The Scottish Gender Recognition Act Bill – our simple guide

Scottish parliament
The Scottish parliament building   Attribution: Mary and Angus Hogg

We have prepared a quick guide to filling in the Scottish Gender Recognition Act Bill consultation which must be returned by the deadline MARCH 17.

We have focused our response on the impact on adolescents of a Gender Recognition Act Reform Bill which would reduce the age of eligibility from 18 to 16, cut the waiting time from two years to six months and remove the need for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

We believe this Bill fails to take into account that there is an established medical pathway which has become normalised for adolescents as an essential part of being transgender. Some lobby groups even promote the message that young people are more likely to commit suicide if they are not able to medically transition. The Scottish government has therefore failed to consider the risk that legal recognition would lead to more young people embarking on medical interventions they may later regret.

In particular they have not considered the impact on vulnerable groups such as teenage girls, lesbian and gay children, those with autism and young people with pre-existing mental health problems or who have suffered trauma or abuse. Specifically there has been a failure to gather or assess any information about these groups to understand why there has been a sudden exponential rise in referrals to gender clinics. Therefore it is premature to reach any conclusions about whether legal recognition would be helpful or harmful for 16 year-olds.

We submitted an FOI request to the Scottish government to see the evidence behind the decision to propose lowering the age to 16 and our conclusion is that the evidence does not support the claims made by the Scottish government that transitioning has positive effects for adolescents. Critical and up-to-date research has been ignored, the overall quality of the research studies assessed is low and the surveys quoted are self-selecting and therefore unreliable.

For further information and guidance on the consultation please see the following:

Our last post on the consultation

A quick guide from For Women Scotland

A guide to questions 4 and 5 from Women and Girls in Scotland

A guide from Woman’s Place UK

A guide from LGB Alliance

Briefing note from Rebecca Bull at MurrayBlackburnMacKenzie



Please use the following as a guide and add your own views, examples and personal experiences where possible.

You can open the Scottish consultation in a new tab here

1. Do you have any comments on the proposal that applicants must live in their acquired gender for at least 3 months before applying for a GRC?


Three months is a very short period of time. For an adolescent the diagnosis of gender dysphoria may be made if the young person has been experiencing these feelings for at least 6 months. If there has been any traumatic life experience preceding the desire to live as the opposite sex (for example, sexual abuse) it would take much longer than 3 months to recover and understand the impact on self-identity and any coping mechanisms which may have resulted from the abuse. 3 months is equivalent to the first term at University or college, when a young person may be away from home for the first time and coping with loneliness, new freedoms and the pressure from peers to conform to current generational ‘norms’ of behaviour and beliefs. It takes much longer than the first term to settle down and find yourself in a new environment where young people are especially vulnerable to influence from peers. This is the case for young people of 18 years of age, and more so for an adolescent at 16 who may be starting a new college.

Young people could be rushed into making decisions about their future as they will not have to have a 2 year period to find out if gender transition is the right path for them.

2. Do you have any comments on the proposal that applicants must go through a period of reflection for at least 3 months before obtaining a GRC?


A 3 month reflection period would mean that the process of obtaining a GRC for a young person would be only 6 months from start to finish. At University this means that a young person could enter the university as a girl and start the Summer term as legally a boy. This change would have an impact on young people in England and Wales who enroll at a Scottish university and therefore fulfill the criteria of being ‘ordinarily resident’ in Scotland. Legal recognition as the opposite sex as a quick, easy process undermines the status of sex as an objective material reality which cannot biologically be changed, and effectively redefines the protected characteristics ‘sex’ and ‘sexual orientation’ which are based on that biological reality. It also undermines the seriousness of the decision, which could be made when a young person is going through a difficult time and subsequently regret when they come through it.

This period of reflection is far too short – there is no requirement to discuss this with anyone, a medical practitioner or therapist, putting young people at risk with no professional support. Other mental health problems or different neurological conditions will be missed as there is no requirement for the involvement of any health professionals.


