Parliament debates blocking Gender Recognition Reform

“Transgender people deserve our respect, our support and our understanding.” Alister Jack and the Tory government proceeded to give us their contempt, gaslighting and othering. He made the most blatantly hypocritical statement in the debate:

“We need to take the heat out of this debate. We are dealing with a reduction in safeguards for women and children.”

No, he was talking about demonising trans people. Stewart Hosie said he should apologise to us. Instead, Stephen Flynn, leader of the SNP at Westminster, made “an apology to those people… who have hopes and aspirations for the future and who have fought so hard for a piece of legislation for so long and now see their hope being taken away from them.”

There are three debates recorded in Hansard: Continue reading

Kemi Badenoch and international gender recognition

The government proposes to take away legal rights from trans people. This is new. Previously, they have denied our legal rights, or proposed additional rights only to refuse them, or threatened to block rights. Now, the Minister “for” women and equalities, Kemi Badenoch, proposes to take rights away. But, will this happen? Probably not. If it did, would it affect any trans people? No.

The Scottish GRR Bill proposes to recognise the gender of people who have changed gender in their country of origin automatically, but now anyone who comes to the UK after a gender change has to apply for another GRC, under GRA s1(1)(b).

Immigrants can get a British GRC if they already have GR abroad. They need evidence of that GR, probably some sort of official document, and a statutory declaration of whether they are married or in a civil partnership. They need to be from a country or territory approved in a list. That list is in The Gender Recognition (Approved Countries and Territories) Order 2011. It includes most of the US, Australia, Canada, and EU, and some other Council of Europe countries. It includes South Africa, South Korea and Uruguay.

Kemi Badenoch proposes to remove those countries if their GR system is not “equivalently rigorous” to the English system. She writes, “It should not be possible for a person who would not satisfy the criteria to obtain UK legal gender recognition to use the overseas recognition route to obtain a UK Gender Recognition Certificate. This would damage the integrity and credibility of the process of the Gender Recognition Act.”

This does not affect Scottish GRCs under the new system. They will still be UK GRCs. But someone from Uruguay or Malta, say, with GR at home, would need a diagnosis by a specialist psychiatrist. That makes no sense, and doctors object. This is ridiculous. The English system has no credibility.

From the UN report on gender identity, these countries use self-declaration: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, Malta, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland, and Uruguay.

So, what if someone trans from that list comes to the UK after the UK no longer recognises their GR?

Well, they will still have their original passport, which will give their correct gender. If their driver’s licence is recognised, you don’t need a GRC to get a British licence showing your correct gender (it’s coded in the driver number). If they get “Indefinite leave to remain” in the UK, then they still use their original passport. If they get British citizenship, gender on the passport does not require a GRC.

If they get married, their gender on the marriage certificate will matter to them, but might not require a GRC. Would a registrar insist on writing that a trans woman bride’s previous status was “bachelor” rather than “spinster”?

If they married abroad, that should be recognised whether their gender is recognised or not. Britain recognises gay marriages. England recognises a foreign marriage if it was valid according to local law when it was carried out, and if any previous marriages of the parties were dissolved in a way English law recognises.

Certainly it won’t affect what toilets they use, or even if they can use a women’s refuge.

The GRP gives statistics of the number of GRCs granted, but not whether they are granted to British people or to immigrants. There were 256 in July to September 2022.

Possibly, nobody will be affected by the new regulation. The government, unable to govern the country or avoid recession, resorts to mindless posturing. If they wanted to take action about sexual violence they could fund refuges or prosecute rape. There is no potential incident of sexual violence now, which would be prevented by the regulation. It is done solely for Badenoch to pretend to be protecting cis women by reducing trans rights, and demonise trans people.

They are removing trans people’s rights. They have not done this before. It is the first time LGBT+ legal rights have gone backwards in the UK since Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988.

But, the regulation cannot be introduced without a vote approving it in Parliament. This is the procedure. First, it would go to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. They must ensure it is legal. They should recognise that it breaches human rights and international human rights treaties, and block it.

If it got past that committee, it would be referred to a Delegated Legislation Committee, where any MP can speak. In rare cases, SIs go to the House of Commons for a debate.

