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Labour Party doubles down after saying 16 is too young for legal gender recognition

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A photo of shadow secretary of state for women and equalities Anneliese Dodds in a white cardigan and red shirt

The Labour Party has finally expressed its views on the government blocking Scotland’s landmark gender reforms, standing firm on stopping 16-year-olds from obtaining Gender Recognition Certificates.

In a statement shared with PinkNews, the party criticised both the Conservatives and SNP’s joint “failure of leadership” which has led to a “constitutional row” and trans people being used as “political footballs”. 

It also doubled down on not supporting 16-year-olds getting gender recognition certificates (GRC), which leader Keir Starmer discussed earlier this month.

On Tuesday (January 17) most Labour MPs (minus 11), abstained from voting on a ‘to note’ motion for Section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998. 

The UK government announced on Monday (January 16) that it would invoke Section 35 order to block the Gender Recognition Reforms (Scotland) Bill, which was passed by Scottish Parliament 86-39 in December 2022. 

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The bill would make the process of a person changing their legal gender easier, as well as opening up the application process to 16 and 17-year-olds for the first time. 

Scotland secretary Alister Jack addressed the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon and declared a Section 35 order would be triggered over concerns for the “serious adverse impact among other things on the operation of the Equality Act 2010”.

The ‘to note’ motion on Section 35 was passed by 318 votes to 71.

A majority of Labour failed to turn up for the vote, with just 11 MPs rebelling against Keir Starmer’s party’s absence and voted in opposition to the government blocking the gender reform laws. 

‘We would not have gone about it this way’

Releasing a statement about the fiasco, Anneliese Dodds, shadow women and equalities secretary for Labour, said: “This is a failure of leadership from both the Conservatives and the SNP. 

“Both governments should have worked together to sort out these issues in a sensible, grownup way to avoid this constitutional row. 

“Trans rights and women’s rights must not be used as political footballs.

“Labour supports modernisation of the gender recognition process, but we would not have gone about it this way. For example, UK Labour does not support reducing the age at which you can get a GRC to 16.

“Now we need both governments to behave like adults and sort this situation out. That includes the Conservative government publishing its legal advice in full as soon as possible, as Labour has called for.”

Labour MP Nadia Whittome
“As a queer woman, as a feminist, and as a socialist, LGBTQ+ rights are integral to my politics,” says Labour MP Nadia Whittome. (Credit: UK Parliament)

Nottingham East MP Nadia Whittome told PinkNews why she decided to vote against the order despite it being a ‘to note’ motion – meaning even if a majority of MPs opposed it, the order would still go ahead. 

“This was an opportunity to show opposition to the government’s actions, actions that are stoking prejudice against trans people, which is why I voted against,” she said. 

She added: “As a queer woman, as a feminist, and as a socialist, LGBTQ+ rights are integral to my politics. 

“I want a world where every person can live a full, happy and comfortable life, free from discrimination and poverty. LGBTQ+ rights are a central part of this.”

Keir Starmer has ‘concerns’ about Scottish reform

In recent days both Labour Party and Starmer have come under fire for appearing to side with the Tories on blocking Scotland’s gender reforms. 

Earlier in the week, Starmer doubled down on his belief that 16-year-olds are too young to legally change gender, while also stressing the importance of “sex-based rights”.

“I have concerns about the provision in Scotland, in particular the age reduction to 16 and in particular the rejection of our amendment in relation to the Equalities Act,” Starmer told BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg. 

This comes despite promises from Starmer to “modernise the Gender Recognition Act”, including during an October address at the 2022 PinkNews Awards.

Many of Starmer’s concerns about the legislation were seen by critics to mirror that of Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives. 

Addressing these issues, Whittome praised Labour’s record on LGBTQ+ rights but noted the party needs to listen to LGBTQ+ people more, when they call on them to do so.  

“Labour has a proud history of standing up for LGBTQ+ rights, and I am pleased that we are committed to reforming the GRA and a trans-inclusive ban on conversion therapy,” she told PinkNews.

“But we need to listen to LGBTQ+ people and act when they tell us that they need us to do more and go further.

“In terms of whether 16-year-olds should be allowed to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate, the reality is that at 16, there are many young trans people who already socially transitioned years ago. 

“In my view, allowing them to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate is about ensuring they are treated with dignity and respect.”

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