3. Should the minimum age at which a person can apply for legal gender recognition be reduced from 18 to 16?


16 is the age when an adolescent may begin taking cross-sex hormones, some effects of which are irreversible. Legal recognition as the opposite sex would profoundly influence an adolescent’s development and understanding of themselves, through what would effectively be legal ‘affirmation’ by the government. ‘Affirmation’ is a new and untested approach towards children and young people with gender dysphoria, but it has become established very quickly through the lobbying of activists. A female may have been ‘affirmed’ as a boy by her peer group and her teachers, clinicians and other adults in a position of authority in her life for a short time or for many years. She may have been taught in school that she has a ‘gender identity’ which overrides her biological sex in determining whether she is a boy or a girl. This is a belief which is not backed by science. It takes time for adolescents to mature and begin to understand the influences that shaped them while growing up and 16 is too young to have reached this point of maturity. Adolescents typically want things to happen right now.

The recent report from the University of Edinburgh for the Scottish Sentencing Council ‘The development of cognitive and emotional maturity in adolescents and its relevance in judicial contexts’ provides evidence of the neurobiological changes which contribute to “the poor problem solving, poor information processing, poor decision making and risk-taking behaviours often considered to typify adolescence.” This report specifies that cognitive maturation occurs as late as 25 – 30 years of age.

In Scottish law a 16 year-old is not permitted to buy or consume alcohol, buy cigarettes, buy or possess fireworks or get a tattoo and yet they are deemed mature enough to make a statutory declaration that they “intend to continue to live in their acquired gender permanently.” A tattoo is a body modification for life. Taking testosterone has much more serious and irreversible life-long consequences. The government should not be encouraging adolescents to cement their beliefs about their identity at an age when identity is still forming, especially not when their beliefs may lead to lifelong medicalisation with physical and psychological effects they are not equipped to fully understand.

The Scottish government must recognise young people are bombarded with the message that medical transition is as simple as changing clothes and pronouns and that accessing blockers and hormones is ‘life saving.’

Young people may be encouraged to access hormones from online sources if application for a GRC is no longer dependent on a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and no evidence from a medical professional is required. The consultation document states:

“The draft Bill does not affect the professional responsibilities of those offering treatment and support to those distressed or concerned about their gender identity, nor does it otherwise affect the right to access such services in Scotland.”

We believe there would be a significant impact on clinicians and medical professionals. If a young person has legal status as the opposite sex and a diagnosis of gender dysphoria is no longer required, does the NHS become an on-demand service providing cosmetic procedures to young people who simply want to change their bodies, even if the professional considers it to be the wrong decision?

A 16 year-old girl with a birth certificate which states that she was born male, or a 16 year-old boy with a birth certificate stating that he was born female, are putting themselves at risk in general healthcare services. No legal change should be contemplated until the NHS sorts out its confusion between sex and gender in the way it collects personal data.


4. Do you have any other comments on the provisions of the draft Bill?


Single-sex exemptions in the Equality Act 2010 (EqA) exist to uphold women’s and girls’ human rights. These include:

  • Privacy, dignity and safety (toilets, changing-rooms, hospital wards, overnight accommodation, prisons) so that women and girls may access healthcare, participate fully in public life and feel safe in environments where they are most vulnerable
  • Recovery from trauma (rape crisis centres, refuges) so that women and girls can rebuild their lives and re-enter public life
  • Equality (women-only shortlists, Public Sector Equality Duty requirements etc) to advance women and girls in areas where they face historic disadvantage
  • Fairness and safety (the right to participate in sports on a level playing field)

If any man, for whatever reason, can simply self-identify as a woman and gain a GRC on that basis, all sex-based rights and protections for girls are compromised, and for all practical purposes become unworkable. All single-sex provisions have been implemented on the basis of biological sex and the reasons for that have not changed. With the advent of camera phones and the ability to upload videos to porn sites such as Pornhub, rights to female-only spaces are more critical than ever; the risks to women and girls have substantially increased, not lessened, in recent years.

Single-sex exceptions are allowed as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim in the EqA Schedule 3, paragraphs 26 and 27. If a person has a GRC however, although they may still be excluded, the EHRC Code goes beyond the EqA and the GRA, in stating that this exception must only be used in ‘exceptional circumstances.’ Case by case service provision is unworkable in practice so a legal self-ID system would effectively end women-only services and facilities.

