LGBTI Scottish hustings reveals consensus on gender recognition law change

The five main Scottish Party leaders participated in a hustings organised by Stonewall Scotland, the Scottish Transgender Alliance, the Equality Network and LGBTI Youth Scotland. Those four organisations do ground-breaking work to support LGBTI people. Their role in providing positive and practical help can’t be under-estimated and they are helping to change the culture of the country.

If you are a young person struggling to come to terms with your sexuality or gender identity today, you can see that five party leaders, including the woman who runs the Scottish Government talk about how important it is that in school, at work, in society, you are free to live your life without discrimination. They agree that health services need to improve so that they meet your needs.  Compare and contrast to even 20 years ago, when Section 28 (or 2A as it was in Scotland) was in force. It’s such a powerful signal of acceptance for all leaders to participate in something like this. It will help those young people walk taller, with more confidence.

The event was chaired by journalist Louise White, who had clearly done her homework and knew her brief very well. It started with 3 minute opening statements from the leaders. Willie Rennie was last to speak. That’s a bit of a tall order to say something different when there is so much broad agreement on these issues, but he managed it. He talked about how joyous and colourful the LGBTI movement is, and how it has transformed Scotland by its engaging and reasonable campaigns. He looked back to what he called the “dingy and desperate” days of Brian Souter’s Keep the Clause campaign and highlighted the positive, assertive LGBTI campaigns.

He also had something to say to people who found the idea of LGBTI equality difficult, a straightforward statement of liberal values:

I’m going to concentrate on the things that Willie said, but the truth is that I agreed with most of what they all said. They were all thoughtful and candid. Nicola Sturgeon said at one point that she didn’t necessarily understand all the issues affecting LGBTI people but looked to the organisations who were running the event to keep her informed. Patrick Harvie recounted how he had been called a threat to the family by the Daily Mail and made the very important point that we tolerate far too much homophobic and transphobic comment where we would never tolerate views which were racist.

Poor Kezia Dugdale was obviously suffering – she had a chest infection and was clearly unwell. However, she had done her homework, highlighting the grim reality of poor mental health and suicide for LGBTI people who can’t get the support that they need.

Ruth Davidson said that she hadn’t expected her election as Tory leader to matter to people and spoke of the messages she’d had from across the political spectrum congratulating her and saying how important it was to them that she was there. She also contrasted the way she was described in the media with her opponents. They were variously described by their roles as Committee chairs, or spokespeople. She had to contend with the “lesbian kick boxer” label for too long.

It was Ruth who caused the only real moment of tension. Louise White, understandably, had asked Nicola a couple of questions about what she’d done in office. That’s fair enough given that Nicola has been in charge. She also asked Nicola about the SNP candidate for Aberdeenshire East who, it had been revealed, had used a transphobic slur in a blog post some years ago. Nicola actually handled that very well. She didn’t let Louise get to the end of the sentence to repeat what Gillian Martin had said. She then said that Gillian had apologised (I’m not sure she actually has, but happy to be proved wrong on that one) and talked of the need to be very careful about making sure that the language we use didn’t cause “deep pain” to people.

Anyway, Ruth had a right go at Louise, saying that she wasn’t treating everyone on the panel fairly. It was perhaps a little unfair to do that quite as aggressively as she did.

Willie answered the questions with his characteristic empathy and understanding of the practical issues involved. That was particularly clear when he talked about waiting times at the Sandyford, the only gender identity clinic which treats young people. Waiting times have gone up from 4 months to a year. All the panel agreed that had to improve. Willie talked very movingly about the race against time for young people who need puberty blockers.

There were a couple of points of disagreement. Willie, Patrick and Kezia were all very much in favour of mixed sex civil partnerships. Nicola said that she she had an open mind but didn’t think there would be the demand. Willie said it didn’t matter how few people wanted them, our laws should be compatible with our philosophical belief in equality. Ruth was also ambivalent.  Gender neutral markers on passports, so important to those who don’t identify as men or women, also divided the panel. Ruth wasn’t persuaded that this was necessary.

