Cartoon showing a person smiling with a sign reading "gender recognition."

Gender Recognition Act

We support a person’s right to live as and be legally recognised as the gender that they identify with

The problem

To change their birth certificates to reflect their acquired gender currently requires trans people to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). Although they can self-identify in order to change their driving licence and passport, to change their birth certificate they must follow a process that impinges on their human rights.  

To be awarded a GRC trans people must submit an application to the Gender Recognition Panel that includes a large amount of evidence to ‘prove’ that they are trans. For example: 

They must have a formal psychiatric diagnosis for ‘gender dysphoria’ (with waiting lists of a few years, they must wait or pay hundreds of pounds for a private diagnosis). 

They must provide medical evidence detailing surgeries and other gender affirming treatments they have had (or chosen not to have) with reasons why. 

They must provide evidence that they have lived as their acquired gender for at least two years. 

They must be 18 or over. 

These stipulations create a situation that sees many trans people unable to satisfy the GRC panel requirements because of reasons such as long NHS waiting lists and the high cost of private treatment for the proofs required. This means they are unable to change their birth certificates which can have many negative consequences and infringes on their Article 8 right to family and private life. 

The solution

The proposed Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill will simplify the process for obtaining a GRC. Trans people will no longer be required to acquire a medical diagnosis of ‘gender dysphoria’, and the age that people can legally change gender will be lowered from 18 to 16. 

Our campaign

We supported the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill through the public consultation phase and as it passed successfully through Holyrood. In January 2023 the UK government blocked the bill from becoming law in Scotland using powers it retains over the Scottish parliament’s law-making ability. We oppose this decision and we will continue to support all efforts to simplify the gender recognition process for trans people in Scotland, working with our colleagues at Scottish Trans.

Background to our support for GRR

During the research and consultation phase of the Scottish government’s GRR proposals, the society undertook research and engagement with a number of organisations and relevant sources before confirming our support for the GRR Bill.

In 2018, we held a roundtable with input from trans humanists who had experience of the existing GRC process. We also spoke to children’s rights organisations, academics specialising in family law and equality law, and representatives from the Scottish government.

Importantly, we also met with a number of women’s rights groups with regard to the important question of “conflicting rights.” These organisations included Engender, Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Convention, Scottish Women’s Rights Centre, and the Young Women’s Movement. All have a long history of working on women’s rights and tackling violence against women. None were concerned about the prospect of women’s rights being undermined. In 2023 a number of civil society groups including many of the above issued a statement reaffirming this position. We also spoke in depth to the Children’s Commissioner’s office and the Together Alliance for Children’s Rights regarding the proposals for under-16s (these were not taken forward by the Scottish government).

Following this research and consultation process, in December 2017 Humanist Society Scotland’s board of trustees agreed to “support changing the law to allow trans people and non-binary people the right to self-determination. Current legal requirements are intrusive and not in line with humanist values of personal autonomy. We also support fairer rights and recognition for all young people, including trans young people, in keeping with our commitment to the principles of the UNCRC.”

The society then responded to the Scottish Government’s two consultations on this topic and inputted into the Scottish parliament’s consideration of the bill. Our CEO Fraser Sutherland gave evidence to the committee scrutinising the bill, during which he stated:

“Humanist core values and principles include support for universal equality among individuals (Amsterdam Declaration 2002, International Humanist and Ethical Union: “Humanism is ethical. It affirms the worth, dignity and autonomy of the individual and the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others.”) We have long challenged discrimination of LGBT people and campaigned for them to have their fundamental rights respected. For example, Humanist Society Scotland played a major role in campaigning for equal marriage rights for same-sex couples in Scotland and the society was proud to solemnise the very first same-sex marriage in Scotland in a humanist ceremony. While the original act was a significant positive change at the time of its introduction we welcome the review of the Gender Recognition Act, in order to rectify some issues that have been highlighted by trans individuals, academics, and others with how the current act works in practice.”

What the GRR Bill doesn’t do

The GRR Bill does not propose to change the operation of the Equality Act 2010, and therefore does not impact on hard-won rights for women embedded in that act. Indeed, the GRR Bill as passed by the Scottish Parliament was amended to include a specific provision noting that the act would not change the Equality Act nor the definitions contained within it.

As such, the GRR Bill does not propose changing existing laws which allow providers of single-sex services to deny access to trans people if there is a legitimate reason for doing so. This vetting process occurs in the prison service, rape crisis centres, NHS facilities, and in other settings. Providers of such spaces have indicated they would continue to apply these checks after the passage of GRR. 

Humanism around the world and GRR

Our support for GRR is consistent with our humanist partners in other countries, who have proposed similar changes. See, for example, the 2018 Humanists International statement “Protection of the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, Intersex, Queer and Asexual (LGBTI+) persons under The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” See also the 2019 “Reykjavik Declaration on The Family and Human Rights: A Humanist Perspective.” Humanist Society Scotland voted in favour of both these recent statements at Humanist International General Assemblies.

As the Reykjavik Declaration states:

“As Humanists, we want to build an inclusive society where everyone can live in dignity without fear of discrimination on any ground. A society where women fully enjoy their right to autonomy over their bodies; where LGBTI+ people enjoy equal rights and equal treatment, and can express their love with their gender identity openly; and where all families are respected and recognised, in their diverse forms and compositions.”

The statement asks humanist organisations to “[w]ork to endorse, defend and promote the human rights of LGBTI+ persons; Promote awareness of the barriers and forms of discrimination that LGBTI+ persons face and how to counter these; Enact and enforce policies combating discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.”

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