Government refuses to deny plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act have been scrapped

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The government equalities office has refused to deny reports that it is scrapping plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act.

An article in The Times at the weekend reported that reforms to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) had been “halted” and that “ministers are expected to drop plans to make it easier for people to change their gender amid concerns about the impact on children”.

A government source told The Times: “While we believe adults should be able to live their lives, and trans rights should be respected and protected, the government also has a role to play in protecting children.”

The government equalities office (GEO) was unable to deny reports that plans to reform the GRA have been cancelled.

A GEO spokesperson told PinkNews: “It is vital that the next steps on any potential reform of the Gender Recognition Act are carefully planned, and have the right backing.

“We had more than 100,000 responses to our consultation, and will announce more details on our proposed next steps in due course.”

In 2017, former conservative prime minister Theresa May said “being trans is not an illness” and announced plans to reform the GRA, which might include removing the need for trans people to have a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria before being able to update the gender on their birth certificate.

A huge public consultation on potential reforms was held in 2018.

Since then, a succession of Tory politicians have delayed reforming it – there have been six women and equalities ministers since Theresa May announced GRA reform plans in 2017 (one of them, Amber Rudd, was the minister twice) – despite repeated promises that the potential changes to the law were imminent.

This includes former minister for women and equalities Penny Mordaunt saying that the plans would be “out the door in the next few weeks” in July 2019.

Does the Gender Recognition Act have anything to do with medical treatment for trans youth?

No. The Gender Recognition Act is a 2004 law that controls the process by which transgender people can update the gender on their birth certificate.

This is useful for pensions, tax purposes and to protect trans people’s privacy – as having a birth certificate with a gender marker different from how you identify and present can out you as trans.

Currently, you have to be over 18 and have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria – as well as living in your “acquired gender” for two years, paying a £140 fee and providing medical evidence to a gender recognition panel – before obtaining a gender recognition certificate, which allows you to receive a new birth certificate with the correct gender marker.

Campaigners are calling for 16- and 17-year-olds to be able to access this process, so that trans teenagers do not gain school certificates and other documents in a name and gender that they will then have to use to apply for university. Lowering the age limit to 16 would protect these trans youth’s privacy – but it is merely an administrative change.

Medical treatment for trans under 18s is provided by specialist NHS gender identity clinics, or in some case private gender clinics.

Changes to the GRA do not affect how under 18s access NHS healthcare.

Liz Truss, minister for women and equalities, wants to scrap GEO itself.

News that ministers are planning to scrap plans to reform the GRA comes after the latest Conservative minister for women and equalities announced she wants to scrap the GEO itself.

In September 2019, Liz Truss was appointed the new minister for women and equalities, replacing Amber Rudd who resigned in protest of Boris Johnson’s handling of Brexit.

A month later, she said she wants to rebrand the department “the ministry for freedom”.

Truss made the comments in an interview with Julia Hartley-Brewer. She said: “I think there’s been too much identity politics in Britain. There’s been too much of, you think this thing because you’re a woman, or you’re part of this group and we want to do X, Y or Z.

“I would much rather see individuals being allowed to succeed regardless of their gender, their sexuality, their race, and that’s the way I’m approaching this brief.”

In light of this, Hartley-Brewer asked if she felt the ministry of women and equalities was the right name for the role.

Liz Truss replied: “It should be the department freeing people to do what they want to do with their lives.

“So it should be the ministry for freedom, being able to make those own choices, not being restricted because they’re a woman or gay or from a particular ethnic minority.”

In the recent reshuffle, Baroness Williams – who had been minister for equalities since 2018, and was widely viewed as being pro-LGBT+ equality – was replaced by baroness Berridge.

And Boris Johnson’s reshuffle also saw Kemi Badenoch, an MP who abstained on the vote to extend equal marriage to Northern Ireland, appointed junior minister for equalities.