Labour vows to ‘modernise’ gender recognition law – despite not opposing Tory block on Scottish reforms

A photo showing LGBT+ Labour at Pride marching amongst a large crowd as they hold a banner that says "LGBT+ Labour"

Labour’s shadow equalities minister Anneliese Dodds has said the party will “modernise” the Gender Recognition Act if it gets back into power – despite failing to oppose the Tories’ blockage of Scotland’s gender reform bill just weeks ago. 

LGBT+ Labour’s LGBT+ History Month reception was held in London on Tuesday (7 February) and featured speeches from prominent members of the party, including leader Keir Starmer, deputy leader Angela Rayner and Dodds, who is also party chair. 

During the event, Dodds outlined the party’s commitments to “ending hate crime, making sure healthcare is accessible to all, and modernising the Gender Recognition Act”. 

At the event, Starmer expressed his concern that the Conservatives want to treat LGBTQ+ issues as “wedge issues” – which he defines as ways to “divide, make things toxic, take things backwards”.

“We have to call that out for what it is, and we have to challenge it, head on,” he said.

The Labour leader also spoke of his own experience as director of public prosecutions more than ten years ago fighting hate crime and “it breaks my heart that it’s still going up”.

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He added that the Labour Party “[has] to make progress” on gender recognition and conversion therapy and is offering a “different way” of governing the country so “all of our communities are heard, listened-to and respected, and part of the team that delivers for the whole country”.

The Gender Recognition Act was passed by the UK parliament in 2004 and gives trans people the right to change their legal gender. 

For years, both activists and members of the government itself have called for the GRA to be updated, with the Women and Equalities Committee recommending in 2021 that Westminster de-medicalises the gender recognition process and removes the requirement to live in the acquired gender for two years. 

In December 2022, the Scottish government passed its Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill by 86 votes to 39. 

The legislation, which would make it easier for trans people to get a Gender Recognition Certificate (GCR), was hailed as a triumphant moment for LGBTQ+ rights. 

However, in January the UK government used Section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998 to block the bill from gaining royal assent – an unprecedented political move which some have said threatens the stability of the union as a whole. 

Labour failed to oppose the move by Rishi Sunak’s government and at a ‘to-note’ vote, just 11 Labour MPs rebelled by voting against Section 35 while the rest of the party abstained. 

Those that failed to turn up to vote notably included Starmer and Dodds. 

Labour shadow minister says LGBTQ+ rights not ‘political footballs’

In a statement shared with PinkNews at the time of the Section 35 vote, Dodds said trans rights should not be used as “political footballs”. 

She 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, grown-up 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.”

Earlier this month, Dodds spoke at an LGBT+ History Month debate in the House of Commons and said Labour would seek to restore the UK’s “reputation as a beacon of LGBT+ freedom and equality”. 

Again, she promised Labour would not use LGBTQ+ rights as a “political football or an afterthought”.