This month, the UK has a historic opportunity to improve trans rights. The government is currently consulting the public on whether it should make it easier for trans people to have their gender legally recognised through the Gender Recognition Act.
Trans people deserve dignity and respect. In recent months, we've seen increasingly vitriolic and sensationalised coverage in the media and online that has misrepresented and dehumanised trans communities, one of the most marginalised groups in our society.
Thirty years on from the introduction of Section 28 – which banned the "promotion of homosexuality" – this coverage echoes the stories written about lesbian, gay and bi people that surrounded the introduction of that pernicious piece of legislation. And worryingly, new government statistics published this week showed that reported anti-trans hate crime in Britain is up a third on the previous year.
It's clear that a huge amount of work remains before every trans person can walk down the street, or even open a newspaper, without their identities being attacked.
This week we have an opportunity to reverse the tide.
The government is currently consulting on reforming the Gender Recognition Act. When it passed in 2004, the Act was ground-breaking: for the first time, it gave trans men and women the chance to have their identity legally recognised. But in the years since, the Act has becoming increasingly dated, and is no longer fit-for-purpose.
At present, trans people hoping to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (which allows them to update their birth certificate) are required to have a psychiatric diagnosis of "gender dysphoria" and undergo an invasive, bureaucratic and draining process to gain the approval of a panel they'll never meet – with no right to appeal. There is currently no option whatsoever for non-binary people (people who don't identify as male or female) to have their gender legally recognised.
Since the Gender Recognition Act was passed in 2004, fewer than 5,000 people have been granted a Gender Recognition Certificate. This pales in comparison to the estimated number of trans people in Britain. This year's National LGBT Survey found that just 12 percent of trans men and women who had started or finished transitioning said they had a Gender Recognition Certificate. It's clear the law isn't working.
Thanks to cross-party support, and in response to the recommendations of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, the government has committed to streamlining and de-medicalising the process of legal gender recognition to create a process that works for trans people.
Legal gender recognition is important: it demonstrates clear state recognition of a person's identity. 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.
There have been concerns voiced about the potential implications of these reforms for women-only services, including domestic violence refuges and rape crisis centres. It is vital that we have a reasoned and respectful discussion about this.
As Una Mullally from the Irish Times said on Woman's Hour this week, "Equality is not a finite pool that we're drawing from that runs out when other people gain rights." And the government has been clear that Gender Recognition Act reform will not impact the laws that govern who can access these life-saving services.
On Friday night, the government's consultation closes. This is a vital opportunity for us all to make our voices heard in support for trans equality. Together, we can help bring about the day when every trans person is respected for who they are, free to be themselves.
Join VICE and Stonewall in calling on the government to make vital changes to the GRA and submit your response to the consultation.