At last the Government has published its long awaited announcement in relation to the reform of the Gender Recognition Act. Despite the considerable hype and speculation as to what was going to happen the changes are minor.
The most important for me is that the rights already in place in The Equality Act 2010 which protects transgender people remains in place and unchanged. There had been enormous speculation that this was to be amended to create “safe spaces” for cis women. Fortunately the government saw sense on this pointing out that where it considered appropriate the ability to create a safe space for cis women is already enshrined in that Act.
So what else do the proposals do. It acknowledges the appalling waiting time to be seen by a Gender Identity Clinic, usually over two years instead of eighteen weeks, and is going to create at least three more Gender Identity Clinics this year. I assume that means in the next twelve months. With regard to obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate it proposes to make this cheaper reducing the fee to a nominal amount instead of the current £140 and to make it possible to make the application online. Both of those are to be welcomed.
It had been hoped that the question of transgender people would be allowed the same rights as transgendered people have in the Republic of Ireland to self ID with regard to how they identify their gender. This has been operating there since 2015 without any problems.
However, this has not been addressed and to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate you will still have to a medical diagnosis, a medical report setting out the treatment you have had, evidence of living in your new gender for two years, agreement of your spouse (if you have one) and to make a statutory declaration that you intend to remain in your new gender for the rest of your life.
Bearing in mind it is possible to change your passport and driving licence to reflect your new Gender without a Gender Recognition Certificate this seems to be inconsistent. I am in the process of applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate, though I will likely wait for the reduced fee to come in! I am already changing my passport and driving licence. Why do I want one? I think it is a question of putting everything in order, a validation of this is who I am. It will also reduce the possibility of having to explain and disclose my personal history when having to produce my birth certificate. Now I have transitioned I do not want to have to keep on explaining about my transition.
As to self-identifying, I am ambivalent as to whether this should go so far as obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate. Of course the first step is that you self-diagnose, self-identify that you are transgender. I certainly did. For me the next step was to take hormones to help my dysphoria and assist me keeping my sanity. I did this by self-medicating herbal hormones before finally taking the leap into obtaining a professional psychiatric diagnosis and subsequent medical treatment with HRT. I was fortunate to be able to pay for this privately, as it has been acknowledged the waiting lists of two years or more for a first appointment are unacceptably too long. I am sure this a strong reason why there is the pressure to do away with the need for a diagnosis.
Obtaining a professional diagnosis gave me a reassurance that this was not all in my mind and that I was not deluding myself however certain I was that I was transgender. I tend to think this is an important step in taking such a big decision.
The enormous waiting times to attend a Gender Identity Clinic causes transgender people a significant amount of distress and depression. If it was possible to access medical diagnosis promptly then the requirement to at least have a diagnosis would seem to be not unreasonable. As to the other requirements of producing your medical history of treatment, two years living in your new gender and your spouse’s agreement do seem to me to be unnecessary. Swearing a statutory declaration that you intend to remain in your new gender also does not seem unreasonable to me.
The Equalities Minister needs to continue to look at the needs of transgender people to live their lives safely and with dignity, and to review the self- identity issue fully. However, I am pleased that she held firm against the attempts to weaken the Equality Act 2010 from the demands of the transphobic activists who were calling for it to be weakened.