Activists march on Downing Street to protest ‘devastating’ block of Scottish gender bill

LGBTQ+ protesters at Downing Street

LGBTQ+ protestors have gathered outside Downing Street to rally against the UK government’s “devastating” decision to block the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill. 

The Scottish reforms – which passed in a December vote of 86-39 – were to amend the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) in Scotland to make it easier for trans people to legally recognise their identified gender.

The changes involve the removal of medical requirements, lowering the age limit from 18 to 16, and cutting the period that an applicant must live as their required gender from two years to a few months.

But the UK government announced on Monday (16 January) that it would block the reforms from passing.

On Tuesday (17 January) at 1pm a small group of protesters gathered outside of Downing Street to voice their disgust at the UK government’s actions.

Laura Dale at London trans protest at Downing Street
Laura Dale. (PinkNews)

Laura Dale, 31, told PinkNews it was important to attend the protest as “a lot of the reporting and discussion covering the gender recognition reform in this country has been mired by people misrepresenting what the act and the certificate actually do.

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“At the core they are about marriage, death and taxes.” 

Dale said it was “ridiculous” for the UK government to have “gone out of its way to prevent gender recognition reform here.”

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“It’s devastating that the UK has been mislead into opposing the reform,” she added.

Dale said the decision feels like an “attack on trans people”, and shows the UK is “far more committed to being anti-trans than most people realise.” 

“As soon as it was suggested I was depressingly confident that the government would block it. 

“This government has proven time and time again that it is committed to opposing trans rights improvements. It’s a major political campaigning point for the Tory government. 

“It’s one of those things that they can’t let happen in Scotland because then we’ve let something slip under our watch. It’s about mining power and saying ‘no this is the UK’s official stance on trans people’.” 

Michelle Snow at London trans protest at Downing Street
Michelle Snow. (PinkNews)

Michelle Snow, founder of WhatTheTrans, attended the protest to show “trans people doing something”. 

The 37-year-old said her initial reaction to the decision wasn’t surprise, and told PinkNews she doesn’t think Rishi Sunak’s government is “going particularly well”.

“They pick a minority to pick on for a while to cover up things or to frame certain debates a certain way for their own benefit, so I could see his reasons for doing this were obvious. He thinks this might kick up a stink in his favour for people in his party.”

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She added it’s “clearly absurd what’s going on – if you ask the trans community what a priority is gender recognition hardly makes the top five”. 

She thinks the block on gender recognition reform was chosen because it was the “cheapest option” for the government to focus on. 

Throughout the protest campaigners chanted “trans rights are human rights” and “my body, my choice”. 

Poe Villiers at London trans protest at Downing Street
Poe Villiers. (PinkNews)

Poe Villiers told PinkNews they think it’s important “for everyone to know there are people who will oppose Rishi Sunak’s decision”. 

The 23-year-old said they didn’t think the government would “have the balls” to block the reform.

“It’s a funny old bill where passing it was deemed controversial, but blocking it wasn’t,” they said.

“I think people don’t want to say they’re transphobic. The same argument that was used against homophobia not 20 years ago. 

“‘I don’t mind gay people but I’m concerned about peadophilia’. What’s shocked me about the blocking is it’s so blatant. There’s no excuse for it other than blatant transphobia.” 

Jenny Dean at London trans protest at Downing Street
Jenny Dean. (PinkNews)

Jenny Dean, who’s in her 50s, spoke to PinkNews and said she attended because “when you’re a political football you have to fight back”. 

“An issue that affects a tiny percentage of the population is not a big deal for the Tories in government it’s just a way of diverting from the real issues in this country, which are the cost-of-living crisis, the right to protest, the attacks on our human rights.” 

Dean said the decision is “anti-democratic”. 

Safha Jones at London trans protest at Downing Street
Safha Jones. (PinkNews)

Safha Jones, who is non-binary, told PinkNews they attended the protest to show “solidarity with the trans and non-binary community”. 

The 33-year-old said: “I don’t think the reform should have been blocked, it’s a disgrace.” 

Another protest has been planned for Wednesday (18 January) at 5pm at the same location. 

LGBTQ+ protesters at Downing Street
LGBTQ+ protesters at Downing Street. (PinkNews)

What is the Gender Recognition Bill

The Gender Recognition Bill passed by 86 votes to 39 in Holyrood in December last year and would streamline the process in Scotland for changing legal gender. 

It would do so by lowering the age people can apply for a gender recognition certificate from 18 to 16, and removing need for medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria. 

The bill would see applicants only need to have lived as their affirmed gender for three months – rather than two years – or six months if they are aged 16 or 17. 

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has blasted the UK government’s decision to block the reform, describing it as a “full-frontal attack” on democracy. 

Sturgeon promised Holyrood would defend the pro-trans legislation and “stand up for Scotland’s Parliament”. 

Prominent LGBTQ+ advocates have also condemned the unprecedented move from Downing Street as “unacceptable” and a “shameful attack on trans rights”. 

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