Credit: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona via Unsplash.

Why the Gender Recognition Reform bill is so important

Trans-exclusionary groups like For Women Scotland protested the Gender Recognition Reform bill in October. But is there any evidence to support their arguments?

Last month, JK Rowling made headlines again, and not for the reason you might expect from an author of a wildly popular children’s series. 

Recently, the author of the Harry Potter series made waves on Twitter when she posted a photo of herself wearing a shirt that read “Nicola Sturgeon: destroyer of human rights.” The tweet said, “I stand in solidarity with @ForWomenScot and all women protesting and speaking outside the Scottish Parliament. #NoToSelfID.”

The protests referenced in the tweet were those against the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. 

The bill – which is the source of a great deal of controversy – is an amendment to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act. The changes would make it easier for those who identify as transgender to get their gender legally recognised through a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). The bill also lowers the age requirement for legal recognition to 16 years old and removes the need for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. As of late October, the bill passed the first stage of voting in Holyrood by an overwhelming majority

These changes to the process of acquiring a GRC have sparked hysteria from those who believe that these changes would impact the safety of women’s-only spaces.

The group responsible for the protests, For Women Scotland, believe that progress in transgender inclusion is a risk to women’s rights. The group claims to support women, but members are often described as trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs). TERF is a term used to describe those who assert that trans people, particularly trans women, pose a threat to cisgender women and should not be allowed into women’s spaces. 

Of course, these people only represent a small proportion of feminists, but they are a vocal minority that has been gaining a lot of media attention in recent years, no doubt aided by J.K. Rowling’s prominence in pop culture. 

Despite the existence of these groups, a BBC poll found that a majority (57%) of Scots support making it easier for trans people to obtain GRCs. The numbers were even higher among women, with 63% being in support while only 15% were opposed to it. 

Contrary to the fears expressed by many TERFs regarding women’s-only spaces being invaded, there has been very little record of the already small threat increasing, even when there are non-discrimination or gender change laws present. For instance, a study conducted by UCLA in 2018 found that there was no evidence to support the idea that trans-exclusive approaches to women’s public facilities promote safety. 

Despite the repeated allegations that trans people pose a threat, it is instead often trans people who find themselves as the victims in various situations. A study by Stonewall found that 2 out of every 5 trans people had experienced some form of hate crime in the last 12 months as a direct cause of their identity. This stress has proven to have many impacts on the mental health of trans people, who have been recorded to have higher rates of anxiety and depression than their cisgender counterparts. According to Stonewall, many trans and nonbinary people also feel that their GP doesn’t adequately understand their needs: a healthcare inequality which would inevitably lead to further marginalisation. Trans people are vulnerable, lack support in general, and now must also face trans-exclusionists determined to baselessly criticise any positive change for the community. 

Trans-exclusionary arguments are made largely out of fear and misconceptions. The same BBC survey found that just 10% of respondents had friends or family who identified as transgender, demonstrating that general misinformation around trans issues is often promoted by a lack of exposure to the demographic. Consequently, the best weapon for comabatting exclusionist groups is educating the public on how despite anti-trans rhetoric, there is no empirical reason to perceive transgender people as a threat. Hopefully, through education, important reforms like the Gender Recognition Reform Bill can be understood for the positive impacts it will have on trans people, granting them a form of acceptance in a society that has for too long withheld their rights.

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