Self-Declared Gender: The Gender Recognition Act and its reform
The year 2004: Facebook was launched, civil partnerships are introduced for same-sex couples in the UK, Outkast’s “Hey Ya” was top of the charts, the final episode of Friends is broadcast.
In other words, 2004 was a long time ago. It’s also the same year that the Gender Recognition Act was introduced, for the first time allowing for the legal change of gender, and a lot has changed in 14 years.
Despite an estimated 200,000 – 500,000 trans people living in the UK since the Gender Recognition Act 2004 came into force, just 4,910 people have utilised it to legally change their listed gender. These figures speak volumes for how long and arduous the process is. Not only this but it has also been criticised as being overly clinical and bureaucratic, as well as deeply invasive and demeaning.
It is a journey so gruelling, that many choose simply not to go through with it at all.
Last year, the Equalities Minister publicly acknowledged the demeaning process trans people are expected to endure to achieve gender recognition and made a commitment to ‘streamline and de-medicalise’ the process. The proposed changes will bring about a self-declaration process, meaning that trans people will be given the autonomy to declare their own gender without having to ensure this lengthy process where the decision ultimately lies with a panel of strangers.
How will the changes affect people?
Devin, 25, who has always known he was a male despite the gender he was assigned at birth, feels like he has finished his transition process but still refuses to pursue a Gender Recognition Certificate under the system as it currently is, stating that ‘out of principle, I don’t feel comfortable giving money to the government for them to decide for me what gender I am.’ He welcomes self-declaration process saying it will remove the barriers that many trans people have to being legally recognised as the gender they are, and as which they are living, and ‘if I ever wanted to immigrate elsewhere having the right birth certificate would help a lot then too.’
When asked how this change will affect cisgender people, Stonewall have responded, ‘If you’re a cis person, it will barely affect you. All that will happen is that trans people in the UK will have a slightly easier life. However, it will mean you and your family are living in a fairer society, one where people – maybe including some people you love and care for personally – are free to lead the lives they want to live, without the abuse and discrimination that’s an everyday part of life for many trans people at the moment.’
What is Stay Brave’s stance?
At Stay Brave, we passionately believe in empowering individuals, regardless of gender, sexuality, race, culture or any other factor. We believe that as individuals, and as a society, we should all be committed to enabling full participation for trans people across all areas life. We welcome the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, and are committed to acting as a trans ally in all our endeavours.
Not only do we believe this is the right step to securing the dignity and rights of trans people across the country, but we hope that this step will be the first in removing the many barriers that prevent some people from participating fully in life and society, and accessing services, without discrimination, harassment or fear.
Interpersonal abuse and violence affects all demographics, but the transgender community is impacted at a substantially higher rate: it is estimated that 30 – 50% of trans people will experience domestic or sexual abuse at some point in their lives, in comparison to 28 – 33% of the general population. Not only are trans people more at risk from abuse, but they also fall within the group most likely to experience barriers to accessing appropriate support to enable them to leave dangerous situations or relationships, and undergo the process of recovery.
This has the effect of furthering their trauma, not only through experiences of abuse, and the lack of subsequent support, but through experiences of discriminatory and oppressive behaviours and systems. UK says No More have said ‘many transgender individuals have been subjected to abuse from a young age. They may have been rejected by their family for their gender identity, been subjected to emotional abuse because of who they are, or been told that who they are is not acceptable. This baseline of discrimination and violence is something that can increase the risk of trauma later in life.’
Be an ally to trans people and their ongoing fight for recognition of their rights. Take a first step by joining Stonewalls’ Come Out for Trans Equality campaign today.
 UK Government Equalities Office, 2018.
 ‘Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Abuse Among LGBT People’ The Williams Institute, 2015.
This article was written by Rachel Turpin, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Stay Brave. Rachel makes sure the voices of survivors are heard. From lobbying MPs or designing awareness campaigns, she keeps the needs of survivors high on the agenda and helps craft policy so no one is ever turned away.