If passed, the regulation could be challenged by seeking judicial review. The challenger would have to be a native of one of the countries removed. They might not need to have had their gender changed, or even to be trans. They could show that a potential right had been removed, and argue this was wrong.

It makes me terribly sad. Kemi Badenoch does this not to prevent sexual violence but to attack trans people and foment culture war. The civil service time spent looking at other countries’ GR procedure could be used to imitate them, but instead is used to condemn.

The Scottish Daily Express linked their report to the GRR Bill. The Times claimed that this would allow Westminster to cease to recognise Scottish GRCs, but there is no such power in the Gender Recognition Act. The Guardian did a hostile article, calling it a “trans travel ban”. Well, it is quite unpleasant if New Zealand recognises your transition but your paperwork reverts when you come to the UK. You would still be socially transitioned but there would be this state hostility to your transition.

Lisa Keogh

There is always an infinite supply of money for anti-trans hate campaigners to pursue legal action, however pointless. Several students accused anti-trans hate campaigner Lisa Keogh of “referring to women as the weaker sex and…. asserting that racism isn’t a real thing”, and becoming “hostile and aggressive”, shouting at her tutor. She also made a number of hateful comments. The student who formally complained alleged Keogh was misogynistic, prone to disruptive outbursts and behaviour in class and ignored repeated requests by students and a lecturer to desist. The university investigated, but decided the allegations were not proven. It found she did not shout “intentionally”. Nevertheless she managed to raise £26,000 to sue the University: she tried to argue the very act of investigating a complaint was discrimination against her on the grounds of her “gender-critical” beliefs. One donor gave £8000. There are deep pockets available to fund hate.

She wants abortion illegal after twelve weeks, but her twitter bio claims she is “pro-choice”. I conclude she is untruthful. She is prone to ridiculous and intemperate outbursts: she argues abortion is murder, “by definition”. This aspirant lawyer has a strange idea of what a definition is.

Keogh failed to argue that someone who did not share her disgusting beliefs would have been treated any differently. Anyone who was the subject of a complaint would be investigated. Keogh’s claim did not “narrate even a hypothesis upon which her case could be founded”. On indirect discrimination, she did not allege any practice which would disadvantage an anti-trans campaigner, so her case was irrelevant.

Keogh raised arguments about the Public Sector Equality Duty, which applied to the University, but did not base her case on them. So the sheriff did not determine that point. She made vague claims that her human rights were infringed, but did not say how.

The case was thrown out after a “debate”. In Scottish civil procedure, the defender may argue that even if everything the pursuer alleges is true, she would still lose her case. So there was no evidence heard of the allegations.

I dare to hope she is not on course to be a lawyer. June 2021 was the end of the final year of her law degree, after which she would take the one year Diploma in Professional Legal Practice then work for a period before qualification for a firm of solicitors. She says it was her dream to work in the law, but her twitter account describes her as an “eternal student”.

The case decides nothing of importance, and a sheriff court does not produce a binding precedent anyway, even in Scotland. Its main interest is how far the haters will go to attack any institution that dares to criticise, or even investigate, their hatred, and how much money they have. They want to make institutions too frightened to protect trans rights. However the sheriff quoted settled law, that an investigation the University was obliged to undertake could not be a “detriment” under discrimination law. The transphobes have unlimited funds for court actions, and their every loss makes the law in our favour clearer.

In May 2022, Keogh stood in the Scottish local elections for the Alba Party in the Arbroath West, Letham and Friockheim ward, winning 86 first preference votes, coming last of ten candidates. Nevertheless The Times saw fit to report on her candidacy, quoting Keogh saying some inane pablum, and also Trans Is Bad. It gave them yet another excuse to print that women’s rights are under threat from trans people. Altogether the Times has seven articles to date on Keogh.

Keogh is a mediocre and ridiculous person, devoid of interest to anyone. But an individual pays her £8000, and the Times lauds her, because she is not ashamed to hate trans people.

Download the pdf judgment.

