The government should get on with reforming the Gender Recognition Act

Ben Ramanauskas

October 28, 2019

The government has a lot on its plate at the moment. Trying to get the Brexit deal through a defiant parliament and gearing up for a general election mean that some policies have been put on the back burner.

Perhaps this explains the government’s decision to delay reforming the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). Of course, an alternative reason could be that it doesn’t quite fit the election messaging of “get Brexit done, tough on crime, more money for the NHS.” But, whatever the reason, there is no excuse for this delay. The government should get on with reforming the law.

The first reason why this is important is to tackle the stigma and misinformation surrounding trans and non-binary people. There is currently a sort of moral panic directed towards members of the trans community, not at all unlike the shameful treatment experienced by gay men in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The tabloids are full of scare stories about men posing as women in order to attack women in bathrooms or to gain an unfair advantage in competitive sports.

This messaging from the media makes the public fear trans people and see them as a threat. What’s more, people like Piers Morgan identifying as a “two-spirit penguin” opens up trans and non-binary people to ridicule and mockery.

While we live in a free society where people should be at liberty to say what they wish, however unpalatable, surely there is nothing more shameful than using the media to stir up hatred towards a minority group.

A society is judged on how it treats its most vulnerable, and a failure to stand up for the rights of trans and non-binary people reflects poorly on us all. Reforming the GRA, then, would be a vital step in the right direction.

Most of us cannot begin to imagine how it must feel to be trapped in the wrong gender. It must be beyond frustrating to be referred to by language you don’t identify with. It’s easy for people who don’t know how that feels to mock movements by student unions requiring freshers to wear a badge stating their preferred personal pronouns, but inclusivity does matter. That’s why it’s only right that the time the government takes to recognise a person’s identity is decreased.

On a similar note, imagine being told that your gender does not exist. This must be completely disorientating and disturbing. But this is exactly what non-binary people face, as their identity is not recognised by the GRA.

It is, therefore, hardly surprising that a significant proportion of trans and non-binary people suffer from mental health issues.

The current system of having one’s gender formally recognised is invasive, degrading, drawn-out and expensive. The current process, under the GRA, means that trans people have to go through a series of intrusive medical assessments and long, demeaning interviews with psychiatrists in order to “prove” their gender identity.

It requires trans people to have a formal diagnosis of “gender dysphoria”, to live in their “acquired gender” for two years, and to hand over evidence supporting all of this to a gender recognition panel – composed of clinicians who have never met the applicant – which has the power to approve or deny an application.

This recognition process is lengthy and can take many years.

It is, in many ways, similar to the appalling way in which the Home Office treats religious and sexual minorities who seek asylum in the UK. It is, quite simply, no way for a country to treat people who are only trying to live their lives in keeping with their gender identity. Frankly, the GRA is an affront to our values of individual liberty and a limited state – and that’s why it should alarm and concern neoliberals.

As is always the case, any government scheme requires an army of bureaucrats to administer it. Taxpayers are being forced to foot the bill for a whole team of civil servants to subject their fellow citizens to humiliating procedures as they fill in endless forms and process their claims. Trans and non-binary people deserve better from the government, as do taxpayers.

In a truly free society, people would be able to live as they wish. Just as it should be none of the state’s business whom a person loves or what they do with their own body, the state should not stand in the way of people identifying as a gender that is different from the one assigned to them at birth. To suggest otherwise would be authoritarian and risks increasing the power of the state over our lives.

The equalities minister, Liz Truss, is a true champion of freedom. She has been a sweeping breath of fresh air in the Conservative party – a party that’s often been far too eager to dictate to people how they should live their lives.

As such, she should make it one of her top priorities to put the rights of trans and non-binary people firmly on the agenda – and to defend them from the instincts of her more socially conservative colleagues. Because, as she set out recently at an 1828 event, the Conservative party must be forward-thinking, and making the link between economic liberalism and social liberalism would be a good start.

And the recommendations set out by Stonewall offer the path forward. They include scrapping the requirement for a medical diagnosis in order for people to have their identity legally recognised and also a recognition of non-binary people.

The government is, of course, busy at the moment. But human rights are too important to be put on the waiting list. Trans rights are human rights and they should not be ignored. The government should get on with it and reform the Gender Recognition Act as soon as possible.


Written by Ben Ramanauskas

Ben Ramanauskas is a research economist at Oxford University and a former adviser to the International Trade Secretary.


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