“This is the nuclear option”: campaigners hit back as government blocks reforms to trans rights

a march for trans rights
Scottish trans bill blocked in unprecedented moveTed Eytan

For the first time ever, the UK government has used its power to block a bill passed by Scottish parliament, in a move that has been called an ‘attack on LGBTQ+ rights’.

Both Stonewall and Scotland’s Social Justice Minister, Shona Robinson, called the decision ‘nuclear’. “I think using one of the most marginalised groups in society as a political weapon is simply outrageous,” said Robinson.

The law would have made it easier for trans people in Scotland to legally change their gender identity - without needing to get a diagnosis of gender dysphoria - as well as lowering the age a person can apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) from 18 to 16 years old.

It would also cut the time it takes for a person to receive legal recognition of their gender from two years to a few months. Currently, a person must show proof that they have been living as their gender for two years, but the new Scottish bill would require proof of three months (or six months for under 16s).

"At the age of 16 you can leave home, choose your own GP, and consent to medical treatment. You can also change your name by deed poll (not enrolled), a common step when it comes to social gender transition. There has yet to be a factually evidenced, convincing argument for why you shouldn't also be able to apply for a piece of paper that ensures you're listed by the correct gender if you get married or die. That is what a GRC does," spokespeople from Trans Activism UK explain to Cosmopolitan UK.

“Scotland’s Bill aligns it with leading international practice endorsed by the United Nations and adopted by 30 countries, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and most of the United States of America’,” says Stonewall in a statement on their website.

The charity said that rather than blocking the bill, the government should be "developing and implementing a strategy that improves the lives of all LGBTQ+ people, including trans people, not causing them more harm."

The Scottish Parliament passed the bill in December by a majority of 86 votes to 39.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called the move from the government a "full-frontal attack" on the Scottish Parliament and said she will oppose it, adding that it was a “very, very slippery slope indeed”.

The decision has caused a lot of buzz about devolution and Scottish independence. The move comes only two months after Scotland lost a supreme court bid to hold an independence referendum without Westminster’s consent.

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LGBTQIA+ advocates have also condemned what has been called 'a horrific attack on Scottish democracy and trans rights.’

Vic Valentine, manager of the group Scottish Trans, called the UK government’s decision “unacceptable”.

“The bill as passed would introduce a simpler and fairer way for trans men and women to be legally recognised as who they truly are, allowing them to live with the dignity we all deserve,” said Valentine in a statement.

In a letter to Nicola Sturgeon confirming plans to use Section 35 to block the bill from getting Royal Assent, the UK government's Scottish secretary Alister Jack said the reforms would have “significant impact” on “GB-wide equalities matters in Scotland, England and Wales”.

But Stonewall argues that the bill does not conflict with current Equalities Act and in fact “contains more safeguards than the UK Gender Recognition Act - thanks to successful amendments by a Scottish Conservative MSP.”

The news came the same day that the government was said to be announcing it would finally ban conversion therapy targeting both sexual orientation and gender identity. It is yet to make this announcement, which has been long anticipated by LGBTQIA+ rights groups after originally being promised in 2018.

Scottish ministers have made it clear they intend to fight the block, with the First Minister saying the UK government is using trans people "as a political weapon".

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