Standing in the road at the junction of St Augustine’s Parade and Baldwin Street, hundreds of people from Bristol’s LGBTQ+ community voiced their anger at a recent attack on their rights by the government
Chanting “Rishi Sunak is a wanker”, around 250 people marched through Bristol on Sunday, January 22, following a demo on College Green to show their opposition to the government’s decision to block the Gender Recognition Reform Bill passed by the Scottish parliament last December.
The bill, which was passed by the Scottish government by 86 votes to 39, would have made it easier for trans people to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) in Scotland by streamlining and shortening the process.
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On January 17, the UK government in Westminster invoked section 35 of the Scotland Act to block passage of the reform bill, the first time section 35 has been used in its history. Justifying the block, Scotland Secretary Alistair Jack claimed that the bill would contravene the Equalities Act.
Speaking at the College Green demo, Kiara, a 36-year-old trans woman, spoke of her own experience of discovering her identity.
‘Being a trans kid in a small town in the nineties means I didn’t even know I was a trans kid. I just knew I had thoughts that others would think are strange and thus probably shouldn’t be shared,’ she said.
Thanks to the LGBTQ+ community, Kiara said, she learned to feel accepted, and finally transitioned.
‘As more of us are finally being ourselves, many hateful, bigoted people are seeing themselves losing their grip on another bit of their power, making them once again raise their voices to try and hold onto whatever they can.
‘We stand against them not just for ourselves but so no more children need to grow up having no idea that who they are isn’t just perfectly fine but another fantastic expression of the human experience,’ said Kiara.
She described the current system of obtaining a GRC as ‘very convoluted and insufficient’.
At present, trans people seeking a GRC must have lived in their gender for at least two years, have received a diagnosis of “gender dysphoria” from a GP before then applying for a certificate, a decision ultimately made by a panel and which can take up to 22 weeks.
Without a gender dysphoria diagnosis (which treats being trans as a mental health problem, contrary to the recommendations of the WHO), the process is even more onerous.
Trans people say the process is too bureaucratic and medicalised, with people having to ‘prove their trans-ness,’ in the words of one of Sunday’s protesters, to an assembly of strangers.
The Scottish reform bill would have removed the need for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and shortening the time one has to have lived in one’s gender from two years to three months (or six months for 16- and 17-year-olds).
Although the bill proposed relatively minor reforms, it was met with backlash. Critics claimed it would lead to “gender tourism” whereby trans people travel from England to Scotland to obtain a GRC. Others argued the bill would make it easier for sexual predators to infiltrate single-sex spaces.
One person who spoke at the College Green demo ridiculed such responses.
‘When you look to it, all a gender recognition certificate really allows you to do is get married in your correct gender, file your taxes in your correct gender and then eventually die in your correct gender,’ they said.
A GRC enables a trans person to change the gender on their birth certificate, get married in their correct gender and have a death certificate in that gender. Powers over GRCs are devolved under the Gender Recognition Act.
About 30 gender recognition certificates are granted to people born or adopted in Scotland each year, and the Scottish government estimated that if the bill had passed, they would have seen 250-300 applications a year.
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