Scotland’s gender recognition reform is a ‘recipe for bad law’, say campaigners

The process for reforming gender recognition law in Scotland has so far been “exceptionally poor and a recipe for bad law”, opposition campaign groups and policy analysts have told a Holyrood committee.

Addressing the committee taking evidence on a draft bill that aims to streamline the process by which an individual can change their legal sex, the groups raised concerns about cis women excluding themselves from women-only services over fears of encountering a transgender individual, and suggested that young people were being “confused” by celebrities who came out as queer or non-binary.

However, the criticisms of the proposed gender recognition reform – which is supported by every party in Holyrood bar the Scottish Conservatives – were made as other groups, including Rape Crisis Scotland and Amnesty Scotland, said the bill would not affect the way that women accessed services.

Sandy Brindley, the chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, told members of the Scottish parliament’s equalities, human rights and civil justice committee that the service had been trans inclusive for 15 years and that “in all this time there has not been a single incident of trans people abusing this”.

Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty’s Scotland programme director, said she did not see in evidence from other countries that had introduced similar systems that it would result in a significant increase in the pool of people applying. She referred to Ireland, which has a similar population to Scotland and has had fewer than 900 applications for a gender recognition certificate since it introduced “self-identification” in 2015.

Earlier, Lucy Hunter Blackburn, of policy analysts Murray Blackburn Mackenzie, raised concerns that the bill would open the application process to a “larger, more diverse group”, including – by removing the requirement for a medical diagnosis – those who were not gender-dysphoric, warning that the previous 2004 act was “being repurposed to do a different job”.

Hunter Blackburn said the committee could not ignore how changing the law around obtaining a gender recognition certificate would affect policy.

“The process leading to the introduction of the bill has been exceptionally poor and a recipe for bad law. I hope that the committee will now correct rather than repeat these mistakes,” she said.

Susan Smith, of the campaign group For Women Scotland, said: “If [parliamentarians] are saying to people: ‘We believe that the only criteria as to whether you’re a man or a woman is self-identity,’ it becomes increasingly harder for individual organisations to have a policy that is in opposition to that … the reality then becomes [that] the person making these decisions is often a lowly paid receptionist at the sports centre who is trying to tell somebody they can’t go into a woman-only session.”

Urging the committee to expand its evidence base, Smith and Hunter Blackburn both said MSPs should speak to the paediatrician Hilary Cass, who is undertaking a review of gender identity services for children in England and Wales.

Malcolm Clark, of the UK-wide gender-critical campaign group LGB Alliance, said young people were being influenced “through celebrity, through peer pressure, through loads of social media nonsense” and that MSPs should also seek evidence from those who had subsequently de-transitioned.

Asked by the SNP MSP Karen Adam whether he could see similarities in his rhetoric with warnings about educating children about LGBT issues during the 1980s, at the time of section 28, Clark said he did not see any comparison, claiming that pro-reform groups like Stonewall were taking “the good name of the gay rights movement to make this set of demands acceptable”.

Hunter Blackburn also suggested there was consensus between critics and proponents over the “really problematic” requirement in the bill for applicants to live in their acquired gender for three months, something she described as “regressive and reinforcing stereotypes” and which the Scottish Trans Alliance described as “arbitrary” during a previous evidence session.

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