Gender reform bill discriminates against women - Sue Webber

The First Minister’s bitter response to the resignation of Community Safety minister Ash Regan not only reveals the vicious treatment meted out to SNP dissenters, but confirms the huge fault lines running through the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.
Sue Webber MSP, Convener of the Education, Children and Young People CommitteeSue Webber MSP, Convener of the Education, Children and Young People Committee
Sue Webber MSP, Convener of the Education, Children and Young People Committee

For far too long has the SNP used London politics to divert attention from a track record of both poor service delivery and unnecessary and dangerous legislation, now there can be no-hiding place for Ms Sturgeon and the ill-considered GRR legislation debated in Holyrood yesterday.

Ms Regan has exposed what many have said for months, that the Scottish Government has barely entertained, never mind considered, real concerns shared by thousand and thousands of women about the erosion of equal rights we have only begun to take for granted after decades of struggle.

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If passed, this legislation will allow someone as young as 16 to be granted a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) and legally change their sex simply by claiming to have lived in their new sex for three months without producing any medical evidence of gender dysphoria.

The implications are far-reaching, and campaigners have pointed out it affects measures to tackle discrimination against women, like equal pay protections, and allows GRC to circumvent exclusion from single-sex spaces and services.

Even now such service providers, like violence refuge charities, fear applying existing exemption rights leave them open to legal action. To complicate matters further, strict privacy provisions will make disclosing a person has a GRC a criminal offence, effectively making single-sex provisions illegal.

The Bill’s intentions are good, but none of the unintended consequences are addressed and just as the SNP is determined to set aside the views of the vast majority to satisfy the demands of a small minority, it is only right that all likelihoods receive proper scrutiny.

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Is it acceptable, for example, that it could be illegal even to challenge a “male person’s” assertion that they have a right to be in a woman-only space?

The supposed safeguard is that false declarations will be a criminal offence, as if there is any way of proving someone wilfully declared their sex to be different. Who, facing prosecution, will confess, rather than just claiming they simply changed their mind? And which procurator is going to argue there is enough expectation of a successful prosecution in these circumstances to take such a case forward?

Yet the Bill is being presented as a beacon of modern, progressive Scotland, when thousands of people, gay or straight, know it to be the politics of the madhouse.

But it is a madness which is already having very serious consequences, in some cases causing irreparable damage to young people who, on reflection, realise that a condition needing medical intervention was instead a passing phase, where the emerging gay person is instead persuaded that something physically drastic is needed to achieve happiness and contentment.

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It results in allegations that organisations like LGBT Youth Scotland are offering to help provide breast binders for children.

NHS England is calling a halt to this, and following a damning report from former Royal College of Paediatrics president Dr Hilary Cass new draft guidance advises that “gender incongruence” does not usually persist into adulthood and all options should be properly explored. In Scotland we should be doing the same.

Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothians

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