Interior Scottish Parliament | Credit: Andrew Bowden via Flickr CC BY SA 20
Scottish bishops have released a strongly worded statement in opposition to the government’s plans to make it significantly easier for individuals to change how they identify their gender.
Members of the Scottish Parliament are expected to vote tomorrow on the controversial Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which would scrap the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria in order to qualify for a gender recognition certificate (GRC).
A GRC is a document that “legally recognises that a person’s gender is not the gender that they were assigned at birth, but is their ‘acquired gender,’“ according to the Scottish Parliament.
In a statement issued on 19 December, the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland said the changes were gravely worrying.
They said: “We are gravely concerned about the changes proposed by the Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill.“
“The bill introduces a system of self-identification, allowing a person to change their legal sex without the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria or having to consult a doctor. Removing this requirement and denying the important medical oversight that goes with it will inevitably reduce the opportunity for crucial health care, support, and protection for vulnerable individuals, including children.”
Critics of the bill are particularly concerned that the new legislation lowers the age of gender transition from 18 to 16 years old. The bishops emphasized their worries about the safety of women and children in particular.
“Children must be protected from making permanent legal declarations about their gender, which may lead to irreversible elective interventions, including surgery,” they said.
“Lowering the minimum age from 18 to 16 and introducing a system of self-identification will put more children and young people on this path. Our concerns are amplified by the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics intervention, which has described the bill as ‘unsafe’ and likely to harm young people.
“Women’s organizations also have recorded their own concerns about the bill, principally that the proposed reforms will increase risks to the safety of women and girls by men self-declaring as female and accessing women-only spaces. There are also real concerns that the proposals will mean a female health care practitioner will no longer be guaranteed for women and girls, even when it is requested.”
The Scottish bishops’ statement also pointed out that the bill could have implications for other sections of broader society, including celebrants at weddings. They said: “The freedom to hold the reasonable view that sex and gender are given and immutable and disagree with the idea of gender as fluid and separable from biological sex should be upheld. Particularly for those who work in education, health care, the prison service, or as marriage celebrants who, from both reasonable and religious perspectives, hold an understanding of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. We urge members of the Scottish Parliament to uphold these freedoms and to oppose this bill.”
Under current UK law, people who wish to officially change their gender have to apply to a national panel and usually have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. They must also have two supporting documents, including a statement from a specialist explaining their diagnosis and another laying out any relevant treatment or surgery they may have had.
They must also provide evidence that they have lived in their preferred gender for two years, but the new legislation would change this safeguard to three months. An amendment to the bill has since been proposed, which would mean that those aged between 16 and 18 would need to have lived in their preferred gender for a minimum of six months.
The new bill would transfer the handling of applications from the UK panel to the Registrar General for Scotland, and there would be no need for a medical or diagnostic report.