Gender reform is about rights and democracy - Lorna Slater

The Scottish Government’s decision to challenge Westminster’s blocking of gender reform law is vital to protecting our democracy and the rights of trans people in Scotland.
Lorna Slater is the minister for green skills, circular economy and biodiversityLorna Slater is the minister for green skills, circular economy and biodiversity
Lorna Slater is the minister for green skills, circular economy and biodiversity

It is only four months since new laws improving the rights of transgender people were passed overwhelmingly by our Parliament.

It was a powerful crossparty moment, with two thirds of MSPs, from all five parties, coming together and voting to back this modest but crucial change.

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It was one of the most scrutinised Bills in the history of our Parliament and with over 100 amendments, we debated late into the night. These long sessions brought out the best and worst of our politics.

Some of the language may have been divisive, but the most toxic rhetoric was balanced by powerful and moving speeches from MSPs who spoke with honesty and vulnerability about the experiences of many of their constituents.

The Cabinet Secretary in charge at that time, Shona Robison, showed real leadership, but there were vital contributions from my Scottish Green colleague Maggie Chapman, SNP MSPs like Karen Adam, Labour MSPs like Monica Lennon and Tory justice spokesperson Jamie Greene.

Those contributions mattered because the right to be recognised as the people we are is a right that most of us can take for granted.

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Most of us will never have to go through bureaucratic hurdles or invasive screening processes to get that recognition. Neither will we have to worry about what name or gender will be on our marriage or death certificates or having to ‘out’ ourselves time and again.

At heart gender reform is a small step that can make a big difference to a small number of often vulnerable people who have been historically marginalised.

This isn’t the first time that the UK government has tried to overturn the decisions of our Parliament, but it is the first time they have tried to use the ‘nuclear option’ of a Section 35 Order.

If they are successful then it will do it again and again and further erode our devolution.

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That is why there is an onus on everyone who believes in equality or democracy to support this challenge. It is not acceptable for the Tories to block devolved law just because they disagree with it and because they can, having failed to engage with the Scottish Government over changes.

Only last week the UK Equalities Minister, Kemi Badenoch, said she was considering revisiting the Equality Act to ban trans people from accessing services and facilities they have been using for decades.

Trans people have waited too long for rights the rest of us already enjoy.

We may not be able to undo the years of pain and injustice that has been felt, but we can make sure that the society we build is better and more inclusive.

The first step has to be defending gender reform and our democracy.

Lorna Slater is the minister for green skills, circular economy and biodiversity

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