Support trans people: respond to the GRA consultation

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

As a cisgender person, it’s hard to talk about trans rights in the UK without sounding either like a patronising arse (of course trans people should be able to access their rights! Don’t you realise trans people are people too?) or like I’m fishing for some kind of medal (of course trans people should be able to access their rights! Where’s my cookie?). As a result, I end up doing a weird fudge where I retweet links to things like the GRA consultation without ever writing about it in depth, because all the words I bash out onto the page seem like arsery or medal-fishing. But there are only a few days left to fill out the GRA consultation, and this is one of those rare opportunities where you get to spend a little bit of time making a tangible difference to something important, so here goes.

What is the GRA consultation?

GRA stands for Gender Recognition Act, and it sets out the method by which trans people can get legal recognition for their gender. It is basically a formal process by which you go about getting the ‘M’ on your birth certificate changed to ‘F’, or vice versa. In order to do this at the moment, you need:

1. A medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria

2. A report from a medical professional detailing any medical treatment

3. Proof of having lived for at least two years in their acquired gender through, for example, bank statements, payslips and a passport

4. A statutory declaration that they intend to live in the acquired gender until death

5. If married, the consent of their spouse

6. Payment of a fee of £140 (or proof of low income for reduction/removal of the fee)

7. Submission of this documentation to a Panel, which the applicant does not meet in person

I bang on quite a lot about how irritating it is to have other people try and tell me what a woman should be or what a ‘real’ man is like. I can only imagine how frustrating, heartbreaking and dehumanising it is to not only have all the bullshit societal expectations of ‘womanhood’ or ‘manliness’ shoved into your face every day, but to also have to actively try and persuade a panel of faceless strangers that you are ‘enough of a woman/man’ that they should recognise you as such. Not only that, but you also have to get a medical diagnosis and the consent of your spouse!What’s more, at the moment the law recognises men and women (trans or cisgender) but doesn’t recognise non-binary people at all! This is some archaic, discriminatory bullshit.

Luckily for me, and you, and all of us, the government basically agrees. They announced their intentions to change the GRA a while ago, and for a short period of time it felt like a done deal. Human rights groups agree that self-determination (the proposed update to the GRA requirements) is the best way to enshrine trans people’s rights in law.

But… isn’t changing the GRA really controversial?

Not really, no. It’s only controversial if you either don’t understand what’s being proposed, or you don’t think that trans people deserve the same rights as cisgender people. When the consultation on changes to the GRA was initially proposed, it was broadly welcomed by – click the link above – human rights groups, LBGT groups like Stonewall, and many others. It only seems controversial because as the consultation deadline looms, those who disagree with the changes are becoming more vocal.

The key criticisms of changes to the GRA essentially boil down to ‘but trans women might be able to access women’s services now!’ Firstly, this is a bizarre thing to raise as a criticism – trans women absolutely should be able to access women’s services! Being trans doesn’t stop you from needing to do all the boring things in life like pop into the M&S changing rooms to try on a pair of jeans or go for a wee in a train station toilet. It actually means you are more likely to require access to certain women’s services – like rape or domestic violence shelters – because transphobia means that trans people are at higher risk of these things. The only response I can really muster when people say ‘but trans women will be able to access women’s services!’ is: good. They need them.

Secondly, it’s a completely irrelevant criticism: changing the GRA will actually make zero difference to whether trans people can access services. The provisions for that are laid out under the 2010 Equality Act, which is not going to change. Trans people are already allowed by law to use toilets, changing rooms, rape crisis centres and other places – they do not need to show their birth certificate. If you are genuinely concerned about these issues, read this document put together by women’s groups in Scotland when the discussion was happening there, in which they explain that they have been providing for trans clients for a very long time, and changing the GRA won’t make a difference to this.

How long does it take to fill out the GRA consultation?

It  took me 50 minutes to fill out the GRA consultation on the UK government website. If you knock off the 10 minute coffee-and-a-fag break I had partway through, that’s just 40 minutes, which is less time than it takes to watch an episode of Butterfly. As you’ll know if you’re a regular reader, I am a waffly, wordy person, so I suspect your average person could do it in 10-15 minutes. Sure, it still takes longer than signing your average petition, but most petitions I’ve signed end up getting a dismissive response from some junior cabinet minister before being chucked in the bin: this consultation is something the government is actively soliciting your thoughts on, and something they will genuinely act upon. What’s more, if you have a salaried job, you can probably get away with doing it during work time, thus ensuring you actually get paid to fill it in. Win!

Is it difficult to fill out the GRA consultation?

Nope! In fact, Stonewall has an excellent guide that talks you through some of the answers – you can either read through it as you fill out the GRA form on the government website or you can just fill in the boxes on Stonewall’s site and they’ll send it to the government for you.

I’m still not convinced. Isn’t this all really confusing?

It wasn’t that confusing until anti-trans groups started muddying the waters and the media got their claws into a clickworthy moral panic, so let’s just go back to the very basics. Ask yourself the question: should trans people, in order to change the sex on their birth certificate, be required to:

1. Persuade a doctor to diagnose them with ‘gender dysphoria’, essentially forcing them to say that they are ‘ill’ in some way?

2. Get a report from a medical professional detailing any medical treatment, essentially forcing them to have some kind of medical treatment in order to be recognised as their authentic self?

3. Live for at least two years in their real gender, including gathering bank statements, payslips and a passport? Essentially forcing them to prove they can be accepted as their true gender, before the government agrees to accept them as their true gender?

4. Declare that they intend to live in their acquired gender until death?

5. Get permission from their spouse, thus potentially opening the door for their spouse to say ‘no’, and trap them in a life that they do not want?

6. Pay £140 (or offer proof of low income for reduction/removal of the fee)?

7. Submit to a panel of people, who they do not get to meet, so that the panel can pick over their life to decide if they have demonstrated they are ‘woman’ or ‘man’ enough to have their birth certificate changed?

These aren’t ‘either/or’ options: you have to do all of this to get your birth certificate changed at the moment. So you don’t need to disagree with all of them: if you think any of them are unreasonable, fill out the consultation safe in the knowledge that you are doing the right thing.

I’d like to learn more about this!

Sweet! Here are some more things to get stuck into:

Stonewall’s overview of the changes, and links to further reading

Mermaids’ guide to GRA responses with info on how and why to respond

Meg-John and Justin’s podcast about changes to the GRA

Shon Faye explains why supporting the changes is vital

(If there’s anything else I should signpost here please do let me know! Links in comments are automatically held back but I’ll check in and approve/add at least once a day)

I strongly disagree with you and I would like to leave an angry comment.

Be my guest.

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