Response to Government GRA Statement

No substantial reform of the GRA process 

Labour Women’s Declaration welcomes the decision not to proceed with changing the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) to permit self-identification as the only prerequisite for the granting of a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). The safeguarding of transitioning individuals demands proper checks and professional expertise, as is intended by the current provisions of the Act. Of course, only a small proportion of those who declare themselves transgender currently apply for a GRC, but the expectation of a legal self-identification route has led to policies across many institutions and businesses being devised on that basis.

We are hopeful that the new clinics in the process of development, and the proposed training of GPs, will include a much greater emphasis on counselling and psychotherapy to enable individuals proposing to transition to fully consider all aspects of the changes before embarking on the hormonal, and possibly surgical, aspects of transition. We agree with Labour’s Shadow Minister in her emphasis on the need for investment in healthcare provision and for pressing the government for clarity on the actual substance of these proposals.

We would like to see greater consultation with, and support for, the civil partners and spouses of those undertaking a change of legal status. Currently, their only involvement in the process is providing a statutory declaration stating whether they are or are not willing to continue the marriage/civil partnership after granting of a GRC – and if not, a provisional certificate is given until a divorce is granted (or death of the partner/spouse). The impact on such individuals is immense, and for many the decision of their partner to transition has profound implications for their lives and those of any children. This is, of course, true for the partners of those transitioners who do not apply for a GRC or have not entered into a legal contract of marriage/civil partnership, also. However, where change of legal status is to be granted, the legal status of the marriage/civil partnership contract is also changed, affecting both partners.

It was deeply disappointing to hear Labour’s Shadow Secretary for Women and Equalities, during Women and Equalities questions in the House of Commons on 23 September, describe the decision to retain the current process for the acquisition of a Gender Recognition Certificate as ‘disgraceful’ and regarding it as letting the transgender community down. Retaining the GRA as it is does not take any rights away from transgender people. Self-identification would be problematic for many contexts, including spouses/civil partners, data collection and single-sex provisions, as well as potentially for the individual themselves who might have no route to find the support needed for making a major life change.

Equality Act 2010

We are very pleased that Ms Truss has agreed with the policy of the Labour Party, as outlined in the 2019 Manifesto, regarding the single-sex provisions of the Equality Act 2010. The wish to “ensure that the single-sex-based exemptions contained in the Equality Act 2010 are understood and fully enforced in service provision” is now the policy of both Labour and Conservative parties, with the Conservative government looking to strengthen this aspect of the Act. We hope this will result in greater clarity, and an end to the inaccurate interpretations perpetuated by Stonewall and others – even the EHRC. We are alarmed that the EHRC has tweeted its disagreement with the government’s statement. Given its duty to provide accurate guidance for public bodies, and having been required to withdraw its previous inaccurate advice on the single sex exceptions, it is of considerable concern that it is failing in its duty to foster good relations between groups with different protected characteristics.

One of the extremely serious and all-pervasive effects of this inaccuracy has been that local authorities, businesses, schools, funders, the NHS and others have created a situation where previously understood single-sex spaces – hospital wards, women’s refuges and hostels, public toilets, et al – are now effectively mixed-sex through being understood as ‘single gender’, with gender relying on self-identification. We trust that these existing situations will be addressed alongside bringing clarity to future applications of the single-sex exemptions of the Equality Act.

Conversion therapy

It is a mark of the seriousness with which Ms Truss has approached the issue of conversion therapy for lesbians and gay men that research is already being undertaken into the current situation before proceeding to any legal means to prevent this heinous practice. It has reduced enormously over recent decades, but it is clearly important to ensure that no-one is subjected to such attempts to change their sexual orientation. We look forward to hearing the proposals next month.

Review of gender identity services for children and young people

We were pleased to hear the confirmation that the former President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Dr Hilary Cass OBE, will lead the wide-ranging review into gender identity services for children and young people. It is crucial that clinical protocols and referral routes serve children and young people well, and that the current presumption of ‘affirmation’ is challenged. We welcome the investigation into the enormous rise in the number of children referred to such services. We look forward to her report next year.

Whatever the outcome of that report, it is quite obviously essential that the government invests in the training of practitioners and provision of vastly more mental health services for all young people in the UK.

Looking to the future

As stated above, we are very concerned that so many government organisations, official bodies and businesses have run ahead of the law. Self-identification has been embedded in the policies and practices of the NHS, schools, police, councils, government departments, and many more organisations,  as a result of adopting Stonewall Diversity Champion’s kitemark, or incorrect advice from government funded lobby groups, without proper evaluation or  impact assessment of the effect on women. It is of the utmost importance that the government and all other bodies with influence now work to correct these policies, which are damaging to the interests of women, lesbians, and gay men. The conflation of sex and gender must be addressed, and a full understanding of the importance of sex as a protected characteristic fully taken into account.

Free speech for women members of the Labour Party

We, along with many other women, have been silenced and threatened, including with complaints to Labour’s Governance and Legal Unit, and with CLPs refusing to permit us to speak. This is not the way to enable a sensible understanding of these important issues. We call on the Labour Party as well as the government to stand up for the right of women to speak about matters which directly affect us, without intimidation or abuse.

For more details our briefing for MPs and Peers on all these issues can be found on here.

Follow this link to the responses from sister organisations to the government’s GRA announcement here.

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