There was agreement, however, that the next Parliament should totally overhaul the Gender Recognition Act with most being in favour of simple self-declaration of gender identity without going through the cumbersome, stressful, process. That was a great thing to see on the Transgender Day of Visibility.

As always, there are things that didn’t get the attention they deserved. Intersex people barely got a mention, and there are specific issues affecting older LGBTI people that need to be addressed.

I’m so glad that I was able to go. Thursday was the first day in two weeks that I had ventured very far from home after being floored by a truly horrible virus. It was well worth it to see such consensus, thoughtfulness and engagement from all our political leaders. We can be proud of them all – and it looks like there’s a good chance that Scotland will lead the way.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Eddie Sammon 3rd Apr '16 - 4:24pm

    Particularly I want the suicide and self-harm rates for trans people to come down, but I don’t think we should make gender 100% a social choice. Science plays it part.

    I know there’s lots of difficulties that people will be aware of, but to name one: can a man change his identity to a woman and then compete against women in combat sports?

    I’m not trying to be negative, it’s a serious issue and it would be good to have a serious debate about biological gender and gender identity.

    If we just champion non-discrimination then people will assume the above situation can happen. Maybe with weight classes it wouldn’t be too bad, but there’s an awful lot who wouldn’t be comfortable with it.

  • “most being in favour of simple self-declaration of gender identity”

    A free-for-all on self-declaration would certainly be fantastic news for any man who simply fancies hanging around in women’s changing rooms or other gender-specific places such as prisons or hospital wards. How would a self-declaration system prevent this happening – or would it simply allow it?

  • Eddie: most of the competitive advantages – such as muscle mass and bone densities – that men enjoy in sports often dissipate within months of a trans woman starting hormone replacement therapy.

    In the case of post-operative trans women, their lack of naturally circulating testosterone (which cis women get from their ovaries) actually puts them at a disadvantage. Take, for example, the MMA fighter Fallon Fox: she can’t win as many endurance matches because muscle fatigue sets in earlier for her.

    And, let’s be honest, someone like Ronda Rousey or Holly Holm could probably kick the ass of half the UFC roster.

    Stuart: Whatever gender recognition system we have won’t make a difference. Rapists and voyeurs aren’t going to go to the trouble of pretending to be a trans woman to enter gender-specific places when they can already.

  • @Sarah
    They certainly will go to that kind of trouble, in fact with self-declaration it won’t actually be any trouble, which was my point. When we were discussing the issue of transgender prisoners a few months ago I mentioned at least one case of a prisoner sent to a woman’s prison who then had to be sent back to a male prison when they didn’t turn out to be all they claimed to be. These things do happen – even in our current supposedly restrictive system.

    How exactly would you envisage self-certification working? If I’m about to go in to hospital, for instance, would I be able to download & sign a form and demand to be put in a women-only ward? If the women in the ward object, do you tell them simply to put up with it?

  • Eddie Sammon 3rd Apr '16 - 8:33pm

    Thanks Sarah. That sounds fine. I did some more reading on it and the Olympics and it seems there are rules about hormone replacement drugs which I think probably need to be kept. We need to be science led. I’m not a scientist, just asking questions and reading advice.

    There is also the issue of puberty blocking drugs which we need to be very cautious with. We have discussed this before on Lib Dem Voice, but some healthy caution with these things will go along way to winning support.

    It’s not about left or right wing, just asking reasonable questions without caving into bigotry.

  • Jennie Kermode 4th Apr '16 - 2:12pm

    Thank you, Caron, for an excellent article. It’s heartening to see the political consensus that has developed around these issues in recent years and great to have the Lib Dems on board. Willie is a fantastic ally.

    Regarding concerns about safety in relation to self-declared gender, it’s worth noting that there’s very little evidence to support this. Cases of assault committed by men passing themselves off as trans women in order to enter female-only spaces are vanishingly rare. When men do wish to invade such spaces, they simply do so without bothering to disguise themselves, because assaults like this generally occur when women are alone and vulnerable, making any disguise unnecessary and irrelevant. Trans women forced to use male-only spaces face high levels of aggression and abuse.

