Edinburgh City Council criticised over response to Scottish Government’s gender recognition consultation

Critics have claimed that Edinburgh City Council’s response to the gender recognition consultation, which was published by the Scottish Government last week, does not reflect the views of local residents.

Friday, 10th September 2021, 12:24 pm

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The consultation will influence the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill which Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed is due to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament next year.

Currently, the gender recognition process for transgender people is underpinned by the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

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This Act requires applicants to submit a detailed medical report and evidence that they have been living in their “acquired gender” for at least two years to a gender recognition panel.

It has been criticised by LGBT+ organisations on the basis that it is too bureaucratic and medicalised.

Similar criticisms have led a number of European jurisdictions including Ireland, Denmark and Norway to move to a self-declaratory system where medical evidence is not required and the period of time applicants must have lived in their “acquired gender” is either shortened or abolished.

The government's Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill plans to introduce a similar self-declaratory system in Scotland.

Any Scottish citizen over the age of 16 could be granted legal gender recognition after living in their “acquired gender” for three months and after a three-month post-application “reflection period”.

What was the council’s response?

Edinburgh City Council said reform would make legal gender recognition a more straightforward process which will relieve a lot of stress for many transgender people, who will no longer need to gather evidence and medical reports in order to self identify.

The council noted areas of the draft Bill needing further consultation, including consideration given to people identifying as non-binary.

The council’s response read: “Although this Bill represents an improvement in transgender people’s rights, there are gaps with regards to non-binary people (those who do not identify as exclusively male or female). Consideration should be given to the recognition of non-binary identities.

The council also questioned the current draft bill’s proposal that a gender recognition certificate will only be granted if the applicant states that they have been living in their acquired gender for three months prior to the date of application and intend to continue to live in their acquired gender permanently.

The council’s response read: “We note further consideration could be given as to whether any time period at all should be a requirement.”

It went on to state young people under the age of 16 should be able to update their birth certificate as long as they have a guardian’s support.

The current draft Bill proposes to change the law so that 16 and 17 year olds will be able to apply for legal gender recognition.

The council’s response read: “Transgender children and young people under the age of 16 should similarly be able to update their birth certificates with the aid of parental or guardian support. This would match with their existing ability to change their sex on their school records, medical records and passport. Often children and young people under 16 need to use their birth certificate more than adults do in engaging with council services so being able to change it is beneficial.”

The council’s response to the consultation on reforming Scotland’s gender recognition laws was published alongside several other organisation responses by the government on Tuesday, September 2.

The government has confirmed that the majority of organisations responding to the consultation, which ran from December 2019 to March 2020, broadly supported the change to a statutory declaration-based system.

However, no percentages were given for how many individual respondents supported the move, or were against it.

Council’s response called disturbing by critic

Edinburgh citizen Maggie Mellon has accused the council of not fairly presenting the Capital’s views in this submission.

She said: “I was very disturbed to read Edinburgh Council’s submission wholeheartedly supporting this change.

“Our council was one of the reported majority of all groups responding who favoured this change to the law.

“I don’t believe that the citizens of Edinburgh who elect this council have any idea that the council took this view."

Ms Mellon went on to highlight the issues the reforms could cause for women's safety if safe spaces such as bathrooms and changing rooms could be affected.

But Edinburgh City Council said women-only services and safe spaces will not be impacted by this reform.

The council’s response read: “Access to single-sex council run spaces and facilities, such as toilets, changing rooms, and women-only services will not be impacted. Nobody is required to show a birth certificate to prove their eligibility for these spaces or services now, and this will not change.

“How someone applies for gender recognition – or whether their birth certificate matches who they are – does not impact on their access to single sex spaces, or anything else that does not require a birth certificate.”

What do individual councillors think of the response?

On Tuesday, February 25, the council’s Policy and Sustainability Committee voted on this response. In this meeting councillor Sue Webber raised concerns about the report.

She said: “I do have serious misgivings, I have interpreted this as a political bias submission based on the views of the current administration.

“Given the very different and often polarising views I would like to reinforce the importance that this council remains neutral, this is key.

“We the council are here to provide services and support to all of our citizens and as such a neutral view should be adopted.”

Councillors Alex Staniforth and Adam McVey rejected Ms Webber’s comments and said the response was not biased.

Councillor Robert Aldridge spoke out in support of the response and said that on issues of human rights the council should not be neutral.

He said: “In matters of inequality the last thing the council should be is neutral.”

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