This Is What's Happening with the Gender Recognition Act

You can blame Brexit for stymying plans to reform how trans people gain legal recognition of their gender.
October 11, 2019, 2:07pm
A transmasculine gender-nonconforming person and transfeminine non-binary person waking up together in bed
Photo from the Gender Spectrum Collection

It's been almost a year since the public consultation on the Gender Recognition Act closed, and we're still no closer to any answers on the government's next move.

On Sunday, a senior government source told the Mail on Sunday that plans to reform the laws around gender recognition were "being put on ice".

In its own words, the Equalities Office is the government agency that "leads work on policy relating to women, sexual orientation and transgender equality". In 2018, it launched a consultation on the Gender Recognition Act to ask members of the public if it should reform the 2004 law that requires trans people to submit to a lengthy, medicalised process to gain legal recognition of their gender.

Over 100,000 people in England and Wales responded to the consultation, with VICE launching the Recognise Me campaign to encourage readers to tell the government that change was necessary to ensure trans equality in the UK.

A spokesperson for the Equalities Office denied that the plans had been "put on ice", and said the next steps would be announced "in due course".


"It is vital that the next steps on any potential reform of the Gender Recognition Act are carefully planned, and have the right backing so they can have a positive impact on the adult trans community in the UK," the spokesperson told VICE.

A source familiar with the matter told VICE that the GRA consultation had not been scrapped, but "nothing will happen on it 'til Brexit has been dealt with – at least with the current cabinet".

After Amber Rudd's resignation in September, the Mail on Sunday reports that Dominic Cummings deliberately handed Liz Truss responsibility for the Women and Equalities portfolio because he knew that she would "strangle the issue".

In April, Truss glowingly retweeted a Spectator article that hailed Mumsnet – the host of a forum notorious for anti-trans rhetoric – as a bastion of free speech. Another source close to Truss, however, told PA on Monday that she was "committed to following through" with the consultation.

In an op-ed for VICE published in 2018, Labour MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Education Angela Rayner said that the GRA needed reform to keep up with other countries.

"Legal gender recognition is important: it demonstrates clear state recognition of a person's identity," she wrote. "Trans people can already update the gender on their driving licence and passport on the basis of self-determination. By introducing a similar process for obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate, this will ensure that a trans person's documentation consistently reflects who they are.


"A growing number of countries around the world, from the Republic of Ireland to Norway and Argentina, have introduced similar legislation to meet the needs of their trans communities. They are taking the global lead on LGBT equality, and the UK is now slipping behind."

The delay in announcing the results of the consultation and any next steps have real-world consequences, LGBTQ charities warn. Recognise Me partner Stonewall told VICE that any delay to the GRA consultation would only allow even more fear and hatred to be whipped up against trans people.

"Trans equality needs to be an urgent, absolute priority, so trans people can be recognised for who they are," says Laura Russell, the director of campaigns, policy and research at Stonewall. "The government's national LGBT survey found that trans people face huge barriers to equality in our society, including an outdated and inhumane process for having their gender legally recognised. It's important the government remains committed to trans equality and to reforming the Gender Recognition Act.

"Replacing the current dehumanising process with one that is based on respect and dignity is an essential step forward. Divisive, toxic debates not only prevent constructive and progressive discussion, they have a profound impact on trans people's quality of life. Any further delay will allow more fear and misinformation to spread, and trans people have suffered far too long from inequalities that can be easily removed. Now more than ever, we need allies to come out in support of trans people and trans equality."