Scottish Government proposes Non-Binary legal recognition

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Nicola Sturgeon MSP – First Minister

And more good news for Trans Scots.

The current Scottish National Party (SNP) administration in the devolved Scottish Government has pledged to overhaul LGBT+ legislation, which will effectively give legal recognition to those in Scotland of non-binary gender.

Speaking before a hustings meeting co-hosted by LGBT+ rights groups including Stonewall Scotland and the Equality Network, the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, a former reciptient of the Scottish LGBTI Politician of the Year Award, laid out a five point plan intended to reform Scotland’s gender recognition laws “bring it into line with international best practice”, should the SNP be returned to power in the Scottish Parliamentary elections on 5 May 2016.

Proposals include to allow non-binary and transgender people to revise their birth certificates to reflect their gender, without the current need to seek approval from a tribunal of lawyers and doctors. Revised birth certificates will then be valid for passport applications, as well as for use in other legal documentation. If implemented, the changes would make Scotland the third country in the European Union, after Malta and Denmark, to recognise non-binary gender. The status is also recognised worldwide in Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Argentina.

The changes come after a recent survey carried out by the Scots LGBT+ campaign group Equality Network, found that 300 participants described their gender as “non-binary”, although it is believed the true figure could be as much as ten times higher.

The commitment was welcomed by Nathan Gale of Non-Binary Scotland, who said: “By making a commitment to reform gender recognition law the Scottish Government is ensuring that all trans people, no-matter what their gender identity, will be able to be themselves, in all aspects of their lives.

“Trans people who don’t identify as men or women have just as much right to have the gender they identify as recognised and respected as everyone else.

“I hope that the next Scottish Government will truly aspire to international best practice and provide for a third gender, alongside male and female, to be recognised in Scottish law.”

The five points of Ms Sturgeon’s commitment are as follows;

“Expect all new, guidance and promoted teachers to undertake training on equality so they are confident in tackling prejudice-based bullying.

“Promote children’s health and well-being right throughout early years, primary and secondary education, so that all children and young people learn tolerance, respect, human rights, equality, good citizenship, to address and prevent prejudice and about healthy relationships through refreshed, age-appropriate strategies and resources.

“Work towards every professional working with children being trained on equality, addressing prejudice-based bullying, attachment, child development and child protection.

“Review and reform gender recognition law for all Trans people to ensure it is line with international best practice.

“Aim for all police officers to receive appropriate training on the investigation of hate crime.”

In more detail, the proposals include the right of transgender young people of 16-17 year old to change the gender on their birth certificates, with parental support.

The proposals also have the potential to reduce the incidence of transgender people in Scotland convicted of crimes to be sent to prisons according to their birth gender. Regular readers will know this is a particular bugbear of mine, so I fully applaud the SNP administration in the Scottish Government for this move.

Speaking on the proposals, Ms Sturgeon stated “I’m proud that Scotland has made significant progress on LGBTI equality in recent years; however, the very fact that we are still having debates like this at election time just underlines that there is still much that we need to do.

“In particular I want to see a renewed focus on areas such as education – both for young people themselves, and those responsible for their emotional and educational wellbeing.

“Tolerance, respect, inclusion – these are attitudes and principles we want to encourage and foster in modern, fairer Scotland.

“Enabling young people to make informed choices about their gender and sexual identity is about supporting them to be themselves so that they might fulfil their potential.

“I am hopeful that in the next Scottish Parliament, we can build as much consensus on LGBTI issues as we did in this session – and take another leap forward for equality.”

Not everybody is happy however, and the loudest of the dissenting voices comes from the Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, Revered David A Robertson, who stated in an article in the Daily Mail, “Not content with the destruction of the traditional Christian ideas of sexuality and marriage, it appears the SNP are now seeking to destroy the traditional idea of gender. We do not believe that this will lead to the Brave New World envisaged by the proponents of the multi gender doctrine. It is destructive of humanity and will cause chaos in our society. The SNP seem to be working on the unproven and somewhat bizarre notion that children get to choose their own gender and sexuality.”

