Scottish Government postpones transgender law reforms

(Photo: Unsplash/Adam Wilson)

The Scottish Government has paused controversial plans to change the law so that people can more easily receive legal recognition for the gender they identify as.

The proposed reforms to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act would allow people to legally change genders without the need for psychiatric and medical reports. 

The Scottish Government also wants to reduce the current two year period that transgender people must live in their acquired gender down to three months.

The reforms have been challenged by women's groups who fear that the safety of women and girls will be compromised if people are allowed to self-declare their gender. Some SNP politicians have also opposed the move.

A consultation into the proposals that received over 15,000 responses revealed concerns that women would be put at risk if they were forced to share toilets, changing rooms, hospital wards and shelters with those who self-identify as women.

The Scottish Government's own report into the consultation findings said: "Where respondents explained their concerns, it was often to suggest that the proposal would allow 'any man', 'predatory men' or 'biological men' to gain access to women's spaces where they could pose a potential threat to women's safety. 

"More specific concerns were raised that trans women would be eligible to take natal women's places on all women shortlists, on the boards of public bodies, or for other employment, quotas or awards.

"Potential problems for the future of women's sport were noted, including at both a professional and amateur level."

Some women's groups criticised the consultation process, questioning why the Scottish Government had not carried out an assessment into how the changes would impact women and girls. 

READ MORE: People shouldn't be branded bigots for questioning transgenderism, says MSP

On Thursday, Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said that the Scottish Government was still committed to making it easier for transgender people to be legally recognised as their "lived gender", but that a new consultation would be opened up into the "precise details" of the legislation.

She also promised that a "comprehensive" Equality Impact Assessment would be undertaken to "ensure that all rights are protected in a balanced way". 

Ms Somerville said that the legislation would be put to MSPs once the Scottish Government was "content that responses have been analysed, concerns allayed and that we can introduce a Bill that has the support of this Parliament and the public".

In an unexpected U-turn, she went on to say that controversial school guidance drawn up by LGBT Youth Scotland in partnership with the Scottish Trans Alliance would no longer be used and that the Scottish Government would issue its own new guidance to schools on transgenderism before the end of the year. 

The surprise reversal comes after the Scottish Government previously said it would not carry out any review into the guidance following complaints from feminist groups.

Scotland's Children's Commissioner Máire McCormack had also expressed reservations about the guidance, saying in a letter to Scottish Equalities Minister Christina McKelvie that she had received "a number of complaints" about the guidance and that it could be in contravention of the Equality Act and Scotland's international human rights obligations.

Explaining the decision to abandon the guidance, Ms Somerville said there were "valid concerns" that the "good general principle of inclusivity ... risks potentially excluding other girls from female-only spaces".

"That cannot be right," she said.