Feminists celebrate U-turn on self-identification in Scotland as women’s prisons review trans policy Women’s rights activists hope the victory will trigger a rethink in England and Wales The Sunday Times 30.06.19
Scotland has shelved plans to allow people to self-declare their legal gender in what feminists said was a “major victory” for women’s rights and a “clear signal” to politicians in Westminster.
The proposals would have allowed anyone over 16 to change gender, on the same day or after a brief waiting period, by signing a declaration. Scots ministers had said they believed the current law, which demands that applicants seek a doctor’s diagnosis and live in their new gender role for two years, to be “intrusive and onerous”.
New grassroots feminist groups, organised online, sprang up to fight the plans after they were backed by Scotland’s main women’s organisation, which is 90% funded by the Scottish government.
Opponents said the proposals put women at risk by giving male-bodied people access to changing rooms, women’s prisons, rape crisis centres and other protected areas. Trans lobbyists said there was “no evidence” for this.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said concerns were “misplaced” but was forced to retreat after several ministerial colleagues, MPs and MSPs rebelled. Earlier this month, her government announced that the reform had been delayed for further consultation and until “we can introduce a bill that has the support of this parliament and of the public”.
Joan McAlpine, the SNP MSP who played a prominent part in the revolt — triggering an avalanche of abuse — said trans activists had tried to prevent discussion because “their arguments wouldn’t stand up to debate”.
She urged politicians in England and Wales facing similar abuse to “be brave”, saying: “I know there are people in Westminster who feel like me but don’t speak up. Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
The abuse against McAlpine provoked a backlash and in leaked messages three SNP MSPs criticised Sturgeon as “out of step” with her party.
The Sunday Times has learnt that Scotland’s prison service, which already has a de facto self-identification policy, is to review it after a whistleblower said the tiny number of trans prisoners in Scotland’s female jails had been responsible for a “quite horrific” number of incidents towards women inmates, including threats of rape.
Earlier this year, a Scottish transgender sex attacker who preyed on young girls in supermarket lavatories was sent to live in a women-only hostel. Katie Dolatowski, 18, who was born male, was spared jail after sexually assaulting a 10-year-old.
The self-identification proposal received 60% support in a consultation that ran from November 2017 to March 2018. However, unlike in England and Wales, which held its consultation later, there was little publicity or public debate. Most opposition emerged after the consultation had closed.
Bex Stinson, who was then head of trans inclusion at the LGBT lobbyist Stonewall, said last year that the Scottish debate had been better than England’s because it “didn’t take place on the front page of newspapers and across Twitter . . . [it was] being had in rooms with people who were decision makers”.
Leya Terra, of Women and Girls in Scotland, one of the start-up groups that fought the changes, said: “A big part of what happened later was people weren’t aware of the consultation. It wasn’t aimed at women. Then the UK consultation happened, there was more media coverage, and a lot of people in Scotland found out that we’d already had ours.”
Terra, who describes herself as a “low-paid support worker”, said Sturgeon’s government had drawn up the policy on self-identification and other trans matters with a “closed circle” of state-funded equality campaigners who had “put up a wall” to her and other ordinary women. “It came out of a campus type of politics by people totally removed from the lives of the working-class women who would be impacted,” she said.
The group Engender, which calls itself “Scotland’s feminist policy and advocacy organisation”, said in a response to the consultation with some other women’s groups that it had “very few specific comments to make” and “instead of formulating our own response to the detail of the proposals, we would commend for consideration Scottish Trans Alliance’s submission”. Engender’s income last year was £335,000, of which £301,000 came from the Scottish government.
Scottish Trans Alliance, part of the Equality Network, a state-funded LGBT lobbying body, helped to devise the policy before submitting a consultation response enthusiastically backing it. The Equality Network’s income last year was £466,000, of which £427,000 came from the Scottish government.
Other policies drawn up with trans groups include official guidance for Scottish schools saying that primary school children should be allowed to transition without their parents being told. This guidance has been scrapped.
Legislation on self-declaring gender could still be put forward later in the parliament, but few now expect any move as the SNP presses for a second independence referendum. “This is not what we want to be talking about in the schemes [council estates],” one SNP MP said.
Nicola Williams, of the group Fair Play for Women, said: “From being virtually non-existent a year ago the debate in Scotland is now more vigorous than anywhere else in the UK. Women in Scotland have done incredible things, they’re being listened to and it’s given us the ammunition to challenge down here. It’s a major victory and the tide is turning.”
James Morton, of the Scottish Trans Alliance, said: “We appreciate that there are genuinely held concerns about gender recognition reform and we have always been happy to engage in discussion to resolve those concerns. But there is also a concerted campaign trying to roll back the existing legal rights of trans people.”
The group retweeted an article attacking the SNP for “appeasing transphobes”, calling it a “great piece.”
Engender said its work was “underpinned by an extensive programme of engagement with women from across Scotland”.