Labour scraps trans self-ID promise in fiercely criticised Gender Recognition Act ‘reform’ plans

Annaliese Dodds

The shadow women and equalities secretary has shared the Labour’s plans to “modernise, simplify and reform” the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) for trans people – effectively confirming that the party has backtracked on previous commitments to self-ID. 

Writing in a column for The Guardian, Anneliese Dodds took aim at both Holyrood’s – now blocked –landmark gender law reforms and Conservative Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson for “demonising vulnerable LGBT+ people”, referring to his controversial comments that the Tories need to fight the next general election on a “mix of culture wars and trans debate”

Dodds’ words have come under scrutiny from party members, LGBTQ+ activists and the wider public for Labour’s seemingly ever-changing stance on trans rights, with leader Sir Keir Starmer appearing to side with the Tories on more than one occasion on the issue.

“Changing gender is not a decision anyone makes lightly. The process is intrusive, outdated and humiliating,” Dodds wrote

“So we will modernise, simplify and reform the gender recognition law to a new process. We will remove invasive bureaucracy and simplify the process.”

The shadow women and equalities secretary added that Labour’s vision of reform would keep the “medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria” as an “important” part of  obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate – officially confirming the party no longer supports self-ID for trans people. 

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Dodds said Labour would also remove the panel of “anonymous doctors” who decide on the process, based on “reams of intrusive medical paperwork and evidence of any surgery”. Instead, diagnosis of gender dysphoria by one doctor with a registrar would “be enough”. 

Back in 2020, the Labour Party said it was “committed to equality” and fully supported “updating the GRA to introduce self-declaration for trans people”. 

Prior to this, even Conservative prime minister Theresa May told the PinkNews Awards 2017 that the process should be streamlined and de-medicalised by government. 

However, since then – amid the increasing politicisation of trans lives – the opposition has altered its approach to the concept of self-ID and demedicalisation. 

Dodds’ column in The Guardian shows medicalisation is, in fact, still at the heart of the transition process for Labour and self-ID is no longer a policy it wishes to introduce.  

Trans rights activists march through central London after a protest outside Downing Street on 21 January 2023.
Trans rights activists march through central London after a protest outside Downing Street on 21 January 2023. (Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty)

This change in policy from the Labour Party is not unexpected. In April 2023, concerns were raised when GB News’ deputy political editor Tom Harwood shared a supposedly leaked copy of the Labour Party policy handbook, which he claimed showed Labour was “no longer committed to reforming the GRA to introduce self-ID”. 

A senior Labour party source told PinkNews at the time the party was still committed to the change in policy, but the internal “language has changed from ‘self-ID’ to ‘modernisation without medicalisation’”. 

This reflected increasing usage of “modernisation”, instead of a move towards self-ID, across Labour party communications by Starmer and other key Labour figures.

The Labour leader 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 invoked Section 35 of the Scotland Act to block Holyrood’s gender reform bill, Starmer said he wanted to “modernise” the UK’s gender laws and raised “concerns” over Scotland’s 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.” 

The topic of Scotland was addressed directly in Dodds’ column, where she took aim at the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill

The law sought to make it easier for trans people to legally change their sex by removing the requirement for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and lowering the age limit to 16, among other updates.

Dodds described the legislation – which was passed by Scottish parliament in December 2022 – as “cavalier”, saying it “seemed to be more about picking a fight with Westminster than bringing about meaningful change”. 

She did not mention that the legislation was first pledged back in 2016, underwent years of consultation and received more than 17,000 responses from Scots who shared their views on the reforms, before it was initially passed.

“The safeguards that were proposed to protect women and girls from predators who might abuse the system were simply not up to scratch,” she went on to write, referencing concerns over provisions for single-sex spaces following the conviction of rapist Isla Bryson

“As a result, the Scottish government is still picking up the pieces, with trans rights no further forward.”

Labour would not make the same “mistake”, Dodds claimed, stating “nothing in [the Labour Party’s] modernised gender recognition process would override the single-sex exemptions in the Equality Act”. 

She continued: “Put simply, this means that there will always be places where it is reasonable for biological women only to have access.

“Labour will defend those spaces, providing legal clarity for the providers of single-sex services.” 

The term “biological women” is seen by many as a transphobic dogwhistle, and has been used by anti-trans campaigners as a term to stoke division between trans rights and women.

In April, Starmer was blasted for comments had made in relation to biology, with some accusing him of “throwing trans people under the bus”

Speaking to The Sunday Times, Starmer said of womanhood: “For 99.9 per cent of women, it is completely biological … and of course they haven’t got a penis”. 

Concluding her column, Dodds said Labour’s policies “will not please everyone” and they will be “attacked from all sides, in good faith and bad”. 

Although not specifically cited, the “all sides” Dodds is referring to could be in reference to trans people themselves – who will feel let down by Labour’s U-turn on self-ID – and so-called gender critical activists, who do wish to see the Gender Recognition Act reformed. 

Within Labour itself, the gender critical movement has support from MP Rosie Duffield, who has been outspoken in her controversial views on trans rights and self-ID.  

In response to Dodds’ column and Labour plans, LGBT+ Labour issued a statement saying the group finds it “very concerning” the party is “signalling a retreat on their policy of de-medicalised self-ID”. 

They wrote on Twitter: “As a campaign we will continue to lobby and fight for the rights of all LGBT+ people and push the Labour Party to continue to go further for our trans siblings, including on de-medicalised self-ID, and to build on their legacy as the party of equality. 

“The reforms Labour are promising today are desperately needed and would still be a huge step forward for LGBT+ people, especially from the divisive and degrading treatment this current Conservative government and prime minister are subjecting our community to, particularly our trans siblings.”

More widely, Labour is already courting criticism for its backpedalling on trans rights and the language Dodds uses in the Guardian column. 

A statement from Stonewall in response to Dodds’ comments says “the UK has fallen off track as an international leader on LGBTQ+ rights,” and calls for UK politicians to look to countries where self-ID has already been introduced, such as Ireland, Belgium, New Zealand, Switzerland and Denmark, for evidence into why the system works.

“It is wrong to suggest that safeguards cannot exist with a de-medicalised model,” the charity says.

“The Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill was the most scrutinised piece of legislation ever passed by the Scottish Parliament and was passed by a solid majority of MSPs with support drawn from all parties.”

It states how important safeguarding was for Scottish parliamentarians during the Bill’s discussion, and notes that it was backed by every established women’s organisation in Scotland.

“If Labour are serious about reforming the Gender Recognition Act and enhancing trans people’s legal protections, we need a strategy informed by input from trans people on their needs and priorities, and a real understanding of how practice is working internationally,” it adds.

“Not just on legal recognition, but healthcare, anti-discrimination and education.”

Broadcaster and trans activist India Willoughby tweeted: “Sorry ⁦@AnnelieseDodds⁩ – both ‘sides’ do not advocate for vulnerable groups. The GC movement is a hate movement who use ‘women’ purely as a front. As for saying ‘biological women’ – wow. Showing your true feelings and lack of understanding.”

Writer and researcher Kevin Guyan said he did not think it was “possible to feel less enthusiastic” about a Labour government on LGBTQ+ rights until reading Dodds column. 

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