What will actually happen if the UK adopts a ‘self-declaration’ gender recognition law?
You may have read a lot in the press about government proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act.
The simple proposals put forward by Minister for Women and Equalities Justine Greening this week would eliminate many of the bureaucratic hurdles for trans people applying to change their legal gender, ditching outdated requirements for them to undergo a two-year process of ‘reflection’ and psychiatric treatment.
But that probably wasn’t what you read in the press.
Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute – who just days ago advocated ‘cure’ therapy for transgender people – was given a platform in the Daily Express to claim that the change in law would also lead to people attempting to change their race and age.
Helen Lewis of the New Statesman separately argued that the proposals will make rape shelters unsafe for women, and lead to people with beards flashing their penises in women’s toilets across the country.
Melanie Phillips of the Spectator, meanwhile, added that it will lead to “oppression, socially engineered dysfunction and the loss of individual freedom”.
But will the sky actually fall in?
We don’t have to look far to find out.
The Republic of Ireland quietly adopted a liberal gender recognition law back in 2015, allowing transgender people to change their gender on a self-declaratory basis by filling out a simple form.
The form to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) in Ireland is just two pages long – compared to the UK, where the process includes a form of 16 pages, plus 24 pages of guidance notes, with several pieces of supporting evidence required on top.
Compared to two years minimum in the UK, you can change your gender in Ireland in just weeks.
Given the sweeping changes, which allow transgender people to gain legal recognition without seeing a doctor or requiring medical treatment, Lewis and co. would presumably expect all women’s toilets in Ireland to have been besieged by bearded penis-flashers.
But it turns out that’s not quite what happened.
Irish government data released earlier this year showed that so far, 240 GRCs have been issued in the country – a modest takeup in a country of 5 million people.
All of the evidence to date suggests the only impact of the law has been affording vital legal recognition to the country’s trans community.
Speaking to PinkNews, Sara PhillIps of the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, explained that so far there has been “no evidence of the system being abused”.
She added: “Most recent figures suggest a slower up take than expected. The applications have been steady, which would suggest the community are utilising the system as they need it.”
The trans campaigner added: “There is no doubt that the change in legislation has had a larger impact than the practical implications of accessing change of gender on our documentation.
“Onerous application systems only impact negatively on ones mental health and do not serve to provide any benefit to the state.
“The right to self determine our gender speaks volumes to trans people being recognised, respected and included as citizens of our country. This [has been] a very positive step for the trans community.”
The Irish government has also not flagged any issues with the self-declaration law in the nearly two years it has been in operation.
Just a few months ago, the country’s Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar – who has since become Prime Minister – launched a review of how the law had been received.
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Changes are being considered to open it up to non-binary people, and ease restrictions on gender recognition for under 18s. Misuse of the law is not a focus.
Mr Varadkar confirmed: “The review will commence by September and officials [are] undertaking preparatory work.
“We expect the findings and conclusions of the review to be presented to the Oireachtas not later than September 2018.”
So would a similar law in the UK lead to the gender-pocalypse?
Far from it. The evidence suggests it would help trans people gain legal protections, and not a whole lot else.