UN treaties mandate trans self-declaration

The UN says trans people should self-determine our gender. If we cannot, we cannot exercise our human rights, and this is sex discrimination against women. So Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, wrote to the British government supporting the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill.

Efforts to delay or dilute the Bill use falsehoods based on stigma and prejudice, he says. Passing the Bill is the government’s obligation under international human rights law. Preventing violence against women requires protection of trans people.

In 2021, the expert made a year-long inquiry into gender frameworks, considering hundreds of academic papers, 42 submissions from member states, and dozens of expert consultations. He concluded:

International human rights law says gender identity must be protected from discrimination and violence. Legal recognition of gender identity by self-determination is necessary to deconstruct institutional and social causes of discrimination and violence. But anti-trans campaigners use stigma and prejudice to artificially create moral panic and perpetuate violence.

In 2018, he considered international human rights law to dismantle systems of pathologisation, stigma and prejudice against trans people. He concluded self-determined gender is a cornerstone of a person’s identity, so protected by the human right to recognition before the law.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women said States should eliminate intersectional discrimination, including on the basis of gender identity. It said the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women applies to gender discrimination as well as sex discrimination. UNESCO says discrimination based on gender identity is unlawful. So do the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and other bodies. Self-determination is necessary for our mental and physical health.

The UN understands gender to include real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Gender-based analysis transcends the sex binary. UNESCO says sex discrimination covers not only physiology but also the social construction of gender stereotypes. So a State should allow citizens to change their gender markers on official documents.

The UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls says that not conforming to gender stereotypes makes people, especially trans women, vulnerable to violence and discrimination. The idea that people can be sorted at birth into either male or female “unduly restricts freedom”.

The European Court of Human Rights recognises a right to self-determination of gender as “one of the most intimate aspects of a person’s private life”.

The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence defines gender as “the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men.” It prohibits gender identity discrimination. Here, protection for trans is inextricably linked to protection for everyone who ever had a desire outside their assigned at birth stereotype. Because that is how it is in real life: if authoritarians want to control people by enforcing gender stereotypes, they first must drive the trans people into hiding. Where there are trans people unafraid to be ourselves, gender stereotypes are subverted.

An EU directive, 2006/54/EC, says the principle of equal treatment of men and women does not just apply to sex discrimination, but also gender reassignment discrimination.

The Organisation of American States has 35 members including the US. Its convention on eradication of violence against women 1994 initiated its approach to gender-based violence. Since 2008 its General Assembly resolutions have condemned violence and discrimination based on gender identity, and the core state obligation of non-discrimination covers gender identity.

The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights 2014 Resolution on protection against violence on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI) says gender identity discrimination is forbidden under the African Charter.

He quotes the Yogyakarta Principles on legal recognition of gender identity, which were not a claim of right but a recognition of rights in human rights treaties. States have an obligation to provide a simple system for gender recognition based on self-identification. It should not require abusive requirements, such as a medical report, surgery, sterilisation or divorce. It should acknowledge nonbinary identities, and include children under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Countries including Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland, and Uruguay have abolished the need for a medical report. For people under 18, where their parents or guardians will not consent the court can. In Norway the lower age limit is six, with parental consent.

Anti-trans campaigners say that restriction on trans people is necessary to protect cis people. But the Expert states obstacles to legal gender recognition do not protect women. We should be judged as individuals, not as a group. Any restriction on an individual trans person must not be based on stigma or prejudice, but on evidence that it is the only way to achieve reasonable aims.

The Expert states there is no evidence that current restrictions on gender recognition in Scotland, which are the same as those which will be in England indefinitely, are remotely connected to protection from sexual violence. Trans women are not “predatory males”.

The expert says “gender critical” ideology mimics patriarchal reduction of women to reproductive functions, and ignores feminist scholarship. A fraudulent or predatory person might pretend to be part of any minority in order to find victims, and that should not restrict the rights of any minority.

250m people live in countries which have self-declaration of trans people. 100m more live in regions within countries which have self-id by regional law, including Kansas, Nevada, Quebec, Baja California, Catalonia, and Tasmania. Nepal and Pakistan allow official self-id as nonbinary. The expert has no information that predatory men have used the self-id process for the purpose of perpetrating sexual violence. Where trans women are criminals, they have sought gender recognition because they are trans, not to enter segregated spaces.

