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Why Scotland and Westminster are going to war over trans rights

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Scotland’s proposed reforms would remove the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria. They would allow people to apply for a gender recognition certificate so long as they have been living as the gender they identify with for three months, rather than the current minimum of two years. Similar reforms have been introduced in 11 European countries.

Under the plans, 16- and-17-year-olds would also be able to apply to legally change their gender, although after a longer period of at least six months living as the gender they identify with.

And when did the trouble start?

Once famed for its cast-iron internal discipline, splits in the SNP had begun to show by late last year. The party’s gender plan became a key issue for some of then-First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s most strident critics. They either directly disagreed with the reforms, or argued that they were a distraction from the party’s ultimate aim of gaining independence for Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon argued that trans rights and women’s rights need not clash | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Campaigners — who have become increasingly organized in opposition to self-ID — are concerned the reforms will negatively impact the rights afforded to women in law, including access to female-only spaces and services. 

This position was summarized by the SNP MSP Ash Regan, who said the legislation “may have negative implications for the safety and dignity of women and girls” as it made its way through the Scottish parliament. She quit a ministerial post in Sturgeon’s government to vote against the bill.

For her part, Sturgeon argued that trans rights and women’s rights need not clash, while campaigners in favor of reform said the current process for obtaining a gender recognition certificate is dehumanizing and difficult. The vast majority of trans people in the U.K. live without legally changing their gender, and that can present difficulties in situations such as marriage, where a birth certificate is required.

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