Lib Dem MSPs back Gender Recognition Bill

Scottish leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has posted the following explaining why all the Liberal Democrat MSPs have been voting in favour of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill:

At the conclusion of Stage 3 proceedings, all of our Scottish Liberal Democrat MSPs will vote for the Gender Recognition Reform Bill in the Scottish Parliament. It was a commitment in our election manifestos for the past two Holyrood elections, it honours party policy made by our conference and it is the right thing to do.

We support reform because we believe the prolonged and intrusive medicalised approach currently in place can cause trauma to trans people who just simply want to have their gender recognised on the documents they are required to hold. Ultimately the decision about someone’s identity should lie with that person and not with a panel of strangers they have never met.

It is important to state that Scotland is not a pioneer in this reform. Over 350 million people now live in countries where gender recognition is obtained through self ID. They are following international best practice laid out both by the Council of Europe and the United Nations.

Opponents to reform express real concern over access to single sex spaces and women’s safety. I want to address this directly.

Violence against women is a matter of huge importance and concern to me, that is why I established a Commission on Men’s Violence at our conference in October, but I am clear that no provision around the changes to gender recognition in this Bill create a new or additional threat to women. Put simply, making it easier to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate does not change who can, or is likely to, access single sex spaces.

No single sex or protected spaces currently require the presentation of a Gender Recognition Certificate or a birth certificate for entry, indeed neither are seen as a valid form of ID. Instead, trained staff undertake a dynamic risk assessment as to whether it is appropriate to grant admission to that person. That goes for prisons as well.

In the many countries that have gone before us there is no evidential base of the abuse of the Gender Recognition system by predatory men, nor have those countries sought to repeal that legislation. In Ireland where this reform has been in place for 7 years, ministers have the power to revoke a certificate if information comes to light that would have barred the holder from obtaining one in the first place. No certificate there has ever been revoked.

Additionally, these reforms are about the obtaining of a Gender Recognition Certificate, not about the age at which young people can surgically transition or the administration of puberty blockers. That is certainly an important and live discussion, but it is not this discussion.

If we credit 16-year-olds with the mental capacity to make many life-changing decisions in our society, including marriage and armed service then we should trust them and credit them with the mental capacity to understand who they are and to seek to have their identity recognised in the documents they are required to possess.

There has been a lot of coverage in the last 24 hours about amendments around how the new scheme will apply to those accused or convicted of sexual offences. I want to address that directly.

Throughout the consideration of this Bill our party has sought to resist attempts to use gender recognition as a tool of sanction or punishment. Gender Recognition is a human right and to bar an offender or accused from accessing that right either permanently or while their guilt is tested, would be to add a layer of punishment beyond that normally handed down or it would infer guilt before justice had taken its course. It also suggests that granting a GRC will allow those people to access spaces and people they cannot currently reach. It will not.

In order to help prevent the possibility of fraud, and to strengthen confidence in the bill as regards safety we backed amendments in the name of Gillian Martin MSP at stage 3, these amendments mean that the Chief Constable of Police Scotland will be able to ask the Registrar General to take no further action on an application where they have placed a sexual harm prevention order or a sexual offences prevention order on an applicant, until the order has ceased to have an effect.

This is a proportionate approach which prevents those seeking to exploit the system from doing so, whilst ensuring human rights are not breached and that those who are genuinely applying for a GRC will not face any stigma when applying. These amendments enjoyed widespread support including from the trans community and they ensure legislative compatibility with international human rights legislation.

This law has been a long time coming. The original work behind the scrutiny of the legislation began some time before the pandemic and continues to this day, it has taken longer to transit Parliament than any legislation I can remember. In many ways I’m frustrated by this delay, not least because it has stalled reform and allowed a good deal of heat and hate to seep into our considerations. I am heart saddened by this. It has divided families, communities and political parties. Ours is no exception.

I am aware that there are members of our party who are not persuaded by the need for these reforms and will be struggling with the position of our parliamentary party today. I want to say to them that I am a Liberal Democrat in large part, because we are a plurality. This discussion will continue, of that there is no doubt, and while our party policy on Gender Recognition and support for the trans and non-binary community is clear and established by our membership that doesn’t mean I will turn away or shut down those who still have questions or concerns.

It is perhaps worth adding one note about the phrase ‘self ID’ as I’ve found some people tend to misunderstand it. Even with ‘self ID’ such as that set out in the Scottish legislation, there are still significant steps that have to be taken and repercussions for abuse of the process. It’s more a case of ‘sensibly more straightforward ID that treats people with respect’, but that is of course rather a mouthful.

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2 responses to “Lib Dem MSPs back Gender Recognition Bill”

  1. Thank you for this comprehensive and thoughtful explanation of our MSPs’ position on the matter. It has helped to clear a few doubts I might have had and I wholeheartedly support it.

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