NUS Women’s and LGBT+ campaigns joined together in the summer of 2018 to respond to the government’s consultation on the Gender Recognition Act 2004. Providing guidance for students and students’ unions to help them also input into the consultation, NUS called for yes to reform, yes to self-declaration.
The Gender Recognition Act 2004 is a piece of legislation which allows transgender people to legally change their gender, therefore receiving a new birth certificate with their preferred name and gender on it. This process requires two years “lived experience” in the acquired gender, a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and the submission of evidence to a panel. We believe that this is an outdated system that is overly long, bureaucratic and expensive and therefore needs to be reformed.
Trans students are overwhelmingly young people who often will not have met the archaic requirements of lived experience and a gender dysphoria diagnosis. As a result, the current requirements disadvantage young people. In addition, the current process can cost upwards of £200, which financially disadvantages young trans people. Furthermore, we believe that as a student movement, we need to stand with the most marginalised people in society and act as allies intackling the challenges they face.
• the removal of a requirement for lived experience. The current criteria relies on outdated gender stereotypes and pushes trans people into absurd situations where their documents and clothes are deemed more important than their actual lives.
• the removal of a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Maintaining it pathologises trans people’s experiences and makes medical intervention a necessity for legal recognition.
• an end to the binary regulation of gender by ensuring that non-binary people are better able to move through the world without being forced into the boxes of “male” or “female”.
• fees to be abolished. Trans people should not have to pay over £200 just to have their birth certificate reissued.
• an end to coercively assigning gender at birth, and an end to gatekeeping of gender identity and experience by the state.
Overwhelming responses to the consultation supported reform. 1.1% of all consultation respondents were trans who overwhelmingly reported that the current GRA process was too bureaucratic, time consuming and expensive, highlighting in particular that the process made them feel dehumanised and stressed. Another major topic raised was the long waiting lists for obtaining medical evidence. Smaller numbers of trans respondents thought that a GRC would be of no benefit to them or stated they were happy with the current process. Some trans respondents noted that they hadn’t applied for a GRC because they were not yet old enough.
When asked about what having a GRC would mean to them, many trans people talked about the social and legal validation they would gain through an updated birth certificate. Other common themes included being able to get married in their correct legal gender and getting more security against being outed without their consent.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents (64.1%) said that there should not be a requirement for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria in the future and 4 out of 5 (80.3%) respondents were in favour of removing the requirement for a medical report. A majority of respondents (78.6%) were in favour of removing the requirement for individuals to provide evidence of having lived in their acquired gender for a period of time.
The government announced its response to the consultation in September 2020 deciding that despite all the support for reform “the balance struck in this legislation is correct, in that there are proper checks and balances in the system and also support for people who want to change their legal sex.”
Self-declaration will not be introduced and the response also failed to address other key issues of medical gatekeeping, the spousal veto, the exclusion of young people and non-binary people, and the lack of provision for a person to change their gender multiple times.
Despite the 70% positive response to the huge public consultation around GRA reforms, coupled with a recent petition with over 100,000 signatures in support of self-declaration, the UK government decided not to listen to the voices of trans people and their allies.
The government did seek to place focus on trans health but the 3 new Gender Identity Clinics (GICs) planned for opening in 2020/21 are unlikely due to the existing pressures on the NHS due to the coronavirus pandemic. This is also only the first step to a liberated healthcare system for trans people.
Although these reforms are inadequate and fail to account for the demands made by trans people in the consultation, a cheaper, online process still leaves the GRA in a better place than it started.
The Women and Equalities Committee launched a new inquiry into trans equality issues in November 2020, including the Government’s proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act. To help students campaigners, we wrote a guide on how to respond to this consultation, you find it here.
We will continue to push for self-declaration and for the inclusion of non-binary people and young people under the GRA, as well as continuing to support the ongoing fight for GRA reforms in Scotland.
“The fight for trans liberation in the UK goes on - Truss rightly identifies healthcare as a more pressing concern for the UK’s trans population, and we must fight to ensure that measures are taken to depathologise the treatment of trans people within the NHS, to increase access to all healthcare for trans people, and to end the gatekeeping system of the GICs.
“GRA reforms have been the primary focus of the highly hostile atmosphere created around trans issues in recent years, and though introducing self-declaration remains important, it is and has always been just one small part of the fight for trans liberation.”
- Sara Khan, Vice President Liberation and Equality 2020/22
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