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UK equalities watchdog urges Scotland to pause gender recognition reforms


Campaigners criticise letter from Equality and Human Rights Commission as ‘troubling’

Wed 26 Jan 2022 16.54 EST

The UK’s equalities watchdog has written to the Scottish government asking it to pause plans to simplify the legal requirements for gender recognition.

LGBT+ equality campaigners hit back at the unexpected intervention by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, describing its approach as “deeply troubling” and “failing to stand up for equality for trans people”.

The EHRC, which monitors equality and human rights across England, Scotland and Wales, told Shona Robison, the minister responsible for the reforms, that “more detailed consideration” was required.

The Scottish government is expected to bring forward plans to introduce a simplified system by which transgender people can change the sex recorded on their birth certificate – known as self-identification – towards the end of February.

Proponents of the reforms underline that this change in the law does not affect the spaces or services transgender people use in their day-to-day lives, and would not see them gain any new rights in that regard that they do not already have.

Responding to the letter, the Scottish government emphasised that “our support for trans rights does not conflict with our continued strong commitment to advance equality and to protect and uphold women’s rights.”.

The LGBT rights charity Stonewall accused the commission of “calling for further delays to legislation that our communities have been waiting on for many years.”.

In a statement, the charity said: “We are deeply troubled by the approach that the EHRC is taking to trans people’s human rights. Their approach appears to focus on pleasing a noisy minority of anti-trans activists, rather than promoting human rights for all LGBTQ+ people.”

Tim Hopkins, director of the Scotland-wide Equality Network, questioned the independence of the EHRC from the UK government, which shelved plans for similar reforms to gender recognition legislation in 2020.

“Its board is directly appointed by Liz Truss and the UK government … We do not need UK government appointees telling us in Scotland how to legislate in devolved areas, and we look forward to the Scottish government proceeding with this legislation soon.”

Last year, the former head of the EHRC, David Isaac, suggested that the watchdog was being undermined by political pressure to support the UK government’s shift in equalities priorities away from gender and race.

The EHRC said on Wednesday that impartiality was “a core value” of the commission and that all decisions “are made independently of any government”.

The letter, sent from ECHR chair, Baroness Kishwer Falkner, to Robison on Wednesday afternoon, raised concern “at the polarised debate” around transgender law reform.

Kishwer Falkner wrote that “some lawyers, academics, data users and others have increasingly expressed concerns about the potential implications of changing the current criteria for obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate”.

“The potential consequences include those relating to the collection and use of data, participation and drug testing in competitive sport, measures to address barriers facing women, and practices within the criminal justice system, inter alia”.

“As such, we consider that more detailed consideration is needed before any change is made to the provisions in the act”.

Vic Valentine, manager of Scottish Trans, pointed out that reform of gender recognition “is one of the most consulted-on policies of all time”, with two public consultations since 2017. “The EHRC itself responded to both public consultations, supporting reform”.

A Scottishgovernment spokesperson said: “We will consider the EHRC’s views, which have changed from their response to the 2019 consultation, along with those of others ahead of introduction of the bill”.

“We appreciate the range of views on proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act. We have always been keen to seek consensus where possible, and to work to support respectful debate, and will continue to do so”.

The letter was released at the same time as the EHRC’s response to the UK government’s consultation on conversion therapy, which ends next week and which campaigners likewise criticised, in particular for failing to challenge or reject the concept of “informed consent”.

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