Women's groups raise concerns about GRA reform ahead of Holyrood committee appearance
Nine organisations that are opposed to reform of the Gender Recognition Act have written a joint letter to the parliament’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee warning that the bill being considered by MSPs “risks becoming bad law”.
Bayswater Support Group, Fair Play For Women, For Women Scotland, LGB Alliance Scotland, MurrayBlackburnMackenzie, Sole Sisters, Woman’s Place UK, Women and Girls in Scotland and Women Speak Scotland have written to committee convener Joe FitzPatrick ahead of some of their members appearing before the committee tomorrow.
Among the issues raised in the letter are what the signatories termed the Scottish Government’s “dismissal of concerns” raised about the potential impact the bill could have on women’s rights as well as a “failure to engender an atmosphere conducive to a civilised public debate”.
“The task facing MSPs due to the poor policy process behind this bill is unreasonably difficult and large. The atmosphere has been made worse by the government’s inaction and its own use of language,” they wrote.
“We hold the Scottish Government responsible for the atmosphere here. Claims it makes to have sought to build consensus here are patently untrue.
“Critics of proposals in the bill are often made to feel as though they are under more scrutiny for seeking to have a voice, than the government and its supporters are for their proposals to change the law.
“But the Scottish Government’s policy processes have been inadequate. We do not believe it understands what it is doing. The First Minister has asserted that criticisms are ‘not valid’ and reform ‘does not change in any way, shape or form any legal protections that women have’ without explaining why.
“As a result, as currently drafted the bill carries a high risk of becoming another piece of bad law, with unintended consequences which will be most damaging to women and to young people at their most vulnerable.”
Lucy Hunter Blackburn, policy analyst at MurrayBlackburnMackenzie, which will address the committee tomorrow, said that “as currently drafted” the legislation could have “unintended consequences which will be most damaging to women and to young people at their most vulnerable”.
“We hope MSPs from all parties will now engage seriously with this legislation in a way that has not yet been done,” she added.
Last week the committee heard how the proposed legislation could lead to trans people being harassed if a new criminal offence for falsely declaring gender identity was included.
Ellie Gomersall, president-elect of the National Union of Students in Scotland, told members that creating the new criminal offence may also deter some trans people from using the self-identification rules outlined in the bill.
The bill, which is intended to make it easier for trans people to change their legal sex, has cross-party support from all but the Scottish Conservatives and is backed by organisations including Stonewall but opposed by a raft if women’s groups who fear it could jeopardise the provision of single-sex spaces.
In last week’s committee session member Fulton MacGregor asked whether the creation of a new criminal offence that would punish false declarations would "provide some reassurance to those who have perhaps got concerns about the bill".
Gomersall said such false declarations would already be an offence under the Criminal Law Consolidation Scotland Act 1995 and that adding a new criminal offence “would probably act as a bit of a deterrent […] to trans people who would want to apply for a gender recognition certificate and potentially put people off applying who otherwise would”.
Earlier in the month Vic Valentine of the Scottish Trans Alliance told the committee that the current proposals do not make provision for non-binary people, noting that this is the aspect of the bill that "the whole of the trans community, including trans men and trans women, are most disappointed about".