Theresa May disappointed Westminster isn’t considering gender act reform like Scotland

A photo shows former prime minister Theresa May wearing a navy suit leaving Westminster.

Theresa May has expressed subtle disappointment that gender recognition reforms recently passed in Scotland were ultimately scrapped in England.

During her time as prime minister, May put forward proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) so trans people could legally change their gender without a medical diagnosis.

However, Theresa May was ousted as prime minister before self-identification for trans people became a reality. Her successor Boris Johnson put those plans to bed and her plans were scrapped.

The Scottish government pushed ahead with its own reforms to the GRA, and legislation was passed on 22 December in what was hailed as a landmark moment for trans rights.

During an interview on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, May was asked if she was “disappointed” that the Tory government scrapped her plans to reform the GRA.

“The very fact that I put the proposal forward shows that that was something that I thought was important to do, particularly to take some of the medical aspects out of this,” May said.

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“But the government has looked again at it and has taken the decision that it has.”

Theresa May says ‘impact on people’ most important consideration

Just hours after the Scottish parliament voted in favour of gender recognition reform, the UK government threatened to block the legislation by stopping it from going for royal assent.

Women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch said in a statement that the UK government would look “at provisions that can prompt reconsideration and allow MSPs to address these issues”.

Theresa May in a House of Commons room lined with portraits
Theresa May at the PinkNews Westminster summer reception. (PinkNews)

When asked about the controversy, May said it was important to consider “what the impact would be on the union”.

“We have different legal systems – obviously there’s a different system in Scotland – but I think it is important when any part of the UK is looking at legislation that only affects that part of the UK, that thought is given to what the impact would be on the union,” May said.

“But at the end of the day, it is about people and it’s about the impact that it would have on people.”

LGBTQ+ and trans advocacy groups praised the Scottish government for pushing ahead with long-discussed gender recognition reforms after the vote on 22 December.

Colin MacFarlane, director of nations at Stonewall, said the passing of the bill represented “a tremendous step forward for trans rights and for LGBTQ+ people in Scotland”.

“It brings Scotland into line with international best practice and once again establishes itself as a world leader on human rights, by making a small change which brings dignity to trans people who deserve to be legally recognised for who they are.

“The UK government must now follow and introduce legislation to ensure that trans people UK-wide have access to the same standards of human rights.”

While the bill ultimately passed by 86-39, it faced strident opposition from the Scottish Tories. The party was criticised for employing “delaying tactics” in the chamber to stop the bill from progressing.

The legislation amends the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to lower the age limit for those applying in Scotland to 16.

It also shortens the waiting period for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).

Crucially, the legislation means that trans people in Scotland will be able to get legal gender recognition without having medical reports or a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

May had similar plans for the Gender Recognition Act during her short-lived tenure as prime minister, but those plans never came to fruition.

In an address to the LGBTQ+ community in 2020 ahead of the PinkNews awards, May said trans people continued to face “indignities and prejudice”.

“Just because a group of people is small in number, that doesn’t mean they should be overlooked, and just because an issue is controversial, that doesn’t mean we can avoid addressing it.”