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UK Government Abandons Self-Identification Plan for Trans People

Image by Sharon McCutcheon
Blue, pink and white trans flag. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Trans people say the current process (which requires a medical diagnosis) is intrusive and demeaning 

Level: Intermediate


Originally published on 23 September 2020

Plans to allow people to self-identify in the UK as a different gender without a medical diagnosis have been abandoned, two years after the government signalled the change.

Ministers have decided there is already enough support in the system for people who want to change their legal sex.

Theresa May's UK government looked at making the current process simpler. Many trans people believe the current process is intrusive, demeaning and bureaucratic.

They must apply to a panel for a gender recognition certificate and supply two reports from a doctor or psychologist stating they have suffered from gender dysphoria.

Campaigners had warned that failing to change the law would be a 'Section 28 moment'; that is, the moment when Margaret Thatcher notoriously banned councils and schools from “promoting homosexuality” in 1988.

But Liz Truss, the equalities minister, argued that reform of gender recognition was “not the top priority for transgender people”.

“Perhaps their most important concern is the state of trans healthcare,” she said.

“Trans people tell us that waiting lists at NHS gender clinics are too long. I agree, and I am deeply concerned at the distress it can cause”.

She added that the government was therefore “opening at least three new gender clinics this year, which should mean waiting lists are cut by around 1,600 patients by 2022”.

The proposals to rewrite the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, to allow self-identification, were sent out for consultation in 2018, after senior ministers supported the change.

But it seems Boris Johnson has gotten cold feet, as the issue has become tangled up in the separate debate about women-only bathrooms and other spaces.

The transgender rights charity Stonewall described the expected climbdown as a great disappointment for trans people.

It pointed out that reform had received support in the past week both from the Trade Union Congress and the British Medical Association. 

The Scottish government is expected to press ahead with the reform, although work on a bill has been delayed until after next May's Holyrood elections, due to the pandemic.

In her statement, Ms Truss said: “The Equality Act 2010 clearly protects transgender people from discrimination.

“The same act allows service providers to restrict access to single sex spaces on the basis of biological sex if there is a clear justification.

“We want every individual, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity to have the confidence and the freedom to be themselves”.

Adapted from The Independent

New vocabulary:

  • medical diagnosis – the official conclusion from a doctor about the cause of a condition or disease

  • intrusive – affecting someone in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable

  • demeaning – humiliating

  • self-identify – decide for yourself who you are (in this context, in terms of your gender)

  • signalled – showed that they planned on doing something

  • bureaucratic – involving complicated rules and processes

  • panel – a small group of people chosen to give advice

  • gender recognition certificate – an official certificate showing what the government believes is someone's gender

  • gender dysphoria – a feeling that the gender you were assigned at birth does not match the gender that you feel you currently are

  • notoriously – famously

  • reform – an improvement to a system

  • consultation – exchanging information and opinions about something

  • (he) has gotten cold feet – (he) has gotten too frightened to do it

  • tangled up – mixed up

  • the expected climbdown – the predicted change of action

  • press ahead – continue regardless

  • restrict – limit

  • justification – a good reason for something


Why do you think many trans people find the current process intrusive and demeaning?

What do you think about the reasons the government has given to not make changes to the law?

Government abandons
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