The UK government’s decision to block Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill from getting royal assent has been met with widespread backlash from LGBTQ+ activists.
The move was confirmed by Alister Jack, the Scotland Secretary, on 16 January when he announced that he will lay a Section 35 order at Westminster to prevent the legislation reaching its final stage – marking the first time in the 25 years since devolution that the British government has taken this step.
“I have not taken this decision lightly,” Jack said in a statement. “The Bill would have a significant impact on, amongst other things, GB-wide equalities matters in Scotland, England and Wales. I have concluded, therefore, that this is the necessary and correct course of action.”
The Gender Recognition Reform Bill would have made it easier for trans people to change their legally recognised gender.
They would no longer need to be medically diagnosed with gender dysphoria before obtaining a gender recognition certificate as they would in the rest of the UK.
In addition, trans people would no longer have needed to prove that they’ve lived in their gender identity for two years before gaining recognition, while also dropping the minimum age of applying for the certificate from 18 to 16.
It was passed by SMPs in a vote of 86 to 39 in December.
Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, described the UK government’s decision to block it as “a full-frontal attack on our democratically elected Scottish Parliament”.
“@scotgov will defend the legislation & stand up for Scotland’s Parliament,” she wrote on Twitter. “If this Westminster veto succeeds, it will be first of many.”
This is a full-frontal attack on our democratically elected Scottish Parliament and it's ability to make it's own decisions on devolved matters. @scotgov will defend the legislation & stand up for Scotland’s Parliament. If this Westminster veto succeeds, it will be first of many https://t.co/3WXrjyivvC
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) January 16, 2023
Jayne Ozanne, who chairs the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition and resigned from the government’s LGBT advisory panel in 2021 after accusing it of creating a hostile environment for the community, told GAY TIMES: “This is a very dark day. I cannot believe that the Prime Minister has chosen to invoke Section 35 – for the first time in history – to undermine trans people’s rights.
“The international community will be appalled, the LGBT+ community alongside our friends and allies will be furious and the British people will look on amazed.
“All will rightly wonder why he has chosen to focus on one of the most marginalised and misunderstood groups in our society at a time of crisis in our NHS and public services.
“I believe it is the beginning of the end for the United Kingdom, and few will forgive him for it.”
This is a very dark day. I cannot believe that @RishiSunak has chosen this battle amongst all the other priorities he is facing!
— Jayne Ozanne 🇺🇦 (@JayneOzanne) January 16, 2023
Scottish Trans, the trans equality project of LGBTQ+ equality and human rights charity the Equality Network, also condemned the UK government’s announcement.
Vic Valentine, Manager of Scottish Trans, said: “The bill covers matters that are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and its consequences were considered by MSPs in great detail.
“For the UK Government to seek to block the Scottish democratic process in this way, simply because they disagree with the welcome decision the Scottish Parliament has made to improve trans people’s lives, is unacceptable. We fully expect the Scottish Government to challenge this in the courts.”
LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall shared that it was “saddened” by the news.
We are saddened the PM has taken unprecedented steps to block implementation of the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill.
These are not the actions of a government that can stand on the international stage as a defender of LGBTQ+ rights.
Our statement https://t.co/wOk2mTZ0lA
— Stonewall (@stonewalluk) January 16, 2023
“Trans people make up only 0.5% of our population, and trans men and women who can benefit from the Gender Recognition Reform Bill are only 0.2%,” it said in a statement.
“Trans people are at high risk of experiencing hate crime. They wait years and years to get a first appointment with healthcare specialists that can support their transition. Trans children are bullied in our schools. Trans adults are bullied in their workplaces.
“The UK Government should be focused on developing and implementing a strategy that improves the lives of all LGBTQ+ people, including trans people, not causing them more harm.”
Maggie Chapman, equalities spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, tweeted that she was “so angry” at the move.
“To attack a minority group like this shows just how low the Tory Govt is prepared to sink,” she continued. “They are creating a constitutional crisis by weaponising the lives of trans people. They don’t care about trans people. They don’t care about devolution. And they don’t care about Scotland.”