The de-medicalisation of Gender Recognition in Scotland appeared to have majority political support, but as rs21 members Graham Checkley and Leslie Cunningham describe it has revealed a vein of transphobia.
LGBT+ activists block out transphobic bigots. Edinburgh, October 2022. Photograph by Graham Checkley.
‘If you spent any time promoting the idea that trans people are somehow a threat to your rights or inherently predatory, I hold you responsible for what happened in Colorado. People are dead. That’s what happens when you spread hateful rhetoric.’
Dylan H, climate justice and trans rights activist.
The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill (GRR) seeks to replace the invasive and traumatic process of medical assessment with a legally binding self certification (GRC). It also proposes that the legal age for such certification be 16, in line with the wider Scots law on legal capacity, such as marriage and voting. Surely this should be nothing contentious, as self certification is considered best human rights practice and the norm in many countries.
But the bill has been long in coming. Following 2 consultation cycles and 3 years of delay the bill was given the backing, in principle, of the Scottish Greens, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalist Party. But the devil has been found in the detail, as the delays have only heartened and strengthened the opposition.
While the Scottish Tories, with two honourable exceptions, opposed the bill from the beginning, seven SNP MSPs broke ranks against their own party whip and voted against it too. This was at stage 1 where the Scottish Parliament voted on the general principles of the bill.
The reasons given for opposition are various, covering a broad spectrum from complete denial of the existence of anything but the gender binary, through the need to maintain medical assessment (arguing that the proposed self certification would increase the likelihood of a person not receiving the correct help), to, perhaps most critically, the issue of single sex areas and the safety and comfort of women.
A threat to whose rights?
‘The changes proposed in the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill will help better uphold the rights of trans people and will not impact on delivery of specialist women’s aid services.’
Scottish Women’s Aid.
The issue of safe spaces for women has divided the feminist movement in Scotland.
As quoted above, Scottish Women’s Aid, the umbrella organisation for 34 local Women’s Aid organisations across Scotland, supported the bill, then found themselves being vilified by some feminists as a result.
Similarly, some socialists, firm supporters of strikes, have flatly refused to support trans positive protest, while others have fallen oddly silent. The best have stayed solid.
The bill has also forced the hand of the Scottish Community Safety Minister who resigned just hours before Holyrood debated the new legislation. In her resignation letter, she said she had ‘considered the issue of Gender Recognition Reform very carefully over some time’ and had ‘concluded that my conscience will not allow me to vote with the government.’
The hateful rhetoric
Her resignation was described as a ‘principled stand’ by one Tory MSP, who also said she ‘should be commended for this bravery, along with the other six back benchers who voted against the SNP whip.’
One of the brave MSPs referred to was disciplined by his own party in September for his vocal support for anti-abortion protests outside health clinics, and was accused of causing ‘great distress and trauma to many women’.
Strange allies, cheered on by the right wing press in their opposition to this ‘hated bill’.
Combating the hate
Unison and Unite members at Fridays for Future. Edinburgh, September 2022. Photograph by Graham Checkley
‘Climate justice, trans rights, one struggle, one fight.’
Fridays for Future protest, Edinburgh.
Campaigning in support of the bill started in August, with a lively March for Trans Equality. It was organised by the Rainbow Greens, Scottish Labour LGBT, the SNP Out for Indy group, and the Young Liberal Democrats.
But it’s the support for trans rights amongst young climate and social justice activists that should be a model for the left. Based on absolute inclusivity and solidarity, Fridays for Future, Turn up for Trans Health, and Youth in Resistance combined forces at the Edinburgh Climate Strike in September. They made strong links between climate justice, trans rights, worker rights, and wider issues of social justice. They also welcomed trade union solidarity and invited contributions from union speakers.
Behind the scenes there has also been lobbying work by the Scottish Trans Alliance, with email campaigns, work on social media, and briefing for MSPs, and work by trade unionists encouraging the STUC to back the bill.
Will the Bill pass?
‘I would ask how many young trans people the members supporting these amendments have actually spoken to in drafting their amendments?’ Maggie Chapman MSP
Following the stage 1 vote MSPs found themselves being lobbied by a number of groups who raised concerns about the bill, including some women’s groups and religious communities.
Over 100, often hostile, amendments were proposed, but these were largely rejected in the stage 2 committee.
The bill will now face the stage 3 debate and final vote, and the possibility of these amendments being raised again. The one most likely to be accepted is the retention of age 18 for GRC, breaking the principle of legal majority, but a price that part of the Scottish Government may be willing to pay to avoid another revolt.
The Westminster threat
‘Rishi Sunak wants to remove protections from discrimination within the Equality Act. This is a situation of actual physical safety for me. Why would I want to continue living under him?’
The Scottish Bill, in almost any final form, will push back against the horrific proposals on the table at Westminster. It will also act as a further spur towards Scottish independence, as the UK parliament passes more and more repressive legislation.
The GRR bill needs to be passed, and it deserves the full active support of the left. Anything else will weaken solidarity in the struggles to come, as the younger activists will distrust the traditional left. We must also remember that many of the arguments being used against the trans community are simply the recycled homophobia of the 1980s, and if we allow transphobia to prosper now only the bigots will be left cheering.