What is the Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill?

by Graham Checkley

“This is a significant and important Bill, but it has been met with one of the most spiteful and dangerous campaigns of disinformation since the lies against repealing Section 28.”

Maggie Chapman MSP

The GRR Bill has been described as “contentious” by the media and “railroaded” by the Tories, but there are dangerous echoes of opposition from another tradition too. Graham Checkley, a member of socialist organisation rs21, examines the facts and a problem for the left.

What the bill does

“The changes proposed in the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill will help better uphold the rights of trans people and will not impact on delivery of specialist women’s aid services.”

Scottish Women’s Aid

The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill (GRR) replaces medical assessment with a legally binding self certification (GRC). It also sets the legal age for such certification to be 16, in line with the wider Scots law on legal capacity, such as marriage and voting.

…and what the Tories said

The Tories opposed the removal of medical diagnosis in the GRR Bill to legally change gender. Jeremy Balfour said: “Without a medical diagnosis, it is difficult to understand what objective standard can be used to assess people’s needs.”

He ignores the fact that self certification is considered best human rights practice and the norm in many countries, with an estimated 350 million people living under such laws. Perhaps for Mr Balfour, being trans should remain an illness. In the 1940s, being a gay man was an illness.

The Tories also opposed the lowering of the age to 16 in the GRR Bill. Jeremy Balfour said: “There are a number of studies that show that cognitive maturity isn’t reached until around the age of 25.”

In Scotland you can get married and vote at 16, while the age of criminal responsibility is 12. Perhaps for Mr Balfour, being trans is just an immature phase.

What the bill does not do

The bill does not change who can already access changing rooms, toilets and shelters.

The bill does not have any impact on who can compete in sports teams.

The bill does not change people’s ability to alter their name and gender on passports, driving licences etc.

…and what the Tories said

The Tories said they wanted to stop the GRR Bill as they are (Jeremy Balfour again) “concerned by the effect the legislation will have on single sex areas and the safety and comfort of women”, particularly in the areas of changing rooms, toilets and access to sports.

As well as misinterpreting what the bill does, Mr Balfour also ignores the fact that the bill has the support of Scottish Women’s Aid, the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre, Rape Crisis Scotland, Engender, JustRight Scotland, Amnesty International Scotland, CREA and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR).

Scottish Women’s Aid et al, reaffirming their support for the bill, following a much publicised report by a UN special rapporteur: “We see the paths to equality and the realisation of human rights for women and trans people as being deeply interconnected and dependent on shared efforts to dismantle systems of discrimination.”

CREA: “As feminist organisations working globally towards achieving gender justice, human rights and equality, we want to affirm our support to the proposed reform for self-identification of trans persons within (the) Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill.”

UN OHCHR: “United Nations human rights bodies that have spoken on the matter have constantly found that legal recognition of gender identity through self-identification is the most efficient and appropriate way to ensure the enjoyment of human rights.”

The UN went on to express “deep concern that the proposals to perpetuate arbitrary obstacles for legally recognising the gender identity of trans women appear to be based on unfounded negative stereotypes about trans women as violent or predatory”.

The bill in Parliament

“… efforts to postpone consideration of the Bill, or to weaken its contents, may be the result of stigma and prejudice against trans women.”

Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Tories insisted on pushing every GRR Bill amendment to a vote, even when its proposer did not want to move it and the result of the vote was a foregone conclusion. The deputy presiding officer told the Scottish Tory leader he was “skirting close to being in contempt of parliament”.

As the points of order mounted, the Labour business manager was applauded when he accused the Conservatives of time-wasting. At one point, the GRR Bill proceedings had to be suspended after the Tory group failed to circulate their own amendment among members.

Tory MSP Rachael Hamilton said on the GRR Bill: “Rushing this through before Christmas is typical of the SNP’s attempts to railroad this legislation through parliament without proper scrutiny.”

However, after two consultation cycles and four years of lobbying, the Tories decided to filibuster instead of debating the bill.

The other opposition

Other than the Tories, the most vocal and newsworthy opposition to GRR has come from the gender binary group ‘For Women Scotland‘. Formed in 2018, they are a registered not-for-profit company, seeking to “Protect ‘sex’ in law and policy”, and campaigning against both the de-medicalisation and age limit provisions of the GRR Bill.

They state they are not politically aligned to any party, and their rally speakers have “included Rachael Hamilton and Pam Gosal, the two Conservative MSPs sitting on the Committee looking at the GRR Bill, SNP MSP Ash Regan who resigned her ministerial role to vote with her conscience against the Bill, former Labour leader Johann Lamont, Alba MP Neale Hanvey, Kate Coleman from Keep Prisons Single Sex, Labour Councillor Alison Dowling, women’s health specialist Elaine Miller and SNP MP Joanna Cherry”.

In January 2022 they issued a joint statement on the work of the EHRC, along with the “LGB Alliance Scotland, LGB Alliance Cymru, Labour Women’s Declaration Working Group, Fair Play for Women, Conservatives for Women, Transgender Trend, Liberal Voice for Women, AEA, Sex Matters, Lesbian Labour, Safe Schools Alliance, FiLiA, Merched Cymru, Lesbian Fightback, Women Uniting, Woman’s Place UK, LGB Alliance, Women’s Equality Party Sex-Based Rights Caucus and the Green Feminists”.

Based at 55 Tufton Street, home of “notorious right-wing groups”, the LGB Alliance were recently removed from the live-streaming platform Twitch list of approved charities following an internal review.  The Alliance also drew criticism from the Good Law Project during a legal challenge on charitable status: “Denigrating trans people, attacking those who speak for them, and campaigning to remove legal protections from them is the very opposite of a public good.”

A problem for the left

While the presence of the LGB Alliance in any context rings alarm bells, the main problem for the left are the small number of gender critical individuals and groups, some from strong left-wing traditions, who are working against gender recognition reform.

In doing so they are rejecting a generation of feminist thought that sees the fight for the rights of women and trans liberation as being deeply connected, and through this rejection they alienate a younger generation of trans positive activists.

Nonetheless, the balance of forces remains in favour of LGBT+ inclusivity. Magnificent campaigning work by the Scottish Trans Alliance, the principled support of many women’s and other human rights groups, MSPs, and the lobbying work by trade unions and individuals saw the GRR Bill passed.

We can still do more. 2022 saw splendid scenes of LGBT+ solidarity with the RMT picket line in Edinburgh, and Unison Lothian Health branch marching in solidarity at Edinburgh Pride. We need more of this: support on the streets, as well as in the committee rooms.

We remember that many of the arguments being used against the trans community are simply the recycled homophobia of the 1980s, but too much of the British media has swallowed the lie that trans rights and women’s rights are at odds and that a balance must be struck between the two.

We cannot be divided like this; women’s liberation and trans liberation are part of the same struggle against gendered oppression.



to get Heckle delivered to your inbox