So he calls on Scotland to enact the Bill. The implication is that England and Wales should do the same.

Sex, gender recognition, and the Equality Act

Could my sex be “that of a woman” without me being a woman? Could I be a woman, but not a woman according to the definition of “woman” in the Equality Act? Or does the Scottish Public Boards legislation only affect Scottish Public Boards (SPB)? The Outer House of the Court of Session considered that legislation again. The case may be appealed to the Inner House, which previously decided that the definition of “woman” did not include a trans woman without a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), for the purposes of the Scottish Parliament’s devolved powers to enact legislation on SPBs. But I have a GRC.

s9 of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) says my “sex [became] that of a woman” when I got my GRC, and that my acquired gender for all purposes is female. Note “female” not “feminine”- sex and gender are conflated. The Scottish gender recognition Bill leaves this section unchanged.

But s212 of the Equality Act says “’woman’ means a female of any age”. The purpose of s212 was to protect girls: your parents can make a claim under the Equality Act for you before you become adult.

The petitioners in the case, FWS, claim to campaign for women’s rights and children’s rights. However they only campaign against trans rights. This time, they couched it as a loss of rights: a trans man with a GRC would no longer be preferred for appointment to an SPB. They demanded a “rigid biological definition of sex” so that a GRC would change nothing.

To enact the SPB legislation, the Scottish government had obtained specific devolved powers from Westminster. The Scottish government argued that the first FWS case only concerned the extent of those powers, and decided they did not include the right to prefer trans women without a GRC for appointment to SPBs. So the case did not affect any other matter defining “woman”, “man”, “gender” or “sex”. FWS had won almost nothing. My GRC says I am female, so I am female according to the SPB legislation. This does not affect the operation of the Equality Act, which is yet to be decided.

The EHRC intervened, as the public body which supports Equality law. It confirmed the value of a GRC- the GRA shows there is no irreconcilable difference between gender and sex. It is not possible to have an acquired gender without an acquired sex. It agreed with counsel for the Scottish government.

The LGB Alliance intervened to say that trans rights are opposed to gay and lesbian rights. The Equality Network, a real LGB rights campaign group, said the opposite.

The judge looked at the first SPB case, and concluded (para 44) that its basis is that “sex” and “gender reassignment” are separate protected characteristics, not that “sex” in the Equality Act always and only means “biological” sex. The case is authority only on SPBs, not wider discrimination law or the interpretation of the Equality Act.

Then the judge considered whether a trans woman with a GRC recognising her gender as female is a “woman” as defined by the Equality Act. She considered the meaning of the GRA. It says my sex is female. A trans man with a GRC, his sex is male, “for all purposes”. The language is plain.

She then considered the Equality Act. She decided it did not define “woman” as “biological woman”. The word “biological” does not appear in the Act. It did not amend s9 of the GRA which says my sex is female. So, my sex is female. So, para 53, “sex” in the Equality Act includes someone whose sex is recognised by a GRC.

The petition was dismissed.

This may affect the vote later this month on the Scottish gender recognition Bill. A GRC is shown to be important. But I would argue that trans women can still be excluded from women’s services if it is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”, because of the Equality Act sch 3 para 28. So the Bill does not, as the fearmongers would have you believe, let men in women’s toilets. It lets women in women’s toilets.

And, once again, the Scottish Public Boards legislation affects the jobs on Scottish Public Boards. A few hundred jobs at most. If there are more men on a board than women, and recruiting a new member a man and woman applicant are equally qualified, the woman should be preferred. The Scottish government wanted that to include all trans women, but the first FWS case decided it did not. Then they wrote guidance saying it included trans women with a GRC, and the second FWS case decided that, yes, it does. But there may never be a Scottish Public Board where a trans woman, with or without a GRC, applies for membership, a man applies at the same time, and they are equally qualified. All that litigation, over years, and it may not affect a single person. The hate campaigners seem to have a bottomless fountain of money for pointless court actions.