    Fortunately as a disabled person, i don’t generally have to worry about which toilets I, as an intersex and non-binary person, am expected to use; but I do find it odd that people like me, see as Society’s Most Vulnerable, use gender neutral toilets all the time without anyone worrying about us, yet able bodied people are perceived to be in danger doing so.

    Regarding sports, Sarah is quite correct, and each sporting body has its own rules to take into account potential advantages like these just as it deals with other types of advantage or disadvantage.

    Regarding intersex issues, I’m happy to note that there is now a Scottish Intersex Forum meeting regularly with a view to advising on policy. We’re currently mapping out a practical way forward with the assistance of civil servants and we hope to have the groundwork in place to start working on practical change later this year. We would be delighted to engage with the Lib Dems at this stage.

  • Helen Tedcastle 4th Apr '16 - 2:52pm

    ‘ Gender Recognition Act with most being in favour of simple self-declaration of gender identity ‘


    I don’t always agree with you but on the issue of gender self-identification law, I agree wholeheartedly.

    As a woman, I would feel very uncomfortable sharing toilets or hospital wards with men and trans-gender women. I don’t think I’m the only one either. What is going to prevent a predatory man taking advantage of such a law in order to pursue women?
    Also there was the recent issue of trans-women who have a history of violence against women, campaigning for transfer to a women’s prison.

    Women have rights too.

  • Regarding concerns about safety in relation to self-declared gender, it’s worth noting that there’s very little evidence to support this. Cases of assault committed by men passing themselves off as trans women in order to enter female-only spaces are vanishingly rare.

    This is most probably down to current social norms, which the vast majority of the population adhere to. You only need to go to an event where most of the audience are ‘ladies’ and hence the ‘gents’ is hardly used, to see this in effect: women will queue to use the ‘ladies’ rather than use the empty ‘gents’ even when encouraged to do so by stewards. On the whole men behave similarly.

    The real problem with “self-declaration”; whatever that might mean in the real world, is that it firstly changes the social norm and secondly there is no way anyone can reasonably question someone’s “self-declaration” without causing the right-on PC crowd shouting out “human rights infringement” etc. etc.

  • An excellent and interesting report from Caron, thank you. The web stream of the meeting sadly ran out early in the Q&A.

    A shame this comment thread took just one post to derail into people declaring themselves delusional and dangerous. Every so often LDV helps us divide the liberals from the people who think that the problem with UKIP is they just don’t want to drag society back far enough. (I wonder where we should put ciswomen with a history of violence against women when they are imprisoned? One prison each would really kickstart public spending)

    Excellent point from Jennie on an aspect of the public toilet strawman that had never occurred to me. Thank you for that insight Jennie.

  • David Evans 5th Apr '16 - 11:38am

    I think Jennie raises some useful points, but in one area I am not sure. When she refers to disabled toilets being gender neutral without any problems, this is clearly true, but there is one fundamental difference between that and what is the norm for most toilets which makes her point less valid.

    Each disabled/mums/dads and baby toilet I have come across has had its own door onto a public area, with no place where someone could hide themselves. Hence someone on opening the door can immediately assess the risk and make an informed decision. This is not the case with most other toilets where multiple cubicles open into a shared area which then has a second door to a public area. The risks in this case are much more significant. If all toilets were single entry gender neutral there would be little problem, but getting there would be a costly and difficult process.

  • Helen Tedcastle 5th Apr '16 - 6:07pm

    The following is an excellent feminist response to the campaign to ‘de-gender’ women’s space as they see it, especially relevant in view of the campaign for a change in the law on sex and gender in Scotland.

    To quote:

    Transgender activists, ‘ base their campaign for access to women’s toilets on the problem of violence from other males in the men’s facilities. Their apprehension, however well-founded it may be, is not a reason for enabling their entry into women’s
    facilities because women have well-founded fears of being sexually assaulted by male persons.

