Angela Crawley: Scotland will become a beacon of progress on transgender rights
The Scottish National Party’s spokesperson for Women, Children and Equalities, Angela Crawley MP, writes for PinkNews about how her country can raise the bar on trans rights.
I’m very proud that in the last week the SNP became the first governing party in the UK to make a clear and firm manifesto commitment to review and reform gender recognition law, bringing it into line with international best practice, so that all transgender and non-binary people in Scotland can get full legal recognition of their gender identity.
Why does it matter? Because everyone should have access to legal gender recognition as a basic human right. Because currently non-binary people have no legal gender recognition in the UK, and transgender people must jump through many hoops to have the gender they live as recognised in law.
Let’s be clear, those trans equality activists that fought hard to secure the Gender Recognition Act in 2004 should be lauded for managing to get an important and – at the time – forward looking proposal into law. For the first time transgender people were able to have the gender listed on their birth certificates changed and get legal recognition for who they are.
But fast forward more than a decade and it is clear that this legislation badly needs reforming so that it includes non-binary recognition, but also so that trans people no longer have to wait until they are 18 to have their gender recognised, so that this deeply personal matter no longer requires a doctor to provide a psychiatric diagnosis first, and so that the decision no longer lies with an external ‘panel’ but with trans and non-binary people themselves.
Over the past decade trans and non-binary people have become far more visible in society.
More people know a trans or non-binary person than ever before, society has a greater understanding of what it means to be trans or non-binary, and we have a greater awareness of the issues, barriers, and utterly unacceptable levels of prejudice and discrimination that trans people still face.
I regularly meet with trans and LGBTI equality groups, and as a member of the Women and Equalities Committee in the House of Commons I took part in the inquiry on trans equality, hearing from a wide range of trans and non-binary people about the issues affecting them.
We heard about the alarmingly high suicide rate among trans people, we heard reports such as the Equality Network’s Scottish LGBT Equality Report which revealed that almost all transgender people say they have faced some form of prejudice or discrimination in their lifetime – ranging from negative comments, to verbal, physical and sexual abuse, and other forms of prejudice and discrimination, including in employment and services.
The reports I’ve read and the stories I’ve heard have made me more determined than ever to ensure the UK government and the Scottish Government both take action to tackle transphobia and improve the rights and lives of trans and non-binary people.
But while the cross-party Committee produced a hard-hitting report, with a series of important recommendations, the UK government has yet to even respond, let alone make a clear and firm commitment to change the law or take the other actions needed to meet the recommendations.
I understand of course that governments face a wide range of issues, challenges, and priorities, but if Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP can commit to reviewing and reforming gender recognition law (if re-elected to the Scottish Government) I can’t see why David Cameron and the UK government cannot do the same, or for that matter why they cannot also promptly reform equal marriage law in England and Wales to remove the spousal veto that was scrapped without any fuss in Scotland.
There are other legal reforms that are needed too – ensuring that all trans, non-binary and intersex people all have full legal protection from discrimination would be an important step, and one that currently only the UK government and parliament has the power to make.
Much to my disappointment, unlike gender recognition, equality law has not been devolved to the Scottish Parliament meaning the Scottish Government is not able to make the kind of progress on discrimination protections that it has made in other areas of LGBTI equality.
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Of course legal equality will not in itself ensure that trans and non-binary people have full equality in their day-to-day lives.
There are huge improvements that still need to be made in the NHS and gender reassignment services, huge challenges in schools and education – from bullying to a lack of adequate pastoral care, and trans inclusion in what is taught, and there is a still a major problem with transphobia in society, which will only change with greater education and awareness and on the back of leadership from governments, employers, cultural influencers, and a commitment to challenge transphobia from all of us.
I was particularly pleased that the SNP manifesto also contains commitments on training teachers on LGBTI equality, and commitments to improve the NHS and gender recognition services building on Scotland’s ground-breaking Gender Reassignment Protocol.
I hope that, if the SNP are re-elected to the Scottish Government, Scotland can continue to become a beacon of progress on LGBTI equality and progressive values.
There is still much that we can learn from other countries, and I hope that the UK government will follow the approach taken in Scotland. I will certainly continue to do everything I can in my role as an MP to make sure that is the case.
Angela Crawley is the MP for Lanark and Hamilton East.