SNP backlash against transgender rights reform grows

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon makes a statement to the Scottish Parliament

A backlash against transgender rights reforms in the Scottish National Party is growing, with fifteen senior politicians openly challenging party policy.

The senior nationalist politicians published an open letter in the Scotsman newspaper on April 24, challenging First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s vow to push forward with reforms to gender recognition laws for transgender people in Scotland.

Scottish nationalists split over gender recognition reform

In the letter the faction warns that the changes should not be “rushed,” claiming “it has become clear that many people, including policy makers, are only now developing an understanding of the implications of the self identification of sex, particularly on women.”

They added: “Conflating sex with gender identification affects a wide range of policy and service delivery including data collection, education, health and social care, justice and sport.”

The letter was signed by MSPs Joan McAlpine, Kate Forbes, Ash Denham, Ruth Maguire, Ivan McKee and Kenneth Gibson, as well as MPs Carol Monaghan, Angus Brendan Macneil, Patricia Gibson and Joanna Cherry.

SNP local government leaders Caroline McAllister, Shaun Macaulay and Lynne Anderson also signed the letter.

SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addresses the assembled crowd at Glasgow Pride on August 19, 2017 in Glasgow, Scotland.

SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon vow to push forward with reforms to gender recognition laws for trans people in Scotland.. (Robert Perry/Getty)

LGBT+ activists pointed out that far from being “rushed” as the letter suggests, changes to the Gender Recognition Act have been in the works for years and were subject to a formal government consultation that published its findings in November.

The consultation heard evidence from 165 groups and 15,532 members of the public, including women’s groups who say the law will have no impact on their services because they are already trans-inclusive.

On Twitter, Scotland’s Equality Network responded: “To the 15 SNP politicians who signed that letter in the Scotsman today: Trans people don’t want to change the definitions of male and female; they simply want to be recognised, and treated with dignity, as the sex they are.

“We welcome non-abusive discussion of the changes proposed to the Gender Recognition Act. They have of course been discussed a lot already.”

SNP faces growing divide over transgender issues

The nationalist party’s growing divisions on the issue came to the fore after leaked messages on April 17 revealed three senior SNP MSPs venting their frustration with Sturgeon.

In the messages, MSPs Ash Denham, Ruth Maguire and Gillian Martin vented frustration with Sturgeon, after she said: “As an ardent, passionate feminist, and have been all of my life, I don’t see the greater recognition of transgender rights as a threat to me as a woman or to my feminism.”

Ruth Maguire, who chairs the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee, wrote: “FFS.”

Gillian Martin, who resigned from the SNP front bench in 2018 over blogs making offensive remarks about transgender people, added that Sturgeon is “out of step with feelings of her group.”

In a blog published one day later that did not directly reference the leak, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Equalities Shirley-Anne Somerville wrote: “People raising genuine concerns about women’s rights shouldn’t suffer knee jerk accusations of transphobia.

“However, it is also impossible to deny that there is a considerable degree of transphobia in our society.

“I hope, therefore, that – whatever views any of us may hold on the relationship between trans rights and women’s rights – we will all unite against transphobia, just as we do against homophobia and any other form of prejudice and discrimination.

“Trans men and women are amongst the most stigmatized groups in our society. They deserve to know that their government is working to change that.”