A vision for a reformed Gender Recognition Act

Cici Carey 13 October 2018

The current Gender Recognition Act (GRA) was written in 2004 to enable transgender people to have their identities legally recognised through a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). At the time the Act was revolutionary, but now it’s fallen far behind the legislation of many other countries. This summer, the government opened a consultation about reforming the GRA: the perfect opportunity to update lots of the outdated, impractical, and disrespectful aspects of the Act. The consultation is open until 19th October. You may be aware of recent changes in our university to include more gender neutral bathrooms, dress codes and administrative options, thanks to the work of JCRs and the Why Gender Neutral? campaign, to improve the experiences of trans students. By responding to the consultation we can take that initiative and use it to help improve trans and non-binary lives outside of our Cambridge bubble.

During the reformation of the Gender Recognition Act, we can ask the government for the best possible legislation. An improved GRA needs to be respectful of trans people’s lives and identities, by minimising the difficulty and distress of the process and by trusting trans people to make important decisions about their own lives. It also needs to be focussed around a clear, easy, and quick application process. The current process is incredibly complex (a guide by UK Trans Info on how to apply is 64 pages long).

The application at the moment comes with a minimum £140 court fee and an income assessment process to lower or waive the price. That assessment could easily be updated and expanded to include reimbursements of any other costs (like transport fares), so that no one would be excluded from applying. Currently, the application is painfully drawn out as you must provide proof of having ‘lived in your gender identity’ for two years. But before you can even start collecting this evidence, there are the years of appointments with Gender Identity Clinics with waiting lists currently up to four years long, the many tedious admin tasks related to changing your name… The list goes on. Many of these delays are only tangentially related to the Act, but the further two-year wait could easily be eliminated, because anyone who applies has already made up their mind about an incredibly important decision. The Act could also be altered so that minors could apply for Certificates, with parental permission, rather than having to wait until they’re 18. The most important practical consideration is transparency. No secret checklists, no obscure criteria, no rumours of arbitrary assessments: just a simple, straightforward, application.

I look forward to a Gender Recognition Act that truly respects trans people and their identities. Non-binary people – people with gender identities outside the male/female binary –  form a significant subsection of the trans community (although not all non-binary people would describe themselves as trans). An updated GRA should provide non-binary options so that non-binary people can be recognised in the same laws about gender and equality that protect binary trans people. A reformed GRA should also recognise all trans people, whether or not they experience gender dysphoria, or how that dysphoria manifests. No medical records should be required. In 2018, we should not still be pathologising trans identities: being trans is not an illness to be fixed. The Act should give trans people ownership of their identities, rather than letting their spouses veto their application by refusing to convert their marriage, and so force a divorce. Crucially, the Act should have an accurate assessment of identity, coming from the trans person themself rather than a panel of impersonal judges who aren’t allowed to get to know them.

We have the opportunity for life-changing reform. The UK can follow the examples of other countries such as Ireland, Malta, and India to make the law individually focussed and applicable to all trans and non-binary people. The consultation is for everyone, so now it’s our turn to demand the best possible Gender Recognition Act.

You can respond to the consultation at https://tinyurl.com/GRAreform, open until 19th October. CUSU LGBT+ are hosting an event on 13th October to discuss reforming the GRA, and to provide an opportunity to fill out the consultation in a relaxed environment and ask questions if you need to.