First Meeting

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Summary of the First Meeting of the Gender Recognition Act Reform Group

On 24th June 68 people ‘met’ via Zoom for the first meeting of the Gender Recognition Act Reform Group. I set out a brief agenda and some further reading in this post.I will set out here a summary of what we discussed, some particular issues of concern that were raised, and where we go from here.

The situation in Scotland

An urgent first item on the agenda was the state of play in Scotland. There was not agreement on what the direct consequences might be of the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act 2018 but there were clear concerns that we are rapidly heading to a position where we have a neighbouring jurisdiction, with whom we share a land border AND the Equality Act 2010, which is significantly diverging from ours. Self ID is certainly not off the table in Scotland.We pledged to support those in Scotland considering legal action and we will await further updates.

Reform or repeal?

The second issue was how was the group split between reform and repeal. 7 of the 68 said they were die hard repealers; most others expressed sympathy with the idea of repeal but did not think it would be politically achievable. This is my position — while we remain members of the of the Council of Europe I don’t think repeal is a likely option.Some repealers were forthright — Rob Jessel commented:Repeal is the only grown-up approach. A halfway house suits no one. The GRA is a bad law because it’s based on giving a legal footing to people’s fantasiesOthers favoured more more pragmatism:Jessica: I’m a repealer but a pragmatist so the first principle is putting a strong boundary around protecting women’s rights. Then allow legal fiction to TW but ensure sex still a matter of public record and not erased on passports etcA single issue campaign clearly has the benefit of simplicity and a strong message:I agree a repeal campaign is very straight-forward in its demand. The message that sex is immutable is much easier to argue than attempting to get people to understand legal recognition or the distinction between sex and gender
Personally, I think we need to be really clear about whether this repeal or reform is the thing that will be effective in supporting the aims of the group, which I assume are protection of females sex based rights, safeguarding of children without damaging dignity and respect for transsexuals (apologies if that is not the right term) and people who don’t conform to gender stereotypes.Karen commented:I think it is possible to repeal, with a grandfathering clause, and something that covers the privacy issue. All the other issues that drove the GRA are now moot.We all agreed those with existing GRCs should not lose them.Should we then consider forming two separate groups, or continue to work together? The conversation continued online and in chat, the consensus being that it seemed to early to start considering separation and the repealers were willing to work with the reformers. This is likely to be an issue we need to return to if the group continues and gathers momentum.

Skill set of the group

I than asked if people could email me and give me a rough idea of their skills and areas of expertise. We agreed that we would need to harness the knowledge and talent to break the task down before us into manageable chunks — what was really brought home to me in the discussions was just how mammoth an endeavour this is going to be, how the problems with the GRA’s conflation of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ have crept into the analysis of and approach to so much other primary legislation, most notably the Equality Act 2010.But how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. It is easy to become paralysed by inertia when you are faced with a mountain to climb. I hope we can continue to harness the energy and the enthusiasm of all who came to the meeting. I asked everyone what their version of success looked like. Mine would be, at the end of 12 months to have a draft Bill to present to law and policy makers. But the simple fact that so many were willing to get together and talk openly about this, in the face of so many years of harassment and threats to our employment, even our basic liberty, that I think we had already achieved a significant victory.We ended the meeting by agreeing to meet again in July once the Government had clarified their own proposals for reform to the GRA. I promised to write up the meeting and start a data base of members and their skills.I set out below some of the particular issues that were raised in the discussions.

What would ‘success’ look like?

I think focus on ensuring ring fenced rights/protection for women/girls is my ultimate want, whether that’s via repeal or something else, but my tolerance for the push for self ID has evaporatedWe really need to establish a strong positive argument rather than negative argument: ie. pushing for repeal on the basis of also pushing to properly enforce the equality act & sex discrimination legislation in order to ensure gender nonconformity or ‘trans’ individuals to have the protections they already ought to have under sex-discriminationWe could argue that reform necessary because (1) Act out of date because a key reason for the GRA is no longer needed, because we now allow same sex marriage, and (2) difference between sex and gender needs making in GRA and strengthen EQA also to make single sex exemptions much clearer.The legal categories Woman and Man need to stay tied to biological reality i.e. female / male of any age. It might be good to have two legal ‘gender’ categories of Trans woman and Trans man. Gender Reassignment should allow a Man to change gender to Trans woman and a Woman to change gender to Trans man. No medical or surgical procedure necessary to switch to the Trans woman / Trans man gender. People with gender dysphoria will still need various kind of support but that can be handled separately. Trans woman and Trans man gender categories have legal recognition and protection from discrimination. But no access to single-sex rights so protection for women stays secureWhat are the red lines we want to put down to protect women including data collection/records of original sex — start from thereReally like Maya’s idea of protecting gender as a belief/religionRepeal the GRA, strengthen the EqA to protect people who do not present in stereotypical fashion by all means, but the word ‘gender’ should be removed from every statute.

