Labour remains vague on Gender Recognition Act reforms as Greens and SNP call for change

A photo shows trans activists holding up signs reading "trans rights now."

Labour continues to remain vague on what “modernising” the Gender Recognition Act would look like if the party wins the next general election, as Green and SNP members double down on calls for radical reform. 

At the PinkNews Westminster Pride Reception on Wednesday (7 June), politicians, activists and charity leaders from across the British political spectrum spoke on a number of LGBTQ+ issues, including the conversion therapy ban, rights of queer refugees, hate crime, trans rights and reforming the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). 

At the event, PinkNews CEO and founder Benjamin Cohen spoke about how Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s language has become contradictory and almost indistinguishable from the Tories in the past year after a previously passionate speech about trans rights at the PinkNews Awards in 2022.

People are now “confused about exactly what the Labour Party’s policy is when it comes to trans rights”, said Cohen. 

“We sometimes see different politicians from the shadow cabinet going on mainstream media, legacy media, and seemingly saying slightly contradictory things”.

The PinkNews CEO mused that the next speaker, shadow women and equalities secretary Anneliese Dodds, might be able to provide clarity to trans people and the wider LGBTQ+ community about Labour’s plans. 

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Taking to the podium, Dodds said Labour would build a “consensus around our plans to modernise the Gender Recognition Act to remove indignities for trans people while upholding the Equality Act, its protected characteristics and its provision for single-sex spaces”.

Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities Anneliese Dodds speaks at the PinkNews Westminster Pride Reception
Shadow secretary of state for women and equalities Anneliese Dodds spoke at the PinkNews Westminster Pride Reception. (PinkNews)

The vague phrases “consensus” and “modernise” have faced much scrutiny from Labour members, as well as the wider trans and LGBTQ+ community as it suggests a shift in the party’s aims. 

Speaking to PinkNews in April, a senior party source said Labour was still committed to reform but had changed the language in which it discussed those aims, a development the source said worried some that “the signals it gives are problematic”.

At the time, Labour for Trans Rights co-chair Alex Charilaou said it was “incredibly disappointing” and “gutting” that Labour is “shying away” from saying self-ID and gender reform as party policy.

Speaking with PinkNews exclusively at the Pride Reception, Dodds was pressed on criticisms of Labour’s lack of clarity, where she said “modernising” would mean “remove indignities for trans people”. 

However, she did not expand on whether that means demedicalising the process, introducing self-ID and legally recognising non-binary identities. 

She added Labour’s reforms would ensure “change is consistent with the Equality Act with its protected characteristics”, including the categories of sex and gender reassignment, as well as protections for “single sex exemptions”. 

Reforming the Gender Recognition Act has become a divisive issue

The Gender Recognition Act (GRA) has been at the centre of much divisive debate in recent months, particularly following the Scottish parliament’s passage of its own gender reform laws, which were subsequently blocked by the UK government. 

In December, Holyrood passed its landmark Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill by 86 votes to 39, which amended the UK-wide Gender Recognition Act 2004 to make obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) easier and lowered the age it was available to 16. 

However, in January, Scotland secretary Alister Jack used a Section 35 order, the first of its kind in the history of devolution, to block the bill over concerns over the “operation of the Equality Act 2010” and the “significant complications from having two different gender recognition regimes in the UK”. 

A trans rights activist addresses a protest opposite Downing Street in January 2023. (Mark Kerrison/Getty)
A trans rights activist addresses a protest opposite Downing Street in January 2023. (Mark Kerrison/Getty)

SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister Humza Yousaf immediately confirmed he would mount a legal challenge against the UK government over the legislation, officially launching the challenge in April. 

“The use of Section 35 is an unprecedented challenge to the Scottish parliament’s ability to legislate on clearly devolved matters and it risks setting a dangerous constitutional precedent,” Scottish social justice secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said in a statement.

“In seeking to uphold the democratic will of the parliament and defend devolution, Scottish ministers will lodge a petition for a judicial review of the secretary of state for Scotland’s decision.”

For many years, activists have called for the GRA 2004 to be updated and make the legal transition process easier for trans people, although in equal measure, others have opposed the laws as they believe such changes will negatively impact women’s rights. 

Greens and SNP double down on change pledges 

Addressing guests at the Pride Reception, Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer was more forthcoming and stated in a speech the Greens would “update the Gender Recognition Act, recognising non-binary people and removing the dehumanising, bureaucratic and over-medicalised parts of the process, so that trans and non-binary people can self-identify their gender”. 

Additionally, the Greens would add an X gender marker to legal documents, such as passports, for those who want it. 

Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer addressing the PinkNews Westminster Pride Reception (PinkNews)

Speaking to PinkNews after making a rallying speech for LGBTQ+ rights, SNP MP Hannah Bardell addressed the debacle of Westminster halting Scotland’s gender law reforms. 

The MP said the Conservatives have allowed themselves to be “sucked into a culture war” and treat trans rights as a “political football”, saying the government is not “considering the humanity” behind any reforms to gender recognition. 

“This is about one of the most marginalised communities in our society. It is just about making our life that little bit easier and that little bit more straightforward.

“That’s not a huge ask.”

She urged the Tories to take a “step back” and “look at the reality of the joy and happiness it will bring”. 

Hannah Bardell during an exclusive interview with PinkNews at the PinkNews Westminster Pride Reception. (PinkNews)

Making an apology to trans people, Bardell said she is personally sorry “that it’s come to this”, adding: “I’m sorry that you are being put through such a horrific time. But there are many of us, who are in the House of Commons, Scottish parliament and various positions of power – we’ve got your back.”

Wednesday’s PinkNews Westminster Pride Reception also saw speeches from the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, minister for equalities Stuart Andrew, executive director of Kaleidoscope Trust Lady Phyll Opoku-Gyimah and deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats Daisy Cooper.

The event recognises the immense contribution of the LGBTQ+ community in England in advance of the 2023 PinkNews Awards later in the year.

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