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At Last, U.K. Gov Responds on Gender Recognition for Transgender People

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LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – SEPTEMBER 12, 2020: Transgender people and their supporters march through central London during the second Trans Pride protest march for equality on 12 September, 2020 in London, England. Protesters demand legal recognition for non-binary people, an end to non-consensual surgeries on intersex people, and a progressive reform of the UKs Gender Recognition Act the law that governs the way adult trans men and women gain legal recognition of their gender.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)




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.”

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