Nicky Morgan: UK government open to letting people ‘self-declare’ their gender

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan has signalled that she is “open” to the idea of allowing people to self-declare their gender.

At present in the UK, transgender people have to pass a number of bureaucratic hurdles in order to have their new gender legally recognised.

In order to gain a Gender Recognition Certificate, a transgender person is required to pay a £140 fee, get opinions from two medical professionals, submit ‘proof’ of living in their gender for two years, and convince a Gender Recognition Panel that their change is permanent.

The multi-layered process – which was criticised this week after a trans woman without a GRC was sent to a male prison – lags behind ‘self declaration’ systems in countries including Ireland.

Under the Irish system, trans people just have to fill out a simple two-page form in order to formalise their legal gender – and the process is simpler than renewing a passport.

The Secretary of State was asked about the potential of a self-declaration system while appearing before the Women and Equalities Select Committee today.

She said: “I think it’s something that we are very interested to see how that develops. It is a big step – it’s a different way of doing things.

“I think it reflects where we have got to in the last few years – we were talking earlier on about passports, school exams – when and why do we need to know about people’s genders? I think that’s a big debate that needs to be had. In one way: what does it matter what someone’s sex is.

“In exams, it’s their paper, it gets marked, and it gets a grade. On the other hand, I would like to know what subjects girls are not doing, boys are not doing, and what they’re not doing well in.

“For research purposes I would like to know that information – but that’s just one tiny little area of public debate on this.

“It’s a big issue, but we absolutely welcome the evidence given to the committee, and the recommendations we will read with huge interest.”

Asked whether people should be able to self-determine their gender, Mrs Morgan said: “I have to say – Jane [Ellison] said earlier on that the NHS is on a journey on this.

“I have found, even in my office, in preparing all of this we’ve learnt a huge amount. I certainly have in reading all of the papers ready for the hearing today. There are some debates and discussions to be had on this.”
Nicky Morgan: UK government open to letting people ‘self-declare’ their gender

“Sometimes in this place we have to say: do we run ahead of society or are we reflecting society as it is? I can’t give you definite answer – but I’m absolutely open to a debate and discussion on it.”

Junior equalities minister Caroline Dinenage also signalled she was open, saying: “I’m absolutely open to suggestions – it wouldn’t be a straightforward review, as it’s opening up a whole other area of debate and discussion. I don’t know how the Equality Act 2010 was in gestation, but I suspect for some time.

“I don’t think this is going to be a quick process, but I absolutely understand that life and society move on.”

Of descriptions of the GRC process as “protracted, bureaucratic, costly and humiliating” , Ms Dinenage said: “I think we have to start from the basis that the 2004 GRA was internationally head of the game – we had very little international basis for comparison when drawing this up.

She added: “I know there are concerns around the 2-year waiting time, and concerns around the kind of medical nature of evidence that needs to be produced to the panel.

“For very good reasons these things were introduced at the beginning, because there was very little understanding of the transition process and what people needed.

“We have to recognise that it’s a journey for everyone – some people won’t really need a great deal of time, but other people may feel they do need time to adjust and live in their preferred gender, and do have some form of medical support.

“We have to balance this given the knowledge of the time. Countries like Ireland have come up with systems that are different to ours – you can self refer, you don’t have to wait two years. There are discussions around ages as well.

“I think that these are all really important experiences for us to learn from, to see how that works in countries like Malta and Ireland and Argentina, where it’s different.

“We’re on a journey as well – and trying to learn from best practise around the world, from people who didn’t start off as early as we did, but who have done things differently and learned.”