Suella Braverman

Suella Braverman should not be attorney general. Her speech to the Policy Exchange, where she spoke about anti-trans discrimination, demonstrates that.

The attorney general is the chief legal adviser to the government, advising on questions of international law, human rights, and devolution. The government has great power to amend the law, with a working majority of 71. The Attorney General should say what the law is, not what the government would like it to be: if they do not like it, they can change it.

Even under the Conservatives, previous AGs have usually had far more experience than Braverman. She was called to the Bar in 2005, and elected to Parliament in 2015. From 2010 she was on the Attorney General’s C panel of counsel, the entry level, undertaking basic government cases. Her predecessor Geoffrey Cox was called to the Bar in 1982, appointed QC in 2003, and elected to parliament in 2005. Dominic Grieve practised as a barrister for seventeen years before becoming an MP. Jeremy Wright only practised for nine years before being elected to Parliament, and made the appalling decision to prosecute anti-deportation protesters under terrorism legislation. The Court of Appeal said there was no case to answer.

Policy Exchange is a “highly opaque” think tank which refuses to reveal the identities of its donors. It recommended legislation to prevent their victims from suing the armed forces, and to establish schools funded by government but “free” of some regulation and inspection. In her speech on 10 August, Braverman spoke against Equality legislation, and said that legislation for trans rights should be interpreted in such a way as to make it easy to exclude trans people.

Braverman congratulated Policy Exchange on its arguments for reducing judicial power, and thereby correction of any acts of government against the law or human rights. She says there are trade-offs in allocating rights, which is true.

She asks, “Do our feelings about who we are, change the rights to which we are entitled?” Clearly. A right to marry a woman is no use to a gay man. His right to private life, and so to equal marriage, depends upon his feelings of attraction. My feeling that I am trans is remarkably consistent, despite my attempts to overcome it, including aversion therapy. She means, it’s only a feeling, so unimportant. Against feelings, she balances “the facts of biology”- as if my lack of a uterus is important at all, except if I were trying to bear a child.

But feelings are at the heart of being human. My feelings make me me. She wants to impose some other understanding, which she might call objective reality, to subjugate my feelings, and perhaps her own too- but Reality includes trans people’s feelings. She is the reality denier.

If feelings did not matter, the objection to trans women in women’s spaces would not matter. Braverman privileges the feelings of prejudiced people over the feelings of trans people.

Then she says something truly damaging. She says businesses are going beyond their legal obligations, misinterpreting the law. It is clear she means including trans women in women’s spaces when they do not need to: later she makes this explicit.

She gives a definite, but misleading, interpretation of the Equality Act as it relates to trans women in women’s spaces. She claims trans women, being “biological males”, can be excluded from any women’s space which would be entitled to exclude men. She says this applies even if we have a GRC, though s9 of the Gender Recognition Act provides that my “sex” is female. She says the permission to exclude trans people from women’s services is in fact permission to exclude trans men.

This is completely wrong. It is contrary to the EHRC’s code of practice, and all previous understandings of the legislation. Robin Moira White, barrister and expert on trans law, commented she would have a lot of work if businesses interpreted the law the Braverman way.

Braverman is also wrong on trans schoolchildren.

Does it matter that Braverman is wrong? It matters if businesses or their public-facing workers believe her, or if cis women anti-trans campaigners take this as a licence to complain about trans women in women’s services. A tiny proportion of these matters reaches the courts.

It means that ordinary trans women may face abuse, confrontation and exclusion going about our daily lives. I hope businesses will be aware of a better interpretation of the law, but I am more and more concerned that I may have to endure confrontation, and even threaten legal action.

Trans people in hospital wards

As a Tory cabinet minister said, the NHS under the Tories is “wanting and inadequate”. But its rules on admitting trans women to women’s wards is good. Its guidance adopted in 2019 (pdf) says trans people should be accommodated according to how we present. We do not need a GRC or legal name change. If our breasts or genitals appear of the opposite gender, we should be given sufficient privacy with curtains or a single side room.

