Trans man Freddy McConnell breaks silence over gruelling fight to be legally recognised as his child’s dad
When Freddy McConnell decided that the best route to starting a family was for him to become pregnant, he assumed that he’d be registered as his child’s father and that the fact he is transgender would remain “a personal matter”.
Freddy is legally male, so that seemed a safe assumption – and it would have been in other countries.
But reading a discussion in a Facebook group, Freddy realised he’d been horribly wrong: trans men in the UK who give birth are forced to be named “mother” on their child’s birth certificate.
As a journalist, Freddy McConnell was in a relatively unusual position for a trans person in that he had access to legal contacts, and he eventually found a lawyer specialising in LGBT+ family law who would fight, pro bono, for him to be registered as his child’s father or parent. He thought, and his lawyer agreed, that the issue was simply an oversight; a gap in the law, which had been formed before there was widespread awareness of trans parents.
What happened next has been widely reported on, despite Freddy’s initial attempt to remain anonymous: four years of court fights, with Freddy ultimately losing his case at the Court of Appeal earlier this year. Last month, the Supreme Court rejected his appeal of that ruling – leaving him without further legal options in the UK.
Now, for the first time, he’s telling his side of what he calls the government’s “dystopian, lazy and incoherent” approach to trans parents.
“We thought we would just take this to the government and say, maybe you want to fix this or clarify this?” Freddy recalls on his YouTube channel. “We felt really positive about it. This was 2016, and the whole transphobic moral panic in the UK was much calmer. It was fringe. It hadn’t totally taken over the public discourse about trans people in the media.”
The case wasn’t meant to be radical or revolutionary. Freddy says he thought they were just pointing out an inconsistency in the law.
“This isn’t about a man giving birth and whether he is a mother or a father,” Freddy says. “This is about how the law in the UK ignores trans parents, on every level, not just ignores but also actively discriminates against us – by giving us full legal recognition, and then taking it away at the point when we become parents.”
Not just the law, but also the government’s lawyers – who Freddy says made “queerphobic” arguments in court.
“Basically, the court was just full of old, white, cis men,” he says. “And they just really didn’t get it. They don’t understand. They don’t see trans people as full people.”
“The idea that any citizen can go to court and get a fair hearing isn’t true, especially if you’re part of a minority that is widely misunderstood.”
But Freddy McConnell isn’t giving up: he made a promise to his child before they were born that he would fight to get them accurate documents. Having him listed as their mother is “confusing, and could put them into danger”, Freddy says.
“Their documents are wrong, inaccurate and confusing,” he continues. “It would require them to go into detail about their parents medical history if they had to produce their birth certificate for a high-level job… or at a criminal records check.
“Having to produce his birth certificate would out him as having a queer family, rather than being something he can choose to disclose, as and when is safe and appropriate.”
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To honour his promise, Freddy will now take his case to the European Court of Human Rights. It will be six or 12 months before he knows if the ECHR has accepted their application, and probably several more years for the case to be heard – but the ECHR is already hearing several similar cases, including ones from Russia, Germany and France.
“So we’re definitely not alone in fighting this battle,” he says, adding that it’s “not just for my child, but for hundreds of families around the UK that are in this position”.
“If this could lead to a solution not just for trans families but actually for LGBTQ families, where we are all equal under the system of birth registration, and that there isn’t a birth certificate with ‘mother’ and ‘father’ just for cis straight couples… that would be great.”
Freddy McConnell points to how long it takes to effect change through the courts, and how slowly other trans rights have been gained – the passage of the Gender Recognition Act, which became law in 2004, began with court appeals for legal recognition in the 1980s.
“My case might be the first, and it might fail,” Freddy says. “It certainly will not be the last.”