The erosion of single-sex facilities and services would make it impossible to safeguard girls in schools, organisations, public toilets and changing-rooms. In this Draft Bill the Scottish government has failed in its duty to show due regard to women and girls.


5. Do you have any comments on the draft Impact Assessments?


The impact assessments are wholly inadequate and not fit for purpose. The impact on other protected characteristics, primarily sex and sexual orientation, and on children, has not been thoroughly assessed in any serious way.

The consultation document states:

The Scottish Government is of the view that there is lack of evidence that including trans women in women-only services and spaces has negative impacts.

The Scottish government has come to this view without properly consulting with women or considering research and evidence from women’s groups or any other sources. The Scottish government has also ignored the very public backlash to such policies over the past few years and news reports which have demonstrated clearly that there are serious negative impacts for women, and ignored the number of grassroots women’s organisations set up to oppose policy changes which compromise the safety of women and girls.

The consultation document states:

“The Scottish Government is not aware of evidence that obtaining legal gender recognition overseas through such a process leads to adverse consequences generally for society.”

The Scottish government has failed to produce any evidence that other countries have monitored the impact of self-ID on society or produced any research to support the claim that there have been no adverse effects on women and girls.

The Children’s Rights Impact Assessment relies on low quality evidence to support the claim that “transitioning to living in their preferred gender and being supported with gender confirming medical interventions may help improve mental health.” No long-term studies exist for the very recent cohort of adolescents who are undergoing medical interventions.

The consultation document states:

4. Evidence indicates that the mental health issues experienced by trans people are related to the prejudice and discrimination they experience.

5. Evidence indicates that transitioning to the gender with which the person identifies helps resolve distress and mental health issues.

Pre-existing mental health issues are common among adolescents who self-identify as transgender, but the evidence does not indicate that prejudice against transgender people is the cause, or whether it is because adolescents with unrelated mental health issues are more susceptible to believing that ‘being transgender’ is the reason for their difficulties and that transition is the solution. There is no robust evidence to suggest that medical transition resolves mental health issues and the Scottish Government has ignored evidence that indicates the opposite.

The assessment recognises the unprecedented increase in the number of girls seeking to transition (now 75% of referrals to the Tavistock) but provides no evidence to indicate that this is a positive development or that there is as yet any understanding of why so many teenage girls are suddenly developing gender dysphoria after puberty has started. The assessment also recognises that there is no understanding of why so many autistic young people are seeking transition (now 35% of referrals to the Tavistock).

In its review of evidence the Scottish government has failed to take into account relevant and critical up-to-date reports and research studies, including:

This study which raises the possibility of social contagion among adolescent girls:

Research conducted by young women who regret their transition:

The role of homophobic bullying in the development of a transgender identity:

The problems already known about giving puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones to young people leading to the conclusion that “The current evidence base does not support informed decision making and safe practice in children.”

The well-publicised testimonies of ex-Tavistock clinicians:

There is no acknowledgement that this group of young people face a life on medication and possibly face painful and risky surgery.

There is no acknowledgement of the growing number of young women who have regretted transitioning, and their testimony that they suffered from co-morbidities that were not picked up, including anxiety, depression and past sexual abuse. This has happened under the current system and the proposed changes would remove existing safeguards, however inadequate they may be. This group has not been followed up.

The exponential rise in the number of adolescent girls and autistic teenagers referred to the Tavistock has occurred over the past decade. Now one young woman, who transitioned in 2013, is taking the Tavistock GIDS to court for allowing her to do so without sufficient exploration of her mental health issues or reasons for wanting to take this route. The NHS has announced a review of the service specification for children and adolescents.

To propose lowering the age for legal gender recognition before the court case conclusion, before the NHS review is complete, before there is evidence that this current cohort of adolescents has been properly followed up and assessed, and before the Scottish government have conducted a proper, impartial review of existing evidence, would be irresponsible and reckless.

The bill gives no reason that there is a pressing need to reform the GRA. Good law should reflect the needs and rights of all members of society, not just special interest groups. Proposed legislative change which would impact on the safeguarding of children and young people requires the highest level of scrutiny.


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