Gender switch law will let Scottish 15-year-olds start process

Sturgeon may have to 'water down gender law changes’ says pundit

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Scottish children as young as 15 will be able to begin the process of changing gender if controversial reforms are agreed by MSPs at Holyrood today. The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill will remove the requirement for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria currently required to receive a gender recognition certificate (GRC).

It would also lower the minimum age for applicants to 16 and drop the time required for an applicant to live in their acquired gender from two years to three months – six for people aged 16 and 17 – though with a three-month reflection period.

Shona Robison, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government and an SNP ally of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, has said time spent living in an “acquired gender” as a 15-year-old would count towards the six-month period.

MSPs will consider the last of the 153 amendments lodged at stage three of the Bill – following a marathon session of parliament on Tuesday which saw members sitting until just after midnight – prior to a final vote this afternoon.

MSPs yesterday backed a change tabled by SNP MSP Gillian Martin to the law meaning anyone subject to a sexual harm prevention order or sexual offences prevention order would not be allowed to seek a GRC.

Meanwhile, a push by fellow SNP MSP to ensure applications would be paused if an applicant was charged with a sexual offence until their case was disposed off divided members by 61 votes to 61 – at which point customary Deputy Presiding Officer Liam McArthur used his casting vote against the change.

Tuesday’s sitting was marred by protests from the public gallery, with opponents to the Bill shouting “shame on all of you” as another amendment that would make it harder for sex offenders to apply for a GRC was voted down.

It also seemed Scottish Tories were trying to drag proceedings out, tabling four amendments to the agenda from four members, forcing a vote on the timetable for the consideration of amendments, raising a further motion which MSPs had to vote on and a number of points of order – all before the debate on the amendments had actually started.

The party also opted to push amendments to a vote, even when the proposer of the changes did not.

The Bill has been one of the most controversial in Holyrood since devolution, with opponents raising concerns over its impact to the safety of women and girls.

However, the Scottish Government insists the legislation will not impact the Equality Act, which allows for trans people to be excluded from single-sex spaces such as changing rooms and shelters, something that was affirmed by an earlier amendment from Labour’s Pam Duncan-Glancy.

Despite the controversy, the Bill is likely to pass due to its support within the SNP, Greens, Labour and Lib Dems.

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But its passage could raise further disciplinary issues within the SNP, with seven MSPs from the ruling party voting against it – including minister Ash Regan, who was forced to quit – and two others abstaining at stage one.

Ms Regan said during the consideration of amendments that she would not be supporting the Bill, while fellow SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson hinted he would again rebel against the Bill, and Fergus Ewing and Michelle Thomson spoke in favour of amendments the Scottish Government opposed.

Speaking ahead of the final consideration of the Bill, Ms Robison urged fellow MSPs to back the legislation.

She said: “Today marks the culmination of a six-year process of consultation and policy development to simplify and improve the process for trans men and women to obtain legal recognition through a GRC.

“If parliament approves this Bill, it will be taking a significant step forward in creating a more equal Scotland, where trans people feel valued, included and empowered.”

She added: “Trans rights are not in competition with women’s rights, and as we have seen in the past, rights can be improved for everyone when those discriminated against and who face prejudice work together as allies.

“These reforms are supported by a majority in parliament and members of all parties. I urge all members to vote in favour of these important reforms on what will be an historic day for equality in Scotland.”

For Women Scotland, a campaign group whose stated aim is “working to protect and strengthen women and children’s rights”, will stage a demonstration against the legislation outside Holyrood this afternoon.

A statement on its website explained: “Come and tell your MSPs what you think of them rushing through legislation that the Scottish public does not want and which will undermine the rights of women and children.”

Among those speaking at the event will be Joanna Cherry KC, the SNP MP for Edinburgh South West, who tweeted: “I will speak at this rally tomorrow in support of SNP MSP colleagues & others concerned that this bill contains insufficient safeguards against misuse & cd adversely impact the sex-based rights of women & #LGB people. For me this a matter of conscience.”

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