Finding a Middle Ground on Gender Reform

Today is International Women’s Day and will be the 113th anniversary since the first recorded in 1909. It comes at an interesting juncture in our political history as Dundee City East MSP, Shona Robison, unveiled the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) bill on behalf of the Scottish Government last Thursday. Gender reform sits under the social justice part of her wider brief, which includes housing and local government, and was a critical component to the SNP-Green co-operation deal.

Gender reform has been a source of polarised debate and Ms Robison’s statement sought to address and assuage concerns. Held in the light of, and a world apart from, escalating violence in Ukraine, she sought to strike a conciliatory tone. The new bill, Ms Robison said, proposes to “simplify the process for trans[gender] men and women to obtain a gender recognition certificate (GRC)”, which feedback over two consultations revealed to be “intrusive and invasive, overly complex and demeaning.”

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph on 07/03/2022

The “simpler, more streamlined, more compassionate and less medicalised” suite of reforms, which will now proceed to the committee stage before being voted on, relates primarily to obtaining a GRC. Ms Robison stated “… applicants must have lived in their acquired gender but the minimum period for this should be reduced from two years to three months with an additional three-month reflection period” and “the minimum age should be reduced [from 18] to 16.”

Reflecting one position, Dundee councillor Gregor Murray said: “I thought the debate was generally mature but was disappointed to hear the same scaremongering we’ve had for the past 10 years.” Councillor Murray, who represents the North East ward as an independent and is non-binary, was mildly optimistic about the bill but added: “The process laid out for ‘people with an interest’ to challenge a GRC, or have it revoked, could be misused by abusive parents, spouses or other family members.”

Reflecting the other side, The Scotsman columnist Susan Dalgety shared her story of relentless sexual abuse from the age of 11 on Saturday. She objected to Ms Robison’s statement, exactly one year on from the abduction, abuse and murder of Sarah Everard, that there is no evidence “predatory and abusive men ever have to pretend to be anything else to carry out abusive and predatory behaviour”. She wrote: “On Thursday, Shona Robison broke my heart. But she won’t break our spirit.”

Responding to a recent column where I commended Kate Forbes MSP, ‘TF’ – a regular reader and letter writer to the Evening Telegraph (Letters, March 1) – asked me: “As a practising Christian would you, if you were an elected SNP MSP, vote against any proposed legislation which goes against your moral ethics?” I gave the letter serious thought and the first thing I would say is, my ethical commitment to freedom of expression, speech and thought are reasons I do not support the SNP.

However, values matter and I believe we all require anchors, such as Christianity, which has provided demonstrable stability to many civil western societies, to pull upon for values. My faith, specifically, in the words of the Apostle Paul, challenges me to “test everything”. It also recognises the intrinsic value of everyone as made in God’s image, to prioritise serving the poor, needy, widows, orphans and victims of injustice and its most important command, after God, is to love my neighbour.

Having met with and listened to the pain transgender men and women and non-binary folk carry as well as to the genuinely held fears of women, I am torn between two groups who feel underheard and overlooked. Were I an MSP, I would give the reforms serious reflection, but I wholeheartedly accept the charge to love both my trans’ neighbours and abused women, both of whom have intrinsic worth and value.

One thought on “Finding a Middle Ground on Gender Reform

  1. Disclaimers! I am aged 60 with no children; 1 adult niece & nephew so no direct interest/experience; I have yet to read the formal proposals in detail. However a few contextual comments: 1. I would add two groups to Ewan ‘s dilemma: Children/young people and their parents. My heart goes out to them also as they will have to face the emotional/practical consequences of whatever new laws are enacted. 2. As a society/nation, are we satisfied that age 16 remains appropriate for a legal definition of adulthood? Are the current laws on age of sexual consent, freedom to leave home, to join the armed forces etc still relevant? If the human brain is still developing well in to the late 20s, is 16 still the right age? Surely we need to debate this general point before we consider whether the GRA should be reduced from 18 to 16? Child/adult? What does the Children’s Commissioner and others think? 3. Should this be a party political issue or a “free” vote? 4. Given the “extreme” views held by various “sides” is it probable that our Parliament, if it does its job correctly, will eventually pass new laws which neither “side” will find to its liking but will be acceptable to the “silent majority” ; ie. an enhancement of rights to those seeking gender recognition and a more humane process than current; whilst not granting every aspect of the Bill as proposed? Also, as it now appears that we will have a Scottish misogyny law proposal coming forward, that the passing of the GRA will have to be sensitive to whatever may be proposed in that Bill? 5. Whilst no fan of the House of Lords, the GRA is an example of the kind of socially sensitive law making that would benefit from a second chamber review? If Holyrood messes it up, it will fall in the Scottish courts to sort out any legal confusion and inconsistency?

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