Three years. It’s taken three years of being put through the wringer of abuse, harassment, invasions of privacy, lies, disinformation and even physical attacks on transgender people to get to this point. But Liz Truss’ Government Equalities Office has finally spoken up on its plan for reform of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) and… well… it’s bittersweet.
To really understand the issues of the GRA we need to do some quick history. Between 1940 and 1970, transgender people could have our birth certificates changed with a doctor’s note. However, the homophobic anti-gay marriage laws of the time would be weaponised in a divorce case between an aristocrat and his transgender wife in the now infamous Corbett vs Corbett case. The outcome of the case was the UK sticking to its homophobic guns and annulling the marriage, setting the precedent that transgender women were to be viewed as men by the government.
In 2004 however, the UK’s hand would be forced by the European Court of Human Rights. As the UK was the only nation signed up to the ECHR who did not have legal recognition for transgender people, it was forced to create some. This is where we get the Gender Recognition Act from, it was the absolute bare minimum from a begrudging government.
The problem with this approach is that it was always going to need reform and improvement. LGBTQIA people don’t just have the option of not being LGBTQIA, so no matter what crappy hand we’re dealt, we’re always going to be here pushing for change that hopefully makes our lives a little less difficult.
Whereas myself and many others in the transgender community welcome the improvements to the GRA set out in Truss’ statement, I can’t help but sit here thinking “Wait, is that all?” It’s been three years since we were promised reform, 16 since it was initially needed, and 50 years since it should never have been needed at all. Throughout that entire time, dedicated and hateful anti-transgender groups have thrown everything and the kitchen sink at creating a stink around the idea of transgender people not needing to ask for permission to change our birth certificates to reflect who we actually are.
With regards to the discussion surrounding GRA reform since 2017 specifically, transphobes have gone after almost every single facet of transgender people’s existence. They don’t want us taught about in schools or for brands to use inclusive language. They don’t want us to be able to use changing rooms and bathrooms, have jobs free of discrimination, access to medications and treatments we need, or for us to participate in sport; even when that sport and those who play it keep saying they support transgender women’s inclusion, as was the case with Roller Derby recently. The list goes on and on, there really is no part of transgender people’s lives they haven’t attempted to invade.
Three years. Three years of this harassment and abuse, every day, 24/7. Three years of the hate crime rate consistently rising. Three years of our government sitting quietly by when they have the resources and authority to have shut these hate campaigns down before they even got to their feet. All it would have taken was Liz Truss and co stating/saying the reform of the GRA wouldn’t bring the plague, pestilence, war and famine promised by so-called “gender critical feminists”. Instead, a government chaired by a PM who some believe intended to use transgender rights as a wedge issue to secure votes in the north, clearly and consistently failed to act.
Yet there has been no apology, no making amends. The improvements may be welcome – but they don’t go far enough. Not only are they not what we asked for, they aren’t what we need, and the pointless restrictions placed upon transgender people in the name of “checks and balances" only serve to support the rhetoric that transgender people are not to be trusted. There’s also the suggestion that we are deceptive and dangerous and shouldn’t be allowed to have a different name on a piece of paper without it having devastating impacts for other people. Even after three years of transphobes trying to explain it, it’s still not clear how that’s the case.
The UK government will eventually allow self ID, it’s inevitable. Putting transgender people through this constant marathon of harassment only to throw us scraps every now and then to keep us peaceful is and always has been a pointless display of cruelty. So, thanks but no thanks, Liz.