Today, 31 March 2023, is International Trans Day of Visibility. Humanist Society Scotland has a long relationship with Scotland’s LGBT+ communities and the last 12 months have been significant and trying ones for trans people in Scotland. Holyrood passed a bill that would have made gender recognition easier and more dignified for trans men and women and non-binary people in Scotland. But the legislation was blocked from becoming law at Westminster, the first time the UK government has ever utilised their power in this way.
Vic Valentine is a Policy Officer at the Equality Network. Vic works on the Scottish Trans Alliance project and was a big part of the push for GRA reform. So, we thought Vic would be a great person to talk to to find out more about the joys and challenges of being trans in Scotland, and where next for the movement for trans equality.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you became passionate about trans rights?
I’m a non-binary trans person, so in many ways it was somewhat selfishly motivated! But the thing that got me particularly invested in making a difference was when I was working at a LGBTQ+ mental health charity in Brighton and seeing the huge range of ways in which trans people were being let down. Whether that was through inadequate housing, lack of safety on the streets, or mental health services that couldn’t seem to understand that sometimes being trans was the part of someone’s life that they were most confident and happy with, not the thing that was the problem.
Can you tell us a bit about the Scottish Trans Alliance and how you got involved?
Scottish Trans is a project at the Equality Network, a lesbian, gay, bi, trans and intersex equality and human rights charity. Our day-to-day work is all about making Scotland a better place for trans people. We mostly do this by working with trans people and communities, figuring out what’s going on for us and what we need to live better lives, and then translating that into work with policy and decision-makers to let them know how they could be doing things differently. The idea is to remove the barriers and difficulties we might be facing.
We also campaign, particularly when it comes to legal changes. Obviously for the last number of years that has focused on reforming the Gender Recognition Act.
Mental health services couldn’t seem to understand that sometimes being trans was the part of someone’s life that they were most confident and happy with, not the thing that was the problem.Vic Valentine, Scottish Trans Alliance
What should readers know about the GRA reform bill that recently passed through Holyrood?
It would have made the process for trans men and women to update the sex recorded on their birth certificate to reflect who they truly are a much simpler and fairer one. Currently, you have to submit a psychiatric diagnosis of gender dysphoria and medical reports to a tribunal of doctors and judges who decide whether you can change it. You also have to wait two years from when you’ve started permanently living as who you know are before you can apply. That means you can be stuck for a period with totally mismatching documents, giving you no choice but to share that you’re trans anytime your birth certificate is needed.
Instead, a legal declaration signed by the trans person themselves and witnessed by a notary public would have been used and the time reduced from two years to six months. This would have moved Scotland closer to international best practice. More than 30 places around the world are already using this kind of ‘self-determination’ model.
If people would like to know more about why the law should change, they can check out: “Five reasons to support reforming the Gender Recognition Act”
GRA reform is currently held up because Westminster blocked the passage of the legislation. Where next for the cause? What do Scottish Trans have planned, and what would you like to see happen next?
The crucial thing for us is that people have a fair process they can use to update their birth certificate. In all honesty, it’s hard to know for sure how we get there now. One option is for the Scottish Government to challenge the UK Government’s decision in the Courts and see what they decide. Another is to leave the Bill on the Scottish Parliament’s books and revisit the situation when there is a UK Government which is less hostile to improving trans people’s lives.
The choice on which option to take is one that people with lots more power than us will get to make. But whatever happens, we’ll be working hard to ensure that the voices and perspectives of trans people in Scotland are heard, and keep making the positive case for why this Bill should become law.
But wider than gender recognition reform, there’s still lots more to be done. Our top priority is improving the situation for trans people trying to access gender identity services. Waiting lists are counted in years and we think services are far too reliant on psychiatrists when they don’t need to be. It’s vital that there is investment and care poured into these services so that trans people can access timely, high quality care – as we all should be able to!
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