Gender Recognition Certificates: Scotland’s Attempted Legislation

It's been argued by some that Gender Recognition Certificates cost Nicola Sturgeon her job - but what are they?

As you’ve probably seen, last month Nicola Sturgeon tried to pass Scotland’s Gender Recognition Bill. It caused loads of controversy and, some have argued, even cost her her job.

The Bill tried to make it easier for transgender people to get Gender Recognition Certificates in Scotland – so we’re going to look at what Gender Recognition Certificates are, what they do, and try to work out why the topic caused so much controversy!

What are Gender Recognition Certificates?

A Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) is a document that lets you legally change your gender. It’s the only way that a trans person can officially transition – it’ll even get you a new birth certificate in your true gender. So, really, they’re only relevant to trans people. If you aren’t transgender then you shouldn’t have to worry about them.

A trans person at a parade - they have the transgender flag painted on their cheeks and have rainbow coloured braces.

Gender Recognition Certificates don’t have too much of an affect on a trans person’s daily life. You don’t need one to use the bathroom of your true gender, or even to change the gender on any of your official documents (apart from your birth certificate). You can do that without one. The only things that GRCs change are:

  • the marriage laws that apply to you
  • your pension
  • which prison you’d be placed in

If you’ve been following the Gender Recognition Certificate Scotland story, you’ll know that the prison stipulation is a particularly contentious issue.

What’s the current process of getting a Gender Recognition Certificate?

If you want a GRC, it’s a lengthy, complicated process. You need to prove that you’ve been living as your true gender for at least 2 years. You’ll need evidence from your doctor (detailing any treatments or surgeries you’ve had) as well as documentation showing that you’ve been living as your true gender for the past couple of years.

The documentation can be stuff like your driving licence, passport, utility bills or payslips. One of the clearest ways of demonstrating this is to get a Deed Poll and change your name. Letters, dated a couple of years ago, showing you’ve adopted a new name to match your true gender, are clear evidence.

If you’re planning on applying for a GRC, the sooner you get a Deed Poll, the better. 2 years is a long time, and you want to start the countdown as soon as you can. Not only that, but think how much it’ll improve your confidence knowing that your new name is legally your name.

A couple, reaching out to hold each other's hands, in front of an LGBTQIA+ flag for Gender Recognition Certificate Scotland blog

What changes would Scotland’s Gender Recognition Bill have made?

The Bill would have made it easier for trans people to get a Gender Recognition Certificate. If passed, it would’ve:

  • Lowered the minimum age for changing gender from 18 to 16
  • Removed the need for a medical diagnosis
  • Reduced the period you needed to provide evidence of living as your chosen gender from 2 years to 6 months

It’d be a lot simpler, wouldn’t it? Any trans person could get a GRC within 6 months, and they wouldn’t even need a medical consultation.

Why is it so controversial?

Gender Recognition Certificates seem pretty harmless and they only affect trans people (0.5% of the Scottish population) – so why was the Bill blocked? I’ll explain my personal understanding and opinion, but bare in mind that I’m by no means an expert on any of these issues.

One of the arguments against was gender tourism. People could move to Scotland, get a GRC, then leave. That’d cause complications in classification across the rest of the UK. The main point of controversy, though, is the argument that predatory men could use a GRC to access women’s spaces. Critics argue that if anyone can self-identify and change gender, women no longer have safe, single-sex spaces. The Isla Bryson case propounded this point.

Personally, I don’t understand this argument. Trans people don’t need a GRC to access single-sex spaces. They can access them anyway. And it could definitely be argued that anti-trans campaigners focus on this one hypothetical to stigmatise the whole transgender community. Either way, the Bill wouldn’t have affected trans people using same-sex spaces. Maybe people conflating the two issues explains the pushback on the Bill.

A pair of hands holding clay mouldings of the letters LGBTQ in the colours of the rainbow for the gender recognition certificate Scotland blog

What happens now?

Trans people can still apply for GRCs, but the process is as long and complicated as it always was. Who knows? Maybe in the future the Bill will come back, revised, and get passed. I’m sure it’s not the last we’ve heard of it.

For the time being, though, there’s still a minimum 2 year wait. If you’re wanting to transition, then, you might as well start your journey now by getting a Deed Poll – why wait any longer than you have to?

Declan Ramsden
Declan Ramsden

Declan is a Content Creator at Vital Consular. He studied English Literature for 4 years before joining the company. Outside of work, he enjoys listening to retro music and reading classic novels – particularly Charles Dickens!

Articles: 21

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *