England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Gender Recognition Act: How can we defend trans rights?

Since this article was written, the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill passed its final stages in  the Scottish Parliament on 22 December, albeit in the teeth of frenzied opposition from the capitalist establishment. Tory Members of the Scottish Parliament conducted an extended filibuster, forcing an unprecedented number of votes on every one of over 150 amendments in a desperate attempt to ‘talk’ the Bill out of time. Holyrood MSPs were compelled to sit into the early hours of the morning on two successive nights in Christmas week.

Those backing the Tories up included Catholic Bishops who, astoundingly in view of their record of covering up sexual and other abuse in Scotland, claimed the bill was “unsafe and likely to harm” women and young people. Joining the chorus of opposition were the capitalist press, who gave an army of transphobic ‘feminists’ and other commentators a platform to step up the ‘culture war’ on queer people in Scotland and beyond. 

Tory (In)Equalities Minister and Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack have already intimated that they will seek to overturn the vote, either by challenging the Bill in the Supreme Court (which recently underlined its undemocratic credentials by denying Scottish voters the right to an independence referendum) or by persuading King Charles to refuse Royal Assent to make the Bill into law. 

Yet again, the Tories have revealed their contempt for the democratic rights of workers in Scotland and throughout the ‘United Kingdom’. It is essential that the workers’ movement steps forward as the only force able to defend the rights of trans people and Scotland’s other oppressed communities, as well as the democratic, economic and social rights of all workers.




The Gender Recognition Act (GRA) Reform Bill is currently being discussed in the Scottish parliament and has passed the first stage of voting, marking an important step forward for trans people. The Tories, when Theresa May was Prime Minister, carried out consultation on making changes to the GRA across the UK but moves to self-identification were stopped by Liz Truss (then Women and Equalities Minister). 

In the Scottish Parliament, it was a ‘red line’ issue for the Scottish Greens in their support for the SNP government. All parties, except the Scottish Conservatives, gave support but seven SNP MSPs voted against, with one minister resigning from the government to be able to vote against the Bill. 

Currently, waiting times for your first appointment at Gender Identity Clinics are over three years in Scotland. Transgender people must undergo a long and humiliating process to ‘prove’ their gender to a panel of strangers before it can be recognised in legal documents, and must be diagnosed as having gender dysphoria. 

The changes in Scotland will make this process a lot simpler. Trans people will be able to choose their gender identity, in a process taking six months rather than two years, without having to prove this through a diagnosis or medical reports. It also reduces the minimum age requirement from 18 to 16. Socialists support the right to bodily autonomy, including the right to self-identify. 

However, people applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate (the document necessary to change your gender legally) will need to have lived in their ‘real gender’ for at least three months, and providing proof of this can still lead to complications. Non-binary is also still not a legally recognised category. 

Oppression in the workplace, at home and in society 

Achieving the right to self-identify is important, but it will not, in itself, solve the issues many trans people face. For example, trans people are discriminated against in the workplace with one in three employers said in a recent survey that they wouldn’t knowingly hire a trans person. Impact on job opportunities is linked with higher levels of poverty, as trans people may be forced into lower-paid jobs or face unemployment as a result. 

This, along with transphobic family experiences, means that one in four trans people face homelessness at some point in their life. The majority of trans people report they experience bullying in education, both as students and as staff. 

Prejudice drives many of these cases of discrimination and abuse. Although they can take shape in many parts of everyday life, transphobic ideas are perpetuated and driven particularly through the media, education and popular culture. 

This can be subtle, but it is also common for there to be public ‘debates’ on the rights of transgender people, including the use of pronouns, bathrooms and participation in sport. What these all have in common is that they are controlled by the ruling class, and that this prejudice comes from the top in society. 

Tory LGBTQ+phobia 

Currently, though, it is being consciously and blatantly whipped up by the Conservative Party in the so-called ‘culture wars’. Despite Rishi Sunak being the first person of colour to be elected as Prime Minister, and a cabinet made up of many people, and particularly, women of colour, it does not represent a step towards the end of oppression in the UK. For people seeking asylum from war, things have gotten worse. 

This cabinet of multi-millionaires do not represent progress. They represent the rich and their backward racist, sexist, anti-LGBTQ+ and anti- worker ideology. 

Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, has described herself as being against ‘trans ideology’ whilst the new Conservative Party chair Nadim Zahawi dreams of bringing in a new version of the anti-LGBTQ+ Section 28 in schools. 

These dangerous ideas are backed up by Sunak who wants schools to be ‘more careful’ in how they teach LGBTQ+ issues and has said he wants to reverse “recent trends to erase women via the use of clumsy, gender-neutral language”. 

He plans to remove the protection of trans people from the Equality Act, which makes it illegal for people to be discriminated against on the basis of gender reassignment. 

Scottish people may be on the verge of a victory for gender recognition, but the impact of the ‘war on woke’ will not stop at the English/Scottish border. Anti-trans rhetoric is whipped up in Scotland too, as seen in the debate at Holyrood during the vote for the GRA Reform Bill. 

The erosion of the hard-fought for rights of women is presented as a possible outcome if trans people gain the right to self-identify their gender. However, it has been the austerity measures carried out by Westminster, Holyrood and local governments across the UK which has meant the biggest threat to, for example, accessing domestic abuse services. 

The Tories and their cronies are trying to turn back the clock on any progress made for those facing special oppression. Coupled with this is an attempt to disarm the working class as a whole from fighting back through increasing anti-trade union laws. The struggles are linked; an injury to one is an injury to all. 

The trade union movement, currently in the process of mobilising potentially millions of workers in strike action for higher pay, needs to combine this with defending the right to strike and fighting against all forms of oppression. The workers’ movement needs to actively build a movement which represents the working class of all genders, sexualities, races and abilities. This starts with taking a clear position of defending trans rights and refusing to buy into the bosses’ divisive race to the bottom. 

As the 1970 Stonewall rebellion and other movements have demonstrated, LGBTQ+ people cannot rely on the courts and parliaments to defend their rights. Trans people can obviously benefit from changes in the law, such as reforms to the GRA, but it will not end oppression. 

Organising independently and linking up with the workers movement is the only way to fight for the changes in law to be implemented correctly, to challenge transphobia in workplaces, education and society as a whole, and to fight for an end to this capitalist system which thrives on gender division and oppression. 


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