Life&Style Writer Kate Langford introduces Kaiden Williams, the Primark model with vitiligo and how the skin condition is becoming more widely acceptedWritten by Kate Langford on 21st April 2019
The Gender Recognition Act & Why It Must Change
Liam Taft, James Law & Finn Humphris discuss the Gender Recognition Act's impact on transgender individuals, and how the mainstream media has let the trans community down
Time is up for UK citizens to respond to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) – a new consultation by the Government, which aims to simplify the process whereby transgender people can legally self-identify as the gender they choose.
Legally changing one’s gender is currently a long, exploitative, and problematic process. Transgender people have to provide ‘proof’ of their identity, in the form of work records and medical reports, alongside extensive questioning. It is, at present, an outdated and exhaustive ordeal. Transgender people can already legally change their gender, but this can sometimes take up to five years. All that these new reforms propose to do is streamline this process.
LGBT+ charity Stonewall support this reformation of the 2004 law with regards to streamlining the process of getting your gender recognised and allowing trans people the right to self-definition – that is, the ability to autonomously define their legal gender identity without the need for medical or bariatric intervention.
“Legally changing one's gender is currently a long, exploitative, and problematic process ... It is, at present, an outdated and exhaustive ordeal
Currently, a formal diagnosis of gender dysphoria is required for legal recognition, which many have criticised as depicting transgender people as mentally ill, rather than simply having an identity that differs from the one society has placed upon them.
At present, the legal process costs a minimum of £140 for a Government body to process the application of a Gender Recognition Certificate (or proof of low-income if this fee is unaffordable, another intrusive requirement for legal recognition). After this, the ‘evidence’ required to be successful is often significantly costly.
For example, even those able to access hormone treatment or surgery through the NHS must pay their own travel expenses in most cases, many go private due to increasingly long waiting lists, and even simple matters like changing the name on a passport can cost a processing fee. This is an obstructively expensive process.
All of these factors show with the relatively low number of people in the UK who have legally changed their gender. There are an estimated 200,000-500,000 trans people in the UK, according to the Government, with the Department of National Statistics looking into how to get a more exact figure.
Despite this, fewer than 5000 people in the UK have legally changed their gender since the Gender Recognition Act came into force fourteen years ago. The law is currently designed to be difficult for trans people to navigate, and ultimately be legally recognised as their true gender.
With all that considered, surely simplifying the 2004 Gender Recognition Act is a no-brainer? Making it easier for trans people in the UK to be legally recognised as their identity is something that has long been requested, and would harm absolutely no one.
“Even those able to access hormone treatment or surgery through the NHS must pay their own travel expenses in most cases
The GRA, and its proposed reform, has faced criticism from several women’s groups, such as Standing For Women, which installed a digital billboard displaying anti-trans rhetoric in Digbeth. Some feminists – often referred to as Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (or TERFS) – have critiqued transgender ‘ideology,’ arguing that the Gender Recognition Act poses a threat to woman-only spaces.
Their scaremongering, which frequently accuses trans people of being sexual predators, is harmful and rarely backed up with evidence. A similar system has been implemented in countries such as Norway and the Republic of Ireland, with data from Massachusetts also indicating no increase in sexual violence cases.
In the year leading up to the consultation, the mainstream media has foregrounded these voices. Some transgender journalists such as Shon Faye, Paris Lees, and Munroe Bergdorf have been given a platform to speak about their experiences and the benefits of the Gender Recognition Act for the trans population. Yet, even now as the window of opportunity to sign the GRA has drawn to a close, the headlines are dominated by women who feel they have been ‘silenced.’
Just last week, nearly 200 academics signed a letter to The Observer accusing trans rights groups of ‘closing down discussions.’ This is ironic, considering that it is these ‘gender critical’ feminists who have taken up the most column inches in recent months. In addition to this, the organisation Fair Play For Women spent £40,000 on a full-page advertisement in the Metro newspaper on the 10th of October, spreading what many are rightfully denouncing as transphobic propaganda.
This advertisement also misrepresents the proposed changes to the law, something that is sadly familiar when discussing changes to laws impacting trans people. The proposed amendment to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act would not allow ‘anyone to switch the sex on their birth certificate, on demand,’ as Fair Play For Women suggest.
“Fair Play For Women has a history of transphobic tweets, which they have since deleted and distanced themselves from
Moreover, the GRA does not cover legal rights to single-gender spaces and services. These are covered by the 2010 Equality Act, which (for the most part), already allows trans people access to gendered services and public amenities that match their identity (e.g. public bathrooms and changing rooms). Fair Play For Women has a history of transphobic tweets, which they have since deleted and distanced themselves from, and claimed that the new management of the organisation are not responsible for.
In response to the advert, the Metro told Redbrick: ‘When Fair Play For Women originally approached us about this advertisement, our commercial team did consult with them carefully on its content and language before agreeing to the final creative in Wednesday’s Metro. We believe the purpose of this ad is to raise awareness of the Government consultation, not to be transphobic. We pride ourselves at Metro on taking a balanced political approach, editorially and commercially, serving readers all the information available to us without taking sides.’
Last week, the Metro published another full-page advert, but this time with the support of around 100 organisations, including Amnesty International, Channel 4, and Stonewall, which read: ‘We are proud to come out for trans equality.’ A good step forwards, but the bitter taste left by the original Metro advert has not disappeared.
Headlines about anti-trans groups still dominate the media landscape – even from more left-leaning newspapers such as The Guardian – and the stories of trans people have largely been ignored. The media, it seems, is fixated on a group that is concerned about the hypothetical risk that trans people pose in women’s only spaces, which is corroborated only by an isolated number of incidents.
“On the whole, the media narrative around the Gender Recognition Act has been centred around critical cisgendered voices. What we are seeing is a decentring of trans people in the media
Scaremongering about ‘men invading womens’ spaces’ has been about for years, with concerns of the safety of cisgender women cited as excuses for transphobia. In reality, changes to the laws will not have this impact, simply because trans women are women.
It is absurd and disgusting to effectively accuse all trans women of secretly being men trying to prey on women-only spaces, which is the implication the advertisement makes when it asks suggestive questions such as ‘do you think adult males should be able to enter female-only sleeping or changing areas, or domestic violence refuges?’
Reports about widespread transgender issues, such as the shocking figure that 46% of trans male youth have attempted suicide, rarely make headline news. Of course, there are several smaller news outlets that amplify these stories. PinkNews and journalists such as Patrick Strudwick from Buzzfeed LGBT+ write regularly about the discrimination that trans people face. But, on the whole, the media narrative around the Gender Recognition Act has been centred around critical cisgendered voices.
What we are seeing is a decentring of transgender people in the media. They are being talked about, but are not involved in many of the debates that concern them. In addition, when they are invited on to panel shows and TV debates, they are not asked about the nuances of the Gender Recognition Act, but instead are required time and time again to debate their very right to exist.
It feels strange that when discussing life-changing legislation for trans people, their voices are not leading the conversation. Instead, hateful messages that demonise trans people and offer a deeply reductive attitude toward sex and gender are foregrounded.
It is worth mentioning that this most often manifests in transmisogyny, since the discussions are most often directed towards transgender women, rather than transgender men or non-binary people.
“It feels strange that when discussing life-changing legislation for trans people, their voices are not the leading conversation
Many centrist and right-wing publications have published thousands of words dedicated to calling out the misogyny of trans activists who want to shut down women’s voices, whilst themselves participating in transphobic language targeted at trans women.
The mainstream media has failed the transgender population. For now, the outcome of the Gender Recognition Act consultations is unclear. But the stain that the media has left on this moment in LGBTQ+ history will no doubt remain.