MSPs raise concern over 'misleading' claims on gender recognition act

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 26 April 2019 in News

Intervention comes after high profile SNP politicians signed an open letter arguing that changes to the Gender Recognition Act require greater scrutiny

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Four MSPs from the equalities committee have warned their convener risks undermining confidence in their work by raising “misleading” concerns over plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act.

The intervention comes after a group of high profile SNP politicians, including three current government ministers, as well as the convener of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, signed an open letter arguing that changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) require greater scrutiny.

Although trans people can already change their gender on driving licenses, passports, and school and medical records, the proposed changes to the GRA would allow birth certificates to be updated without a psychiatric diagnosis.

Raising concern over the proposed changes in an open letter, equalities committee convener Ruth Maguire joined Kate Forbes, Ash Denham and Ivan McKee in warning: “Conflating sex with gender identification affects a wide range of policy and service delivery, including data collection, education, health and social care, justice and sport. New information about this topic is emerging all the time and deserves to be properly scrutinized.”

The letter adds: “Changing the definition of male and female is a matter of profound significance. It is not something we should rush.”

But responding, Scottish Lib Dem Alex Cole-Hamilton, Conservatives Oliver Mundell and Annie Wells, and Scottish Labour’s Mary Fee said the letter had been “received with concern by stakeholders in the LGBTI community and that has the potential to undermine their confidence in the wider work of our committee”.

The letter from committee members, sent to the Scotsman, says: “Ours represents the majority view of the committee and is offered in good faith and a shared desire to remove hostility from the debate and to foster a neutral space in which all arguments can be respectfully heard.”

It says: “We would respectfully point out that UK legislation already uses sex and gender interchangeably as terms in law. As such, we would argue that an imperative exists to update and modify gender recognition legislation to provide greater clarity and certainty around rights and protections.”

It adds: “This subject is undoubtedly a matter of profound significance, but we would suggest such language is misleading, given that proposals for reform of gender recognition legislation do not propose to change the meaning of the terms male or female.

“We would also argue that the current process of legal recognition of gender is harming vulnerable people right now and as such, attempts to provide greater clarity and inclusivity should not be forestalled.

“Naturally, we will all hold our own points of view on any given subject, but we also have a duty as committee members to help foster a respectful and neutral space in which all sides of any argument can be heard. That includes allowing the debate to proceed in the first place.

“Finally, our committee must seek to advance the rights and interests of all equalities groups and protected characteristics without preference or favour and we council our convener to proceed with caution in this matter. The open letter to which she is a signatory has been received with concern by stakeholders in the LGBTI community and that has the potential to undermine their confidence in the wider work of our committee.”

All parties pledged to update the act in their 2016 manifestos and the Scottish Government has consulted on the proposals since 2017. Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, Zero Tolerance, Engender, Equate Scotland, Close the Gap and the Women 5050 Campaign support the changes.

Maguire told the Scotsman. “I welcome the committee members’ calm and measured statement.”

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