Stonewall has been sending out alarmist emails to MPs which misrepresent the law.
On 9th January Kemi Badenoch, the Minister for Women and Equalities, announced that the government would be updating its list of approved overseas countries and territories for gender-recognition certificates. She explained:
“There are now some countries and territories on the list who have made changes to their systems since then and would not now be considered to have equivalently rigorous systems. It should not be possible for a person who would not satisfy the criteria to obtain UK legal gender recognition to use the overseas recognition route to obtain a UK Gender Recognition Certificate. This would damage the integrity and credibility of the process of the Gender Recognition Act.”
Stonewall and its allied organisations responded with hyperbole, calling this a “trans travel ban” and saying that the UK was “ending reciprocal recognition of Gender Recognition Certificates”. Stonewall said:
“Trans people from countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand have had their gender recognition certificates respected by the UK for years. Seeking to end this system is an extraordinary move, not based on evidence or experience, that will effectively serve as a ‘trans travel ban’.”
In a letter that it has already managed to persuade over 9,000 supporters to send to MPs, it says:
“But now the UK Government is seeking to overturn decades of mutual recognition with some of our closest allies, and no longer respect their legal processes of gender recognition. This spiteful action will only affect a tiny number of trans people who have come to make their lives in the UK, but it will have profound negative impacts on them.”
Of course this is no “reciprocal recognition” scheme being abolished, and no impacts at all on people from overseas who already have got UK GRCs via the overseas track.
And Stonewall knows it. As Stonewall Scotland set out clearly enough in its response to the Scottish consultation:
“At present, those who have obtained gender recognition outwith the United Kingdom must make a further application under the ‘overseas route’ of the 2004 Act if the recognition was obtained in an ‘approved country or territory’, as detailed by the Gender Recognition (Approved Countries and Territories) Order 2011 (S.I. 2011/1630). This system is in place to ensure that trans people from overseas must meet similarly stringent requirements of the 2004 Act to be legally recognised in the United Kingdom.“
As Lord Filkin stated in the House of Lords at the time of the GRA’s enactment:
“Clause 21(1) provides that a person will not be regarded as having changed gender solely by virtue of having changed gender under the law of another country or territory. This is necessary because standards for recognition are not uniform throughout the world, and we wish to ensure that the UK grants recognition only to those individuals who have recognition in a country or territory with criteria at least as rigorous as our own.
“Where other countries’ criteria are as rigorous as our own, people in that position should receive recognition under a simpler process, and this is provided in Clause 1(1)(b). Conversely, if the recognition is from a country or territory with criteria that do not meet our standards, we believe that, to gain recognition in this country, an individual should have to apply in the standard way, with the gender recognition panels scrutinising a full set of evidence.”
The last time the approved countries list was updated was 2011, when the Justice Minister also emphasised that the aim was to provide a streamlined system of gender recognition for people who had undergone overseas gender-recognition processes “equivalent to our own”
“The intention of the overseas application process is to minimise bureaucracy without compromising the integrity of the criteria set out in the Act. When the Act was passed, Parliament was mindful of the danger of creating a system which might allow transsexual people who could not meet the criteria in the Act to effectively sidestep those criteria. Such people might travel overseas to obtain gender recognition in a country with weaker criteria and then obtain legal recognition in the UK by virtue of that overseas recognition. This would have undermined the robust criteria in the Act agreed by Parliament.”
Stonewall’s letter argues that updating the overseas list in line with the legislation and failing to wave through Scotland’s changes to the Gender Recognition Act is not showing enough “respect for trans people”; “will actively harm the UK’s international reputation as an open, diverse and dynamic society”; and will “threaten relationships” with some of the country’s closest allies.
Anyone who has been subject to a campaign of complaints at work for refusing to toe the Stonewall line will recognise the tone of these arguments.
The UK government should stand up to this bullying and act with responsibility, seriousness and courage to protect the integrity of UK law-making.
It is absolutely clear (as Michael Foran sets out in a new report for Policy Exchange, and Naomi Cunningham does in Scottish Legal News) that the Gender Recognition Act has both reserved and devolved aspects. Changes that effect the operation of UK-wide laws should be made democratically by Parliament.
One Scottish politician eloquently made a similar point in 2004, arguing against the GRA:
“First, the bill deals with many complex matters of law that are devolved to the Parliament. For example, the bill will create a new ground for divorce under Scots law, which is no small matter. The bill will also have significant implications for the law in Scotland that relates to sexual offences. For that reason, if for no other, the bill requires detailed scrutiny in the Parliament, where responsibility lies.
“… If we agree to the motion and pass legislative responsibility to Westminster, all opportunity for debate and scrutiny in this Parliament will be lost. A debate of 45 minutes in committee and of 20 or 25 minutes in the chamber on a bill that is as complex and important as the Gender Recognition Bill is not enough. The bill merits much greater scrutiny and debate.”
Nicola Sturgeon’s point that there should be detailed scrutiny and democratic debate where responsibility lies is still a good one. Stonewall’s alarmist disinformation is not.
To counter Stonewall’s scaremongering, use our one-minute tool to email your MP today.