March 25, 2022 - 11:45am

Seven years after the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee opened the first (2015) inquiry into transgender equality, the ensuing debate has become polarised and heated. Yesterday, the committee reacted to the recent Government response to the committee’s second (2021) inquiry — which itself came hot on the heels of the Government’s (2020) publication of the analysis of its own (2018) consultation into changes to gender recognition. Confused yet?

It is easy to become exasperated that such a niche topic concerning a small group of people has occupied so much time at Westminster. But at stake is the boundary between men and women, and that affects everyone.

In a nutshell, the committee appears frustrated by the government’s caution. Caroline Nokes, the current chair declared that:

Moving closer to a system of self-declaration [of legal gender] and away from the currently over-medicalised process of gender transition would have given transgender people the dignity and respect they deserve.
- Caroline Nokes

Who told Nokes that self-declaration would give transgender people “dignity and respect” and why did she believe them? Nokes added:

I am disappointed that the Government is unwilling to take simple steps- such as the removal of the requirement to live as a stereotype in an acquired gender, or the requirement for a ‘gender dysphoria’ diagnosis- to move the GRA into the modern day.
- Caroline Nokes

The current process for gender recognition — that the government intends to retain — is neither onerous nor demeaning, certainly when compared with, for example, citizenship.

Trans rights are indeed human rights, but that means they must be considered in the context of everyone’s rights. It’s not just about us. For those of us who are married, it’s also about our spouses. The committee seemed to care little about them when they called for spousal consent to be removed.

If we change our legal sex, we change the status of our marriage. That affects two people, not just one. Currently, marriages cannot be changed without the consent of both parties — and rightly so. The committee sounded confused, claiming that married applicants need to “acquire the consent of their spouse in order to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate.” But that is not actually true. If consent is withheld, an interim certificate can be issued which can then be used as grounds to end the marriage. Once that happens, the trans person is free to apply to change their legal sex.

Removing safeguards moves nothing ‘into the modern day’. Those requirements — as Nokes calls them — are essential checks and balances that protect us all and foster public confidence in the process. That matters to me as a trans person, and it should matter to Nokes and her committee. After seven years of debate in Westminster, it’s high time for the Women and Equalities Committee to realise this fact.

Debbie Hayton is a teacher and a transgender campaigner.