The U.K. government published its long-awaited response to a public debate over the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) Tuesday, prompting mixed reactions from LGBT and trans-inclusive charities. The GRA has been at the center of headlines—and consternation—since a public consultation to potentially broaden the GRA’s mandate opened in England and Wales in 2018. The consultation consisted of a questionnaire about the legal process of changing gender, and received more than 100,000 responses.
“Generally, the response from the government is really lackluster,” says Cara English, head of public engagement at Gendered Intelligence, a trans-led charity supporting the community, and in particular trans youth across the U.K. “It hasn’t fully addressed the things that need to change… It has offered us small piecemeal concessions to try to placate us.”
What is the Gender Recognition Act?
The 2004 Act set out the legal process through which a person must go through to change their gender on their birth certificate. This is not an identity document but is important for some trans people, as it means they can legally get married and be buried in their preferred gender. Government figures suggest that since 2004, less than 5,000 trans people in the U.K. have been issued with a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) under the GRA.
Currently, GRA requirements include a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and proof of a person having lived in their preferred gender for at least two years before their birth certificate can be changed. Campaigners have said that this is invasive, and places trans people in the uncomfortable position of having to “prove” their gender to an independent panel of strangers.
The government’s response to the consultation
A statement from Women and Equalities Minister Liz Truss outlined Tuesday the government’s position, promising a “kinder and more straightforward” process for people applying for a GRC. Truss outlined steps to streamline the application process, referred to increased capacity for trans-related healthcare, and reaffirmed commitment to the 2010 Equality Act, which protects transgender people against discrimination.
Addressing complaints from the trans community that the current GRC process is too bureaucratic and expensive, Truss said that while an independent panel will still consider applicants’ paperwork, GRC applications will now be filed online, and the fee will be reduced from £140 ($180) to a “nominal amount.”
But while some campaigners have called it a small step forward, others believe there’s much more work to be done. “The fact that there is still a price on it is embarrassing, frankly,” English tells TIME. “It’s still going to be inaccessible to huge swaths of the trans population who are historically excluded from work through wider societal exclusion.” The government’s response also did not mention the legal recognition of non-binary people, which campaigners say will inhibit their ability to be recognized and live fully in their true identity.
And the government’s GRA response only addresses the legal processes for adults, despite calls from campaigners that the age a person can start their gender recognition process be lowered from 18 to 16. “It’s important that we do acknowledge that there has been progress today and that needs to be celebrated,” says Lui Asquith, Director of Policy and Legal at Mermaids, a charity supporting transgender children and teenagers. “But it’s also important to acknowledge that a lot of people may be looking at the response with disappointment because they were hoping for more.”
Earlier this year, the devolved government in Scotland floated progressive proposals to reform the GRA, eliminating the medical requirements of the process, as other countries including the Republic of Ireland, Norway, Malta, and Argentina, as well as the state of California, have done. Truss did not outline any changes in this vein, despite longstanding calls for change from trans campaigners. “It doesn’t sit well with trans people,” says English. “Gender dysphoria has been declassified as a mental disorder, but the government is still calling on [changing gender] to be a medical process for no discernible reason other than gatekeeping”.
Of the more than 100,000 respondents to the GRA consultation, nearly two thirds called for called for the requirement for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria to be remove, and four in five supported the removal of the requirement for a medical report detailing all treatment.
More to be done for trans rights
Campaigners say that since the GRA consultation opened in 2018, the “debate” around transgender rights in the U.K. has become toxic, particularly in online forums, and has distracted from the material reality of the challenges trans people face in their every day life. “We are really conscious that this debate around the GRA has been harmful for trans communities,” says Nancy Kelley, CEO at LGBT charity Stonewall. “I think what’s really important is that we bring the focus back on trans people, and listen to what they tell us would make a real difference in their lives.”
Current campaigns at Gendered Intelligence, Mermaids and Stonewall all focus on equitable access to healthcare for trans and non-binary people in the U.K., as waiting lists for trans-related healthcare and gender identity treatment can take years. “There does still remain large parts of the trans experience in the U.K. which are colored by darkness, a lack of funding and a lack of capacity given to healthcare services for trans people across the entire U.K.,” says English, adding that in this context, the GRA responses from the government don’t really amount to much. Truss’ statement included the news that three new gender identity clinics will be opened in the U.K., which had already been announced by the U.K.’s National Health Service earlier in the year. “I do think and hope that if the GRA consultation and the entire rigmarole following it had been successful in anything, it’s drawing attention to the shortcomings of the NHS,” says English.
In terms of broader discrimination, gender reassignment is also a protected characteristic under the U.K.’s 2010 Equality Act, protecting trans people from discrimination in the workplace, in education, as a consumer and when using public services. But while in 2012 the U.K.’s hate crime laws were also extended to cover transphobic violence, in 2019 hate crimes against transgender people recorded by police increased by a staggering 81%.
For campaigners, the government’s GRA response marks a small moment of progress, but there’s still a long way to go. Today, more than fifty 50 trans, LGBT+ and ally organizations released a collaborative campaign called #TogetherForTrans, highlighting the broader inequalities trans people face. “LGBT rights has never been a sprint,” says Asquith. “It’s always been a marathon, and this is part of that marathon.”