Critics of trans plan take heart from London news The Sunday Times 23.02.20

The original article is here.

Opponents of a Scottish government plan to make it simpler for people to change their gender have welcomed news that UK ministers are expected to drop similar plans south of the border.

The Catholic church in Scotland said it was a “sensible move that should prompt the Scottish government to take stock”.

SNP critics believe the Conservatives, having dropped the issue in England, could make it an election topic in the Holyrood poll set for May 6, 2021.

They suggest the Scottish government is making a “huge error”, with one party member warning: “The plan could become a ‘named person’ mark two” — a reference to the controversy over the proposal to appoint a named person to safeguard every child, which was dropped last year to the embarrassment of the party.

Proposals to change the gender recognition act in England led to criticism from feminist groups, whose members are concerned about trans people being able to use single-sex spaces. UK ministers are also worried about the effect the proposals could have on children who are being helped to transition while still developing “decision-making capabilities”.

With a fortnight to go until the Scottish government consultation ends, the Catholic church said the SNP’s proposed changes “risk creating medical, social and legal complications” that will be “damaging to those involved”.

In evidence to the Scottish government, it warned of “risks for children and women in particular” in lowering the age limit for gender change, removing the need for medical evidence and reducing the required time spent living in the new gender from two years to six months.

The church also complained that ministers were “pushing things very far and very fast”.

Last week, Scottish cabinet secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said the government wanted to achieve consensus with proposals that allow a person to change their legal sex on self-declaration alone. She confirmed that it was the government’s intention that gender self-identification would become law before the Holyrood elections.

Church leaders say that allowing those under 18 to legally change their gender could place them on a “dangerous path towards medical experimentation” and have expressed fears over women’s safety in refuges or in prisons, if people born as male decide to self-identify as female.

Currently there are 11 prisoners in Scottish jails who identify as transgender, of whom only one has a gender recognition certificate. There are another five people in male prisons who are transwomen and five in female prisons who are transwomen.

Rhona Hotchkiss, former governor of the Cornton Vale women’s prison, said: “If you allow more people to reassign their gender more readily, on what basis will the authorities be able to prevent these prisoners entering into the women’s estate?”

Her view was supported by campaigner Lucy Hunter Blackburn. She said: “There is a concern about what the new law will mean — that if more prisoners self-identify there will be some increase in the number of those wishing to be housed in women’s jails, and the prison service will lose some of its control over which jails they can send prisoners to.”

She believes there is scant evidence that the Scottish government is seriously engaged in creating consensus. She said: “There does not seem to be much prospect that a version of change will be identified by mid-March that people from a range of perspectives feel they can support. The hoped-for consensus seems more likely to be around the government being right.”

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) said: “The safety and wellbeing of both our staff and those in our care is the primary priority.

“A transgender person in the care of SPS will normally be managed and held in an establishment that reflects their gender identity preference or gender reassignment status.

“However, where it has been identified that the person may represent a risk to the safety of those of their preferred gender or they themselves may be at risk, SPS can take the decision to hold that person in an establishment that reflects their birth gender.”

James Morton, manager of the Scottish Trans Alliance, said it was “disingenuous” for the church to say that reform was being rushed. He said: “There has been ongoing robust public debate about this reform since 2017. Over 15,500 people took part in the first Scottish government consultation in 2018, and the bill is now going through a second additional consultation period above and beyond what most legislation is subject to.”

“The SPS does careful risk assessments and refuses to allow trans prisoners to move to the female estate if they pose a risk of predatory behaviour,” said Morton.

“Even when a trans woman is assessed as safe to be in the female estate, women prisoners do not share actual cells or shower with trans women. They only interact with any trans women in the closely supervised recreation and work areas where there are also male prison officers, visitors and tradesmen present.”