Joan McAlpine accuses government over third sex option on census The Times 13.06.19

The original article is here.

A senior SNP MSP has accused her own government of planning secret changes to Scotland’s census.

Joan McAlpine said that documents accompanying the Census Bill, which was passed yesterday, suggested that the government “considered gender identity and sex to be the same thing”.

Scotland’s next census will include new questions on sexuality and transgender status. The questions will be voluntary, with no penalties for those who choose not to answer them.

Writing in The Times, Ms McAlpine said it was discovered that in 2011 the government had decided people should be allowed to self-identify as whatever sex they wished.

“This advice was hidden on the website,” she wrote. “It was never subject to democratic scrutiny. That’s shocking when you think that for 200 years sex was uncomplicated, binary and biological. For most people, it still is.”

Ms McAlpine, the convener of the parliament’s culture committee, said that initial plans to include a sex question with a third option to accommodate non-binary people was opposed by experts and rejected by her committee.

Ms McAlpine, who has been abused on social media for her views on the census debate, criticised civil servants for the narrow focus of their research.

“Officials only take advice from LGBT stakeholders,” she said. “They never consider that women might have something to say about legislation which erases them as a biological sex class. In this case they didn’t consult statisticians either.”

The debate over the census has caused splits within the parties with a group of prominent SNP MSPs claiming that Nicola Sturgeon is “out of step” with colleagues on transgender rights. Leaked private messages between Ruth Maguire, Ash Denham and Gillian Martin revealed they had exchanged messages with Ms Sturgeon after she said in a speech that transgender rights were not “a threat to me as a woman”.

Vic Valentine, of the Scottish Trans Alliance, said: “For the first time, we will be able to get good data on the number and situation of trans and LGB people in Scotland, via the new questions.”

Paul Lowe, the registrar general for Scotland, said National Records of Scotland was consulting with groups across the country to ensure the questions are supported by the public.

Fiona Hyslop, the culture secretary, said: “Including questions on these demographics in the census will provide valuable data for public service planning purposes and will help public bodies meet duties under the Equality Act 2010.”

Q&A
What has changed on the census?
People who do not identify with their birth sex are to be asked to state their “trans status”. For the first time Scots will be asked three questions about their sex, transgender status and sexuality.

Why the controversy?
The Scottish government had proposed a non-binary option for the sex question. However, statisticians said that this could distort figures on issues such as illnesses specific to men and women, while some feminists fear sex and gender would be conflated. Trans campaigners want an option to reflect the lives of people who do not identify as male or female.

What does transgender mean?
A transgender person’s sense of identity and gender do not match their birth sex.

Why are campaigners clashing?
Some feminist groups are worried about women’s rights being eroded. Trans activists say their rights are not being respected. Stonewall found that 41 per cent of British trans people experienced a hate crime or incident in the past year.