Rt. Hon. Boris Johnson
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 2AA
Re: Reform of the Gender Recognition Act
17 June 2020
Dear Prime Minister,
On behalf of Human Rights Watch, I write to request that your government uphold the United Kingdom’s human rights obligations by reforming the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) to allow for self-identification and recognition of transgender and non-binary people. Reports that the government might abandon plans to reform the GRA and that it might explicitly exclude transgender women from “women-only” spaces run counter to the Conservative party’s commitment to LGBT rights and would undermine the UK’s leadership on LGBT issues globally.
The right to recognition as a person before the law is guaranteed in numerous human rights treaties and is a fundamental aspect of affirming the dignity and worth of each person. Under the current Gender Recognition Act, trans and non-binary people in the UK face significant barriers to legal recognition because they must provide evidence of a gender dysphoria diagnosis and demonstrate they have been living in their gender for two years. UK government research published in 2018 showed that 44 percent of trans respondents cited not having fulfilled the existing requirements under the GRA as their reason for not changing their legal gender.
The planned updates to the GRA would significantly ease these barriers and allow trans and non-binary people to access appropriate documentation that in turn would enhance protection of other rights that may be unjustly interfered with or restricted as a result of a lack of documents that match one’s gender identity. These include the right to privacy, the right to freedom of expression, and rights related to employment, education, health, security, access to justice, and the ability to move freely.
We are particularly concerned by media reports suggesting that the government plans to exclude trans women from women-only spaces. This would be a seriously regressive and discriminatory step. The government’s own 2018 consultation on the GRA states clearly that “trans and non-binary people are members of our society and should be treated with respect.” However, this proposal would force trans women to use male facilities, despite strong evidence that this puts them at risk of violence. Conversely, there is no evidence that allowing trans women access to women-designated spaces, which has been the case for a number of years, puts other women at risk.
The World Professional Association for Transgender Health, an interdisciplinary professional association comprised of over 700 members worldwide, has found that medical and other barriers to gender recognition for transgender individuals, including diagnostic requirements, “may harm physical and mental health.”
In line with international human rights standards and medical best practice, Human Rights Watch recommends that the government reform the GRA to allow for a transparent, accessible administrative process for legal gender recognition based on self-identification. We urge you to reject any policies that would subject trans women to discrimination and expose them to harm, in particular by denying them access to safe spaces for women.
Human Rights Watch