A trans person who has not had a genital operation should not share open shower facilities. Where the treatment is sex-specific, such as a trans man having a hysterectomy, staff should discuss options with the patient. If a patient is unconscious, staff should draw inferences from mode of dress and only consider genitals if this is specifically necessary for treatment (I am sad that needs to be said). A trans woman without her wig should have extra care to ensure her privacy and dignity. Nonbinary patients should be asked discreetly about their preferences.

A child’s preference should prevail even if the parents disagree and the child is not Gillick competent.

Unfortunately, anti-trans hate campaigner Emma Nicholson has become aware of this guidance, and wasted House of Lords time at 1am on 17 March to amend the Health and Care Bill to exclude all trans women from women’s wards. The usual hate campaigners- Claire Fox, David “Blencathra” Maclean- came out to bore everyone with their usual disinformation. The government whip, JoJo Penn, thanked Emma for “all her work advocating for women’s rights”, and I hope that is just the usual oily courtesy shown by “noble Lords” to each other. She said the NHS is currently reviewing its guidance and seeks “privacy, safety and dignity” for all its patients. Guidance should be based on “evidence, compassion, empathy and respect”, but she could not give a date for the review being published beyond some time this year.

Fox put her extreme case emotively. She spoke of vulnerable cis women patients losing their right to single-sex wards. She said women (anti-trans campaigners) were effectively being told “Don’t you worry your pretty little heads”. The hate campaigners in the House of Lords have been whinging about this extensively, and the Evening Standard reported their words uncritically. Then Fox refers to the newspapers. It is all circular. However she gave the good news that Dr Michael Brady, NHS LGBT adviser, is involved in the review, has consulted Stonewall and Mermaids, and stated there are “no plans to reduce the existing rights of transgender people”.

Nicholson told the story of a trans woman constituent when she was an MP. The woman was a police officer, who after transition was given a lower rank. Nicholson claimed that she helped “persuade the police that [transition] was a fully acceptable thing to have done”. Then she claimed a trans woman on a women’s ward raped another patient a year ago. That is explosive.

Ralph “Baron Lucas” Palmer (Con) claimed “trans women are men” under the Equality Act. Michael Farmer, former treasurer of the Tory Party, recited some legal interpretation from anti-trans campaigners, claiming that excluding trans women from women’s wards would be a “legitimate aim”. Timothy Clement-Jones, LibDem, spoke for the amendment despite his party’s definition of transphobia. As nonbinary people are not explicitly protected under the Act, he wanted them assessed for objective sex.

Terence Etherton, former Master of the Rolls (President of the civil Court of Appeal) explained that putting trans women on men’s wards would be unlawful harassment under the Equality Act, as it would violate our dignity. He said changing your name is changing an “attribute of sex” sufficient to clearly fit the protected characteristic of gender reassignment. “It is not a legitimate aim that some people feel uncomfortable sharing accommodation and facilities with trans people of the opposite birth sex. That would make a nonsense of having the statutory protected characteristic in the first place.”

Sal Brinton, LibDem, said Nicholson’s amendment “seeks to create a false understanding” of the Equality Act.

Michael Cashman talked of evidence: freedom of information requests around the country have shown there is no need to change Annexe B, the part of the policy specifically about trans people. He pointed out how Maclean, as a Home Office minister, had blocked an equal age of consent for gay sex with straight sex. That had to wait for a Labour government, despite a win in the European Court. He drew parallels between the hate against trans women now, and against gay men in the 1990s, and “against minorities across the centuries”. Ruth Hunt said “many lesbians” support trans inclusion. To detoxify the debate, she said, we should stick to the facts. Elizabeth Barker, LibDem, said the amendment was not about single-sex wards at all, but Nicholson’s continuing campaign against trans women, and “we should simply not pay attention”. She says trans women “are women with a different experience”.

Trans women are probably safe from this review. We will continue being treated on the appropriate wards, and given dignity and privacy. And the hate campaign will continue.

Abolishing sex

What would happen if the law no longer certified whether a person was male or female? Now, birth certificates and GRCs say what our sex is, and everyone has one or the other, even nonbinary people, or people with variations of sex characteristics. There are rules on changing classification. What if that was ended? Would it help create a world where children were not socialised into gender, and people could live without gender-based expectations or constraints? The Future of Legal Gender project has published its final report, together with several articles, to answer these questions.

