The Gender Recognition Act Reform Consultation- What it is, why it’s important, and how to fill it out

The deadline to respond to the UK government’s Consultation on potential reforms to the Gender Recognition Act has been extended, to midday (GMT) on the 22nd of October 2018.

I haven’t posted about the GRA consultation much in my blogging identity, mostly because I am exhausted from having to beg the cisgender people I know in real life to tell the government I deserve rights and don’t want it to carry into my everyday life. But after weeks and weeks of having to sit through endless attacks on trans rights in the British media, I’ve given up on having any kind of self dignity left. I am ready and willing to beg everyone for my rights.

You can fill out the GRA consultation via the Government’s website, or through Stonewall’s abridged version (which omits questions only relevant to organisations). You can only fill out the GRA consultation if you live in the UK, but you do not have to be a British subject.

What is the GRA?

The Gender Recognition Act allows a trans person to change their gender in the eyes of the law. It results in a Gender Recognition Certificate (which will be referred to as a GRC for the rest of this post). This does not affect which gendered spaces a trans person can use- all gendered spaces, such as toilets and changing rooms, are based on self identification (self-ID), and exceptions (more on this later) remain exceptions even if a trans person has a GRC.

An example of something that a GRC affects practically is marriage. If a trans person does not have a GRC, they must be married as the gender they were assigned at birth. For example, if my boyfriend and I were to get married, as neither of us have a GRC, we would legally be wives, and would be referred to as brides during our wedding.

An application for gender recognition goes before a Panel, who decide (having never met the trans person in question) if we deserve legal recognition.

Why does the GRA need reforming?

To get a GRC currently requires a diagnosis of ‘gender dysphoria’ from a select number of doctors, most of who work at Gender Identity Clinics. The wait to have a first appointment at an NHS Gender Identity Clinic is currently 2-3 years, and a diagnosis may require two or more appointments, which can be placed up to a year apart. This means that trans people may be waiting upwards of 4 years for a diagnosis.

People who are non-binary (so don’t identify as either male or female) don’t have any legal recognition at all under the current GRA. People who are under the age of 18 also do not have legal recognition, despite the fact that 16-18 years olds may have documentation (such as driving licenses and passports) in their correct gender, and have undergone non-surgical medical transition.

The current GRA does not require any kind of medical transition. Despite this, if a trans person has undergone any medical transition, they must provide details on this treatment. The Panel may decide to refuse recognition on account of information not being detailed enough, even though undergoing any kind of treatment is not required. The Panel is also known among trans people to be less likely to give recognition to trans people who are pre or non surgical. This is ridiculous, especially given waiting times for surgery on the NHS. The waiting times for top surgery on the NHS are known to be 2 years from referral, with the wait for a surgery referral up to 5 years after referral to a Gender Identity Clinic.

The current GRA allows for ‘spousal veto’. What this means is that if a trans person is married prior to applying for a GRC, their spousal can refuse to let them be legally recognised as their gender. If this happens, the then the trans person is blocked from having their gender recognised, but the marriage continues to exist. Trans people are very likely to be affected by abusive spouses- a report by the The Scottish Transgender Alliance indicates that 80% of trans people had experienced emotional, sexual, or physical abuse from a partner or ex-partner. The provisions for spousal veto give legal power to abusive spouses.

The process is also expensive. The application fee is £140, and on top of this there are other costs, such as getting medical reports, accessing medical care to get a diagnosis in the first place, making copies of documents that ‘prove’ a trans person has been ‘living as their gender’, getting a new passport and/or driving license as ‘proof’ of ‘living in role’, and sending all relevant documents by tracked post. These costs are inaccessible for many people, especially given the barriers trans people have to employment. In a recent report, 1 in 3 UK employers said that they are ‘less likely’ to hire a trans person, 43% said they were unsure if they would recruit a trans worker, and just 8% think we should have the same rights to be hired for a job as everyone else, despite this kind of discrimination being illegal.

Additionally, of note is the fact that Section 22, which allows trans people an actionable right against their employers in criminal law if they ‘out’ us has clearly failed, as no cases have ever been brought forward.

What Won’t GRA Reform Change?

GRA reform will not change trans people’s access to single gendered spaces, such as changing rooms or toilets. These rights are governed by the Equality Act 2010, which officially added “gender reassignment” as a “protected characteristic”. The Equality Act is the act that protects trans people (legally recognised as people ‘with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment’) against discrimination in terms of gendered spaces. Essentially, the EA gives trans people the right to use gendered bathrooms, changing rooms, and other such spaces without needing a GRC.

The UK media has whipped up a frenzy over the idea that changes to the GRA will mean cisgender male predators will take advantage of self-ID laws. These ignore the facts that 1) the likely improvements will still require a trans person to make a legal declaration they intend to live as their gender until death, 2) predators have much easier ways of being predators than pretending to be trans, and 3) the GRA does not affect use of gendered spaces at all. The ‘exceptions’ in the Equality Act, preserving the right to refuse trans people access to specific spaces in some situations, will unfortunately still exist.

This is not something I agree with, and something I believe needs to be reformed in future. Trans people can be turned away from gendered spaces if doing so can be justified as ‘proportionate’, regardless of if we have a GRC or not. The decision over if turning us away is ‘proportionate’ is, of course, decided by cisgender people. A trans woman who is a rape survivor, for example, can be turned away from a rape crisis center on the basis of her trans status. A trans woman who is homeless can be refused a place to sleep in a women’s shelter. A midwife who comes out as a trans man can be fired if his employer believes that being a cis woman is necessary for his job. GRC reform, important as it is, will not affect this.

What You Can Do

Fill out the GRA Consultation!

You do not have to be a British subject to fill out the consultation, only live in the UK. You can fill it out as an individual, as an organisation, or as both!

There are detailed guides to filling out the GRA consultation, that take it question by question. The charity Mermaids has one (which you can find here), and Stonewall has both a guide and a webform that allows you to fill out an abridged version of the consultation (note this does not include the questions for organisations, but you can find it here).

The Gender Recognition Act is a small piece of legislation with minimal power over the lives of trans people. Issues of employment, healthcare, access to correct gendered spaces, sexual violence, and domestic violence, will all still affect us. But the battle for GRA reform is a battle trans people cannot afford to lose.

If you’re cis, as well as responding to the GRA consultation, donate to community projects and organisations that help us fight. Action For Trans Health is a lobbying group for better transgender healthcare, Mermaids is a charity that works with transgender children and their families, Survivors’ Network and LGBT Switchboard jointly run a hotline for transgender survivors of sexual violence. And, if you can, donate to individual trans people’s crowdfunding campaigns for medical care.

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