Particular issues of concern

A clear theme was the dissatisfaction with the confusion around ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ and the lack of clarity about what actually was required for a man who wished to be seen as the opposite sex. There is no requirement for either medication or surgery even though it seems the framers of the GRA were clear that it was to benefit that very small number of people who would serious ‘commit’ to ‘sex reassignment’ — for e.g by modifying their bodies.What IS the protected characteristic of ‘gender re-assignment’ in the Equality Act? It does NOT require any medical or surgical intervention. Some argued that body modification ought to be a crtieria for a GRC, others were very strongly against that suggestion:As feminists we must ensure we don’t encourage physical or chemical changes to bodies — we think all bodies are perfect as they are and should not be mutilated to fit social expectationsPlease see the ECHR ruling Garçon and Nicot v France 1997 — France was found to have been in violation of Article 8. The ECHR ruled that any requirement for ‘sterilisation surgery or medical treatment entailing a very high probability of sterility — amounts to a failure by the respondent State to fulfil its positive obligation to secure their right to respect for their private lives.’ My understanding is that because of this ruling there would be no way of only allowing post-op transsexuals to be legally recognised as being the opposite sex to their actual sex.There was a degree of anger that we were being asked to accept a lie upon official documents or that original documents were being over written.I think anything that allows falsifying of a birth certificate is a safeguarding nightmare, and this is not pointed out enough.I think the crucial question is what does the GRA provide? The right to get a new birth certificate, which I think most people would say is not a right that is sensible or safe, especially in terms of safeguarding or fraud (see what has been going in Malta for example)We were told that the degree of secrecy around GRC made it easy for someone to hide their criminal past — apparently there is a ‘special phone number’ if carryng out DBS checks for someone with a GRC.Particular groups of people need protection against ‘the lie’ most notably the ‘transwidows’ who are facing coercion in to ‘same sex’ marriages.Another person mentioned concern for those with learning disabilties:One of my areas of interest is the effect on people with disabilities. I work with people with a learning disability (I’m an NHS Psychiatrist) and I’ve already had the situation of a severely disabled man becoming very anxious and distressed after one of his support workers “changed sex” i.e. had been working with him as a man, started presenting as a woman, being referred to by female name.I also work with many women with learning disability who become very distressed in the close presence of a male (for reasons of previous trauma), and would be further traumatised to be supported by a trans identified male (transwoman) but such women often have difficulty speaking up.

Historical Hansard debates

It was clear that those of us who hadn’t read the Hansard debates at the birth of the GRA needed to do so!If anyone here has not read Hansard, every problem we are currently having was warned about, and people were told ‘this will never happen’. Well, it HAS all happened. It is bad law, rewriting it won’t make it good law.The key debates are
https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/lords/2003/dec/18/gender-recognition-bill-hl
and
https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/2004/feb/23/gender-recognition-bill
And on no account should this amendment bill be allowed to be enacted:
https://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/2019-10-31/debates/B6FD969C-CF64-4F37-B676-FC1DFD97650E/GenderRecognitionAct2004(Amendment)Bill(HL)Good discussions in Mumsnet:
https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/womens_rights/3103653-Gender-Recognition-Bill-2004-Hansard-records

Next Steps

Can we hire MBM and a lawyer to work together to write a draft Bill? Crowdfunding costs
Sub groups to work on particular tasks is a good idea
We outline areas of the GRA such as cost, application, panel process, history and purpose etc — then write that up? — others have already done good work here; need to collect resources.
I hope we can use the good work already done from MayaThanks to all who have emailed me with details of your skill sets; I will collect the information and circulate it before next meeting. I am not naming people, but will set out what kind of skills we have access to in this group.We need to start thinking seriously about how to divide tasks up into smaller sub groups and consider setting up a website to share resources and knowledge.See you in July!

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