    The specific needs and interests of women which led to the creation of women’s
    toilets, and remain valid concerns, are ignored or ridiculed by theorists and activists who seek to ‘de-gender’ the toilet.

    ‘Women’ are disappeared by the ideology of ‘gender’ adopted by these campaigners, who, inspired by queer theory and post-structuralist ideas about gender, essentialise it such that it is substituted for the biological difference of ‘sex’.

    Toilets for women were set up to enable women and girls to enter public space safely in systems of male domination, in which the female sex caste is subjugated and made vulnerable to sexual assault and harassment on the basis of sex. The uncomfortable reality of violence against women cannot be entirely eliminated through a change in language.’

    Perhaps Jen would like to explain why women’s rights and safety are not Liberal issues any longer.

  • @Helen
    Lib Dems certainly USED to believe in the importance of things like providing women (and men for that matter) the dignity of staying in single-sex wards if they want to. For instance Norman Lamb, when a health minister, was partly responsible for enshrining this as a patient’s right under the NHS constitution, and spoke often about how important it was. Back in 2008, while attacking Labour for dragging their heels over the issue, he told the BBC that the issue was “deeply upsetting to many patients and can put the more vulnerable at risk of abuse”.

    I’m still waiting for one of the supporters of self-declaration to explain how exactly the concept of single-sex wards can be preserved if any man can officially become a woman with the stroke of a pen.

    There are two things to be considered here: (a) the rights of transgender people and the importance of helping them make their lives easier, and (b) protecting the rights of women and girls who wish to have female-only spaces in certain situations. We need to do both, but the proponents of self-declaration are only concerned with (a). They don’t seem to want to think about the practical questions around (b) at all.

  • Ben Jephcott 5th Apr '16 - 11:29pm

    I don’t blame Eddie Izzard, who is clearly trying very hard to be a positive force in human affairs, but his interview on The Agenda on ITV the other night suggested that he takes a very male and reductionist view on the whole debate over public toilets and ‘safe spaces’. It seems utterly ludicrous to me to reverse decades of achievement to protect the rights and safety of women in public places to suit the agenda of the tiny number of people driving this interpretation of trans liberation. Meanwhile Germaine Greer is being dismissed due to ageism, while No Platform movements sweep across campuses nationwide. It is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that this confusion over the conditions for liberation is now consensus either in Scotland or across the UK. It is not and the Liberal Democrats should be asking questions, not closing down debate in a desperate attempt to retain a perceived lead in identity politics.

  • Helen Tedcastle 6th Apr '16 - 6:28pm

    @ Stuart

    I did reply to the points in your last comment but as my comment has been blocked yet again, I will simply say that I agree with you.

  • Helen, Stuart: there is literally zero evidence of policies allowing trans women into single-sex spaces for women (because, duh, they’re women) negatively impacting on safety; indeed, more Republican legislators have been arrested for sexual misconduct in public restrooms than trans people.

    Also, Sheila Jeffreys is the last person you would want to cite; after all, she’s one of that group of scholars that want to deny trans people healthcare they need in favour of healthcare that would kill them.

  • Wow. What a horrible collection of TERFery. And a link to Sheila Jeffreys as well… I suspect if I said what I wanted to say in reply to all this toilet panic, redolent as it b is v of the toilet panics spread by the wrong side in the civil rights movement, I too would be moderated so I’ll just say these two things:

    Most of us have gender neutral toilets in our homes, and that is where the vast VAST majority of sexual assaults take place. Trans women just want to pee in peace, just like the rest of us. Gender neutral toilets (and changing rooms) are absolutely the way to go. We have them at my local swimming pool and it’s FINE.

    Everybody always talks about trans women in these situations but not trans men. Trans men have to pee too. Just saying.

  • In our local secondary school, the toilets are open plan with one side for girls and the other for boys (no urinals ) and then a central horse trough washing basin. I don’t see why all public toilets can’t be like this, with multiple cubicles opening into a corridor. tnete wouldn’t be any question of lack of safety then.

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