Telegraph Voices: Discussing the Gender Recognition Act

Anna Friel as Vicky and Callum Booth-Ford as Maxine in Butterfly. (ITV/Red Production Company)
Anna Friel as Vicky and Callum Booth-Ford as Maxine in Butterfly. (ITV/Red Production Company)

The Sheffield Telegraph asked contributors – how should the Gender Recognition Act be reformed?

Steve Slack, CEO of Sheffield charity SAYiT:

‘Everyone’s a hero some time or other,’ lamented 97-year-old Louise Jennings, speaking on Look North. Assigned male at birth, Louise was a Second World War veteran who fought on the beaches of Dunkirk. She underwent gender reassignment surgery in 1990 after the death of her wife of 40 years. ‘Turns out in the long run I wanted to be a woman’, she reflected.

Jack, an 18-year-old transgender man told me recently; ‘I just want to be accepted for who I am. I shouldn’t have to prove anything to a panel of people or pay for the right to be officially accepted.’

Two stories – generations apart. Fundamental to both, their longing, having accepted themselves, to be accepted by the rest of the world; to live without prejudice or abuse in the gender they choose. Transgender rights are human rights, yet are frequently portrayed as special rights which impinge on the rights of others.

Transgender people and allies are merely asking for their right to self-define and self-identify without having to go through a hugely intrusive, expensive and bureaucratic process - rights already granted in various other countries including Ireland and Malta.

Debate surrounding the consultation on the 2004 GRA attracted ill-informed, cruel and vitriolic attacks - the likes of which I have not witnessed for many years. Student areas of Sheffield leafleted by groups opposed to transgender rights. A simple and basic human rights issue used to raise unnecessary fears among women - scaremongering tactics with little or no evidence with which to back them up. The Equality Act 2010 already allows transgender women to access women’s spaces and services in almost all circumstances without the need for a Gender Recognition Certificate or having received medical treatment. And there is little evidence of men adopting female roles in order to invade women’s spaces.

We live in a patriarchal and increasingly divided society. Men physically and sexually abuse women – including transgender women – with impunity. Rather than opposing transgender rights, and long overdue law reform, let’s show some humanity and compassion. Our energies are much better spent confronting the structures and cultures of toxic masculinity which impact negatively on the lives of all of us.

Heather Paterson, LGBTQ+ activist:

Over the last year or so trans people have been vilified daily in the mainstream media, and more than a third of trans people have been victim of a hate crime in the past twelve months. While people ‘debate’ trans people’s rights to simply exist and live their lives, the reality for many is the constant threat of violence and abuse, huge barriers for accessing healthcare and unnecessary bureaucratic and costly processes for legal recognition.

Reform of the Gender Recognition Act will not solve all of this, but it is one small step in making life a little less difficult. Self-ID is something we do in other areas of our life, I can declare my sexuality or religion for example, and have the legal protections associated with that, without a long, costly legal process or a panel of ‘experts’ who don’t know me having the right to decide if they think I am telling the truth about how I identify.

The Gender Recognition Act is an outdated piece of legislation which is not fit for purpose in its current form. For many they simply don’t engage with the process because it is not accessible for them, for others they incur unnecessary stress, delays and costs due to attempts to navigate the process. Self-ID exists in other countries such as Denmark, Malta and India without any of the issues those campaigning against reform suggest would occur. Simplifying the process and giving trans people the basic civil right of self-identification is not going to bring about the apocalypse, it will simply make life a little bit easier for a group of marginalised people.

As a cisgender lesbian woman, the only impact this has on me is seeing some of my friends a little happier and healthier. For those attempting to pitch women and specifically gay women against trans people (note those groups are not mutually exclusive), you can take your hate elsewhere. I am proud to stand with all of my LGBTQ+ family in solidarity and support for trans rights and the small part that reform of the GRA plays in that.

Susie Green, chair of Yorkshire charity Mermaids:

Mermaids is a charity that supports transgender and gender variant children, young people and their families. It is fair to say that no one, including Mermaids, anticipated the attention the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA) Consultation for England and Wales would receive or the intense public debate it would generate.

Considering the work Mermaids does, the conversations we have been having during the consultation window have been based on what access to legal gender recognition trans and non-binary people should have if under 18 years old. Mermaids believes that every child and young person should have appropriate access to legal gender recognition simply because every person deserves the dignity of being acknowledged and interacted with within society as themselves.

Mermaids is asking the Government to give every trans and non-binary person the opportunity to apply for legal gender recognition with the principle of self-determination at the heart of any reformed procedure. The new procedure should be timely and accessible to all and for those under 16 an application should be able to be made with consent of those with parental responsibility or those with independent competence. Mermaids is also asking that the Government safeguards those trans and non-binary children who live in hostile environments and not deemed independently competent.

At Mermaids we work with many families and hear many different stories. One story can be seen in the ITV drama Butterfly, which we are thrilled received such a positive response. Butterfly tackled challenges families may face when a trans child comes out and it really beautifully illuminated that a lot can be achieved simply through loving and supporting transgender children. Every child deserves love and support regardless of their gender; state support can be provided through GRA reform.

Mermaids asks that GRA reform acknowledges trans and non-binary children and young people and we want to make it clear that over and above the GRA being a trans issues, this is a child, human rights issue. Every child should have the opportunity to thrive and learn as themselves and GRA reform could go some way in ensuring this is the case.