Tories ‘spectacularly’ failed on gender law reform and should move towards self-ID, says inquiry

Gender Recognition Act: Caroline Nokes arrives at Downing Street in a red suit

The Tory government failed in its responsibilities with its botched handling of Gender Recognition Act reform – and should seek to fix its wrongs by 2023, says the Women and Equalities Committe.

The committee, chaired by Tory MP Caroline Nokes, has made a number of urgent recommendations to the government in a scathing report about the Tories failure to meaningfully reform the Gender Recognition Act (GRA).

These include: removing the requirement that trans people get a diagnosis of gender dysphoria before they can be legally recognised by 2023, launching an action plan in the next 12 weeks for reforming the GRA, removing the spousal veto from gender recognition laws, and scrapping the requirement that trans people live in their “acquired gender” for two years before they can seek legal recognition.

The report is from the Women and Equalities Select Committee’s investigation into GRA reform, which was launched in October 2020, shortly after Liz Truss announced that she was abandoning meaningful reforms in favour of digitising the process for legal gender recognition and reducing the fee to £5.

In its final, 113-page report, the committee says it received an “unprecedented amount of evidence submitted to a House of Commons select committee”.

Along with strongly recommending that the need for a medical diagnosis be removed, the committee also identifies areas in which highly polarised groups agree, including removing the need for trans people to live in their “acquired gender” for two years – which both trans rights groups and women’s sex-based rights groups agreed “risks entrenching outdated and unacceptable gender stereotypes”.

“There are areas within the [GRA] where stakeholders with a range of views agree on the need for some reform,” the report says. “These areas represent a good starting point to not only bring about meaningful reform, but to encourage a healthy discussion that people feel safe to participate in.”

Equalities committee calls for urgent reforms to the Gender Recognition Act

The Women and Equalities Select Committee made a number of recommendations for urgent reforms to the Gender Recognition Act. These include:

  • Removing the “gender dysphoria” requirement and shifting to a system of self-declaration, in line with other countries including Ireland, Iceland and Argentina.
  • Removing the requirement for trans men and women to live in their “acquired gender” for two years before being able to apply for legal gender recognition
  • Reviewing the “currently opaque” Gender Recognition Panel (GRP) and consider replacing it with the Registrar General for England and Wales
  • Publish new guidance on single-sex and separate-sex exemptions that can be applied under the Equality Act 2010. “This is particularly relevant where, for example, women’s refuges and other service providers are left unclear as to whether the exclusion of trans people from certain spaces is in violation of the law,” the report says.
  • Develop a healthcare strategy for trans and non-binary people, including training GPs
  • Commit to implementing the LGBT Action plan

Caroline Nokes, the Tory MP who chairs the committee, said in a statement: “The government took nearly two years to respond to the consultation on an act that was written at the turn of the millennium. The GRA is crying out for modernisation, and the government has spectacularly missed its opportunity.

“This is an area of reform which has attracted strong opinions and debate, but there are areas – such as the removal a time period for living in an acquired gender – which many can agree on. The Government’s failure to implement even these changes – made clear in its consultation – suggest its lack of willingness to engage.”

She added that being trans is “not an illness” and that it’s “imperative” that the GRA be de-medicalised.

“The current response to the 2018 consultation has amounted to little more than administrative changes. We are now calling on the government to enact real, meaningful change,” Nokes said.

Gender Recognition Act reform delays ‘exacerbated tensions’

The report says the Women and Equalities Select Committee decided to launch its inquiry into the government’s handling of Gender Recognition Act reform “in order to understand why the government had not acted upon the views expressed by a majority of respondents to the GRA consultation”.

“We therefore decided to launch this inquiry to assess whether the government’s proposals go far enough, and to understand why the government did not makes changes to the Act in areas where there was a majority in support for reform in the responses to the consultation,” the report says.

Acknowledging that the “debate in this area” has “become extremely toxic at times”, the committee makes clear that in its view, the delays throughout the process have “exacerbated tensions”.

GRA reform was first proposed in 2016 by the committee in its report on Transgender Equality, before being taken up by then-prime minister Theresa May in 2017. A public consultation ran over the summer of 2018, but the results were not released until 2020 – with several false starts heightening anxiety about the results publication.

“The length of time taken by the Government Equalities Office to respond to its own consultation is unacceptable,” the report says. “Not only did this delay exacerbate tensions between an already polarised group of stakeholders, but it also caused real distress to many within the transgender community.”

The report adds that the GEO is supposed to respond to consultations within 12 weeks.

MPs concerned equalities ministers are ‘evading essential scrutiny of LGBT policy’

On top of this delay, the committee says, both the Government Equalities Office (GEO) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) refused to engage with the inquiry into Gender Recognition Act reform in a meaningful way.

“We are deeply disappointed by the approach taken by both the Government Equalities Office and Equality and Human Rights Commission to this inquiry,” the report says. “We understand that the subject of Gender Recognition Act reform is controversial, contested and difficult.

“That does not mean that key bodies should shy away from engaging with the challenges it presents, or from connecting with stakeholders who hold views on the matter.”

Additionally, key equalities ministers – Liz Truss and Kemi Badenoch – refused to attend the inquiry, which the report says “runs contrary to the Ministerial Code”.

“Our concern about both ministers evading essential scrutiny of LGBT policy was worsened when we spoke to former members of the government’s LGBT Advisory Panel in May this year, one of which accused the government of creating ‘a hostile environment for LGBT people’,” the report says.

“It is a matter of deep regret that the government and its public bodies have chosen to evade parliamentary scrutiny on this contentious subject.”

Commenting on the committee’s report, a Government Equality Hub spokesperson said: “The government believes the current provisions in the Gender Recognition Act are effective and allow for those who wish to legally change their gender to do so.

“We listened to those who responded to the GRA consultation and are taking steps to modernise the way that individuals can apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate as a result, including reducing the cost and moving the process online.”