introduce a self-declaration system
Sixty-six per cent (UK/61 per cent) agreed that 16- and 17-year olds should be able to obtain legal recognition.
In September 2018, the Scottish Government confirmed its commitment “to bring forward legislation on gender recognition in the next legislative programme”.
The big challenge will be to take any changes in legislation and turn them into change in practice and at societal levels. We need to make sure that all trans people have the legal protections they deserve; processes are affordable and accessible; trans people are not forced to prove their existence by arbitrary means; and society starts accepting them and their gender identity.
Ultimately, we need to make sure that trans young people are given the support and strength, power and hope they need to live full and happy lives.
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