No, the Labour Party has not dropped its plan to reform gender recognition laws

The Labour Party has not dropped its commitment to reforming the UK’s Gender Recognition Act (GRA) – despite reports on social media.

On Thursday (13 April), a supposedly leaked copy of the Labour Party policy handbook was shown to GB News deputy political editor Tom Harwood.

The leak allegedly revealed that the party had U-turned on a plan to introduce self-ID for trans people if elected into government, instead saying it would “build a consensus” on “modernising” the GRA, while upholding the Equality Act and the “single-sex exemptions it provides”.

While Harwood claimed his story proved the party is “no longer committed to reforming the GRA to introduce self-ID”, a senior source has exclusively told PinkNews that is simply not the case. “The language has changed from ‘self-ID’ to ‘modernisation without medicalisation,” the source said.

“And I’m happy with that shift – but there’s a worry in some that the signals it gives are problematic.”

The GRA means trans person can legally change their gender by obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).

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A GRC means trans people can update the gender markers on their birth certificate and have their marriage or civil partnership certificate reflect their true identity. It has no bearing on a trans person’s access to single-sex spaces.

Currently, the GRA requires a trans person to receive a diagnosis of gender dysphoria in order to receive a GRC. Introducing self-ID, which has been at the centre of anti-trans culture wars for years now, removes this requirement and is in line with guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO).

It’s a policy that has long been backed by leader Keir Starmer, dating back to his leadership contest in 2020, when he told PinkNews: “Trans rights are human rights and I support the right to self identification.”

The UK is one several countries in Europe which still require a mental health diagnosis and/or psychological opinion to get legal gender recognition, despite the fact the WHO no longer classifies being trans as a mental disorder.

It’s ‘right’ Labour brings in gender law reform, says deputy leader Angela Rayner

On the same day the document was shared online by Tom Harwood, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner’s words echoed those in the handbook. 

“We need safe spaces for women and we need to protect those safe places, but we also need to make sure that we move forward on transgender rights because they are some of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups in society,” she said while visiting a supermarket in Derby. 

“It’s absolutely right that we look at gender reforms so that we can treat them fairly, but that is not at odds with women’s rights over all [or] protecting women-only spaces.

“We can do both and the Equalities [sic] Act that we brought in had exemptions for making sure we can do that.”

Harwood’s unconfirmed leaked document also outlines that Labour is still committed to an all-out ban on so-called conversion therapy and to making all hate crimes aggravated offences. 

However, speaking with PinkNews, Labour for Trans Rights co-chair Alex Charilaou is one of those who thinks the shift in language is problematic – a concern raised by PinkNews’ source.

Charilaou said it is “incredibly disappointing” and “gutting” that Labour is “shying away” from saying self-ID and gender reform is party policy.

“It feels a lot like playing politics while people’s safety is on the line,” Charilaou told PinkNews.

“The Labour Party is becoming a hostile environment for trans members, who are leaving in droves.

“Labour is going to have to do a lot of soul-searching before the LGBTQ+ community can properly trust us again.”

‘Human rights are human rights, there’s no consensus to be had’

Increasingly, Labour and leader Keir Starmer are using the word “modernising” instead of “self-ID”. 

He used the term in October 2022 at the PinkNews Awards, where he vowed that Labour would uphold the Equality Act while simultaneously updating the GRA. 

In January, after the UK government blocked Scotland’s gender reform bill, the Labour leader said he wanted to “modernise” the UK’s gender laws but added that he had concerns about the legislation.

“I have concerns about the provision in Scotland, in particular the age reduction to 16 and the rejection of our amendment in relation to the Equalities Act,” Starmer said at the time.

“But, across the whole of the area, I think we should modernise the law.”

After failing to oppose the government’s use of a Section 35 order to block Scotland’s proposed legislation, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for women and equalities, Anneliese Dodds, spoke at an LGBTQ+ History Month event for LGBT+ Labour and talked about the party’s commitments to “ending hate crime, making sure healthcare is accessible to all and modernising the Gender Recognition Act”. 

However, as pointed out by Harwood, Dodds appeared to “cut out” the party’s plan to “modernise the outdated GRA” in a tweet for Transgender Day of Visibility, which she copied from the main Labour account. 

On Tuesday (12 April), Anas Sarwar, the leader of the Scottish Labour party, told The Telegraph that Starmer needs to build a “consensus” – a phrase also used in the leaked document – on trans rights, while protecting trans people and at “the same time reassuring women and protecting single-sex spaces based on biological sex”. 

Alex Charilaou feels this might be the case in order to “pander” to the votes of so-called gender critical campaigners.

“Why else frame it in the language of finding a ‘consensus’?,” they said, “Human rights are human rights, there’s no consensus to be had.”

Keir Starmer has faced scrutiny over the party’s stance on LGBTQ+ rights. (Photo by Tejas Sandhu/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The leak comes as Labour, and Starmer, face increased scrutiny over the party’s stance on LGBTQ+ matters, particularly trans issues.  

At the beginning of April, Starmer came under fire for saying “for 99.9 per cent of women, it’s completely biological“, when asked about female sex organs. 

Just days later, Labour was criticised by LGBTQ+ activists for saying it supported the Equality Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) proposed review of the UK’s Equality Act, where a definition of “sex” as biological was seemingly advocated for as it would “bring great legal clarity”. 

Trans activists warned that such a change in definition would have negative impacts on their lives, as well as affecting cis people.  

At Easter, Starmer courted more controversy for meeting a Manchester church leader who has anti-LGBTQ+ links he did the same in 2021 when he visited Jesus House, in London. 

PinkNews has contact Labour for comment.