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Nicola Sturgeon shuts down anti-trans myth that gender law reform will lead to attacks on women

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Nicola Sturgeon and Rishi Sunak

First minister Nicola Sturgeon has dismissed claims that reforms to Scottish gender laws, as passed by Holyrood, would lead to increased attacks on vulnerable women by “predatory men”.

After another week of toxic right-wing newspaper headlines and disgusting rhetoric from politicians about trans rights in the UK, the leader of the SNP appeared on BBC’s flagship politics show Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg to discuss, among other things, the unprecedented blocking of Scotland’s gender reform bill.

The Scottish government decisively passed the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) bill back in December with support from all parties. The bill intended to make it simpler and fairer for trans people to gain legal recognition of their gender by acquiring a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), which allows for the updating of sex markers on birth certificates.

A GRC also allows trans people to have their acquired gender recognised on their marriage license and death certificate. The gender reform bill, passed after six years of intense debate and two public consultations, would have removed the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria to acquire a GRC and lowered the minimum age of application from 16 to 18.

However, the bill was officially blocked from gaining royal ascent by the UK government on Tuesday (17 January) in an unprecedented move which saw Section 35 of the Scotland Act used for the first time in its history. Scottish secretary in Westminster, Alister Jack – who doesn’t seem to know what a GRC actually does – said the bill was being blocked as he believed it would have “adverse effects” on the operation of the UK Equality Act and “operations” of single-sex spaces.

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This bill does not give a predatory man any more ability to abuse women than that predatory man already has.

Nicola Sturgeon

Speaking to BBC journalist Kuenssberg today (22 January), the leader of the SNP shut down “concerns” from a small minority of anti-trans women’s groups that the Scottish gender reform bill would make it easier for “predatory men” to access women’s single-sex spaces and would be, in Kuenssberg’s clumsy words, “to the detriment of biological women who are biologically female at birth”.

“I don’t believe that will be the case,” explained Sturgeon. “We tried very had to listen carefully to all views in the two consultations that were held on this legislation.

“You have some of the groups that with women that are subject to violence by predatory men – Rape Crisis Scotland, Women’s AID Scotland, Zero Tolerance Scotland. These are groups that work with vulnerable women every single day. These organisations support this legislation, so it’s important to be clear. Actually, most of the key women’s organisations in Scotland do support this legislation.”

She continued: “The fear that women have about predatory men accessing women-only spaces to abuse and attack women is very real. [But] you don’t have to show your birth certificate to access women-only spaces. So the point is this bill does not give a predatory man any more ability to abuse women than that predatory man already has.”

Nicola Sturgeon also clarified that the Scottish gender reform bill would have no impact on wider UK equality laws: “The Scottish parliament considers all of that on every legislation that it passes. I have not heard any argument on the impact on the Equality Act that I find in any way persuasive or compelling because the act does not change the legal effect of a Gender Recognition Certificate.”

Sturgeon is, of course, correct. Gender Recognition Certificates are governed by the Gender Recognition Act, which is a devolved issue for Scotland under the Scotland Act. The UK’s Gender Recognition Act is an archaic piece of legislation which still requires a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria in order to gain legal gender recognition, which is in direct defiance of advice from the World Health Organization and the United Nations.

The Equality Act, which covers the whole of the UK, allows for providers of single-sex spaces to refuse trans people in very rare and exceptional circumstances, which “must be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.

Nicola Sturgeon also repeated her suggestion on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg that the Scottish government will seek a judicial review to overturn the UK government’s decision, preparing to go head-to-head with Rishi Suank’s Tories in the courts.

“I’ve already said we will do everythign to send up for and defend the legislation,” she explained.

“The UK government is doing this for two reasons and, frankly, it’s got nothing to do with concerns about the Equality Act. Firstly – shamefully, disgracefully – they’re trying to stoke up a culture on the back of one of the most vulnerable groups in our society because they somehow think that plays well with their base.

“Secondly, this is part of a pattern of seeking to undermine and delegitimise the Scottish parliament. The issues are really important and I feel very strongly that trans people should not be weaponised.”

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