In January 2016, the Women and Equalities Committee set out its recommendations for furthering trans equality in Britain.
The report recognised that while Britain had achieved a lot for lesbian, gay and bi equality, ‘our society is still failing this test in respect of trans people, despite welcome progress in recent years.’
In July 2017, following this report and after much anticipation, then-Equalities Minister Justine Greening announced there would be a consultation into reform of the Gender Recognition Act.
In a speech at the Pink News Awards that same year the Prime Minster also made it clear that being trans was not a mental health condition. She said: “We have set out plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act and streamline and de-medicalise the process for changing gender, because being trans is not an illness and it shouldn’t be treated as such.”
It’s widely recognised that the current Gender Recognition Act is in serious need of reform. Since the Act came into force in 2004, only 4,910 people have had their gender legally recognised by getting a Gender Recognition Certificate.
When the government conducted a survey into LGBT experiences, over 14,000 trans people responded (including over 7,000 responses from non-binary people).
Many made it clear they hadn’t applied because the system is expensive, bureaucratic and intrusive. It’s also clear that there needs to be an option for non-binary people to gain legal recognition, as the current system means that people can get legal changes that recognise them either as male or female.
Despite the urgent need for reform, trans people would have to wait another year for the consultation to be published and in the interim period public debates about trans equality reached fever pitch. Many trans people withdrew from public discourse as the attacks had become personal, targeted and overwhelming.
Trans author Juno Dawson called on people to ‘skip transphobia’ and talked about how the recent public debate was reminiscent of debates about gay people in the 1980s.
She said: “For years there was scaremongering about gay people. That they would ‘come for your children’. That it was a mental illness. In 20 years time, when you realise that trans people are just the same as everyone else, you’ll back at what you used to think and you’ll cringe.”
The consultation was finally launched in July 2018 and concluded in October that year. The consultation website was so overwhelmed with submissions on the closing date that the deadline was extended for another three days to ensure everyone had the chance to take part. More than 50,000 people completed the consultation and the government is now considering the responses.
In Scotland, a similar consultation was held from November 2017 to March 2018. More than 15,000 people took part. Two thirds of Scottish respondents (65 per cent) agreed with the Scottish Government’s proposals to bring forward legislation to introduce a self-determination system for legal gender recognition.
Respondents also agreed with proposals that people aged 16 and 17 should be able to apply for and obtain legal recognition of their acquired gender (66 per cent).
There was also support to ensure non-binary people had legal recognition (66 per cent). The Scottish Government committed to bringing forward legislation in the next legislative programme, which will run from autumn 2019 to autumn 2020.
Reform of the Gender Recognition Act is only a small part of the fight for full equality for trans people. Stonewall’s Trans Advisory Group outlined a five-year road map to full equality called Vision For Change. The plan looks across all sections of society and identifies how trans people are either excluded or marginalised and what changes are needed to ensure true equality.