Leading LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall has criticised Labour after the party insisted it would keep the medical diagnosis element of trans people having their gender legally recognised.
The Gender Recognition Act, brought in by Labour in 2004, enabled people to legally change their gender for the first time in the UK by acquiring a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).
But to get a GRC, the individual has to have reports written by two doctors confirming a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and evidence they had been living in the gender they want to transition to for two years, before getting their decision approved by a medical panel.
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Writing in the Guardian, shadow equalities minister and chair of the Labour Party, Anneliese Dodds, said the system needed reform, but claimed the requirement for a medical diagnosis “upholds legitimacy of applications and confidence in the system”.
However, Stonewall said the medicalisation of the process was “inhumane and undignified” for trans people and other governments were moving towards self-identification, known as self-ID.
The debate over self-ID has been raging in political circles since the plan by former Conservative PM Theresa May to scrap the medical element of getting a GRC was dropped by Boris Johnson’s government in 2020.
It came to a head earlier this year when Westminster blocked the Scottish government’s plan to introduce it back in January.
The government claimed Holyrood’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill – which gained the backing of a majority of MSPs – would lead to gender tourism and impact wider equalities legislation, such as the ability to provide single-sex spaces.
But the then-first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, accused the Conservatives of “using trans people as a political weapon” to exert their power over Scotland.
Labour has been under pressure to clarify its position ahead of the upcoming general election, which Tories are thought to be preparing to fight on so-called “culture war” issues.
In her Guardian article, Ms Dodds attacked the Tories for using trans people to “stoke division”, saying “responsible politicians would understand that this isn’t a debate to exploit, it’s people’s lives”, and there should be “a degree of care” involved.
But while she said Labour was “committed” to trans people – adding “everyone deserves to be accepted, without exception, and treated with respect and dignity in society” – she stood by the need for a medical diagnosis, saying the safeguards proposed in Scotland’s bill “were simply not up to scratch”.
“The requirement to obtain a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria remains an important part of accessing a gender recognition certificate,” she wrote.
“That’s especially the case now that gender dysphoria is no longer classified – and stigmatised – as a psychiatric disorder.
“It can help refer trans people to the NHS for support services – nearly a quarter of trans people don’t know how to access transition-related healthcare.
“Requiring a diagnosis upholds legitimacy of applications and confidence in the system.”
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She did offer some changes from a Labour government, saying: “Changing gender is not a decision anyone makes lightly. The process is intrusive, outdated and humiliating.
“So we will modernise, simplify and reform the gender recognition law to a new process. We will remove invasive bureaucracy and simplify the process.”
For example, instead of a panel of doctors having to sign off on the decision – something she called “demeaning” for trans people and “meaningless in practice” – they would replace it with the requirement of one doctor and a registrar.
But responding to her article, Stonewall said it was “wrong to suggest that safeguards cannot exist with a de-medicalised model”, pointing to Scotland’s proposal to create a new statutory aggravation offence for fraudulently obtaining a GRC.
In fact, they said Holyrood’s proposed safeguards were “much stronger and more specific than a GP being involved in the process”, and the bill was backed by numerous women’s organisations in Scotland, including Women’s Aid, Amnesty International, Engender and Rape Crisis Scotland.
The statement said the UK had “gone from leading to lagging” when it came to gender recognition, with the current act “now far behind international best practice”.
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The LGBTQ+ charity said it welcomed the “intention to promote the dignity, respect and the potential of trans people”, but it was “vital” Labour worked with the community and those with international experience before deciding on the detail of their policies.
“If Labour are serious about reforming the Gender Recognition Act and enhancing trans people’s legal protections, we need a strategy informed by input from trans people on their needs and priorities, and a real understanding of how practice is working internationally. Not just on legal recognition, but healthcare, anti-discrimination and education,” they added.
In her article, where Ms Dodds also pledged to protect single-sex spaces for biological women, the shadow minister acknowledged Labour’s plans “will not please everyone,” adding: “They will be attacked from all sides, in good faith and bad.
“But responsible politics is not about doing what is easy, it’s about doing what is right. And about refusing to descend into the gutter where the Conservatives wish to take us.”