They refer to reform as decertification. It is a proposal made to see what it might mean, rather than to solve a specific problem. They interviewed experts, campaigners and ordinary people. Possible benefits include subverting the basis of discrimination, supporting self-expression, and removing the legal burden of gender change. They asked about possible problems, and clearly anti-trans campaigners have been at them, saying sex-specific services, data gathering, and positive action against discrimination could all have difficulties.

Possibly, law could decertify sex as part of a neoliberal project to stop law and government tackling social inequality. The project wants decertification to be part of a social justice movement to support diverse ways of flourishing. It would need to involve greater public provision, not continuing austerity.

Law could still prevent sex discrimination as it does race discrimination. Most people would object to having a race legally assigned to them. Many service providers recognise nonbinary people, and law is increasingly gender neutral.

People consulted spoke of the need to dismantle male domination, violence, and gender based roles and stereotypes. Trans people could back these goals and still advance their aim for recognition of diversity. The Project says gender is institutionalised, rather than being an identity. It is a set of institutional processes rather than personal qualities. It affects people’s values, patterns of wealth and power, and ways of interacting. They say understanding of sex is interpreted through a gendered environment. I say sex as in reproduction only matters if you want to reproduce, or have a physical health condition. Everything else is cultural. Most people agreed our lives should not be defined by the bodies we are born with.

A leisure centre manager said it was important not to assume someone’s gender. When asked where the changing rooms were, they would say the men’s is there, the women’s is there, and the accessible room is there, and leave it to the customer to make the choice. However, when at the cinema I asked where the loos were, I was sent to the men’s.

Sex inequality in the 19th century involved voting, property ownership, inheritance and employment. These legal inequalities have lessened. We need sociology to recognise and research inequality that remains, relating to poverty, work, violence, exclusion and social stereotyping.

Gender is a complex social phenomenon that produces the categories of women and men to shape people’s lives. Decertification might make that shaping less rigid. It would undermine the assumption that gender divisions in roles or behaviour are natural, lawful or desirable, and support diversity. It might counter early gender socialisation of children.

Would it prevent “single sex” spaces? Many women’s organisations rely on self-identification, not asking for legal documents or assuming that a person’s sex or gender could be known from their appearance. They use risk assessments to manage potential problems, rather than expecting biological status as female to safeguard users. Single sex spaces can imply that the risk to women is from strangers, but most violence has perpetrators the victim knows.

They suggest that sports could be classified as in the Paralympics, which assesses functional capacity. What of positive discrimination, such as all-women shortlists to select political candidates? Applicants could be asked to explain why they fit.

We need data to show the inequalities and needs of different groups of people. People’s experiences differ by social class, disability, beliefs and race as well as gender. Why is the data needed? More precise questions, such as “do you menstruate?” could produce more useful data. Any data collection is intrusive for people- the intrusion is justified if the data is used for their benefit.

Trans people can use a GRC to assert our gender, and that protection would be lost. However, I do not want to provide documentary evidence: I want my word to be accepted. I am a woman.

The project says legal reform can be part of a wider programme of change, one policy tool. It is a creative way of thinking big. The aims would be to end legally registered sex or gender, to help dismantle gender hierarchies, to support people whose gender leads us to be excluded or disadvantages, and to undo broader social injustice and inequality. For discrimination and the public sector equality duty there would be a new ground of gender. Employers and service providers could not impose gender stereotypes. Services could still exclude people based on sex or gender if this was done to address unfairness or safety.

The Telegraph report was merely mocking. “The census could ask ‘do you menstruate?’ instead of ‘are you female?’ to be inclusive of transgender people, a taxpayer funded study has suggested.” Including trans people is not the only reason for the project’s proposals, but they wanted to wind up anti-trans campaigners to hate the study as well as their usual anti-woke, anti-tax readers. A trans woman shared the Telegraph’s hate screed on facebook, so I learned about the report. I am so glad I did.

Reform is unlikely to happen soon, but I am glad people are thinking about the possibility.