The “period of reflection” a person wishing to change gender must observe before obtaining a gender recognition certificate is unnecessary, according to the equality watchdog.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission spells out its opposition in its submission to the government’s controversial consultation on the Gender Recognition Act, which was due to close on Friday, but has been extended until noon on Monday due to the high number of submissions.
While its thinking is in line with that of leading human rights groups, including Amnesty International, women’s organisations believe dispensing with a period of reflection would be a retrograde measure.
WomansPlaceUK believes a gap of one to two years before applying for, and obtaining, a certificate is essential, as it would “protect and support the applicant in making the right decision for themselves and for society in general, demonstrate sincerity and commitment to the change [and] enable the applicant to be confident in their final decision”.
Moves to reform the act to make it easier for a person to self-identify have sparked a fierce debate between transgender campaigners and feminist groups who fear its impact on women-only services and spaces.
David Isaac, who chairs the commission, last night appealed for “all voices to be heard”, an acknowledgment of concerns that the debate was being stifled amid claims of intimidation and harassment.
The commission response calls for the period of reflection to be scrapped, providing “the process of acquiring a GRC [gender recognition certificate] is designed in such a way as to ensure that applicants demonstrate that they fully understand the legal, social and personal implications of a legal change in status”.
According to Stonewall, under the current act, trans people “have to go through a series of intrusive medical assessments and long, demeaning interviews with psychiatrists in order to ‘prove’ their gender identity”.
They need to provide evidence they have obtained a formal diagnosis of “gender dysphoria” and have lived in their “acquired gender” for two years to a panel of clinicians who have never met the applicant.
The commission supports the de-medicalising of the process for obtaining a certificate and argues that the panel should be replaced with a face-to-face meeting with a suitably qualified person, such as a registrar.
“The process of engaging with this meeting will help to ensure that adequate reflection has taken place,” it says. It would be the registrar’s job to ensure that the applicant fully understood the legal, social and personal consequences of their actions.
“Rights for trans people must now be advanced, and in a way that allows the views of people with different perspectives to be heard with due consideration. This has always been the case when the rights of protected groups are being debated,” Isaac said.
“Even if the discussion is uncomfortable at times, freedom of speech requires this. We must find a way forward together.”