Rev Robertson is no stranger to such bigotry, and worse still, it is not as if he is ignorant of the facts. He is an educated man, a theology graduate, and has been well-informed, many times, of the facts about sexuality, marriage, and gender. He is correct when he speaks of Christian “ideas” of those subjects, but does not accept that they are merely that – ideas, not facts. He does not recognise that Christianity does not have a monopoly upon marriage, or that marriage originally was a social contract with no religious overtones, but he is more than well aware that nowhere in the Bible is marriage defined as one man / one woman, but rather that polygamous marriage (which is one thing Rev Robertson claimed SSM would lead to) is the most common form of marriage in the Bible, with monogamy being the exception, rather than the rule.

So likewise are his foolish notions of sexuality and gender merely Christian “ideas”, and when it comes to that, “ideas” shared by him and his minority “Free Kirk” (or Wee Frees, as they are known), which fly completely in the face of scientific research. I offer my heartiest congratulations to Rev Robertson, who stated in his blog, The Wee Flea, that he has recently become a grandfather. However, in the same article, The Ultimate April Fool – An Open Letter to Nicola Sturgeon, whilst claiming not to be transphobic, and to be an SNP supporter, he repeats the bigotry he voiced above and, going further, states of his new granddaughter, “My granddaughter was not ‘assigned’ gender at birth, as though she were being given a name. She IS a girl. She is not one of several genders that she can get to pick and choose as she pleases later on, according to some societal construct or government edict.” You could not make it up. Rev Robertson at first states that his granddaughter was not assigned gender, then later affirms “She IS a girl”. This of course neither Rev Robertson, his wife, nor the parents yet know. Yes, she has been assigned female, according to biological sex – not gender – at birth. But for all anyone knows, she may yet grow to identify as transgender or genderfluid. Only time will tell. And if that is the case, will Rev Robertson and the parents then drum into the wee one that she IS a girl? Yet the Scottish Government, and the LGBT+ community are apparently the ones ‘harming’ children. Bigots like he and his Wee Free followers do much more harm than those who, while cisgender themselves, at least are trying to understand trans and genderfluid issues.

Rev Robertson is certainly right on one thing; we do NOT get to choose our gender. Neither I nor any other genderfluid person chose to be so, just as no transgender person ever chose their gender. We were born with it. But then, no doubt the Rev Robertson chooses not to believe that, just as he no doubt does not believe that anyone is ever born intersex, with both sets of genitals. Or if he does, no doubt he believes that the parents should decree which side of the gender binary that child should be, according to their whims on whether they wanted a boy or a girl, and an operation reflecting that carried out, rather than leaving it to the child to decide when they are old enough which – if either – side of the gender binary they most identify with.

Having experimented since I was a child, I never came to terms with being genderfluid until I was “over 40” (don’t ask dears – I’m not telling), following years of depression and self-hate. I can therefore assure the hateful minds of the likes of Rev David A Robertson that despite his fine words, he and those who think like him are indeed transphobes, and do a great deal of harm – much, much more than they will ever know.  And should he be reading this, I will go further with a personal message – you are a bully, Rev Robertson, and in the nature of the bully, a gutless coward at heart.

Another dissenting voice came from the Time for Inclusive Education campaign, who are seeking compulsory inclusive sex and relationship education. A spokesperson stated;

“Only very small steps have been taken here regarding education – Nicola’s strategy here does not go far enough in protecting LGBT+ young people and this does not reflect the motion that was passed at conference. In order to ensure that our schools are inclusive of LGBT+, teaching staff must receive LGBT+ specific training – what Nicola proposes here is blanket equalities training, which will not do enough. Ourselves, SNP Youth and SNP Students expect and hope that the SNP’s manifesto will go much further than this and truly reflect the expectations of the membership who unanimously backed our campaign. If this is the strategy that will be taken into the next parliament, then we still have a very long way to go. We would urge the SNP to work with us on this, because the next strategy has to be the right one.”

I tend to agree the measures do not go far enough with regard to LGBT+ young people. In the run-up to the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, legislation was brought in to reduce voting age to 16. Likewise at 16 young people in Scotland can work, pay taxes, have sex (straight or gay), get married, live alone, order an alcoholic drink with a meal, and join the armed forces. To then say that they require parental approval to change their birth certificate to reflect their gender is to strip them of their rights as young adults. Likewise I agree with TIE that teaching staff need to have specific LGBT+ training to address LGBT+ issues, otherwise they won’t know what the hell they are talking about.

Yet these are but devils in the detail. These proposals from the SNP are to be welcomed and congratulated. The SNP formed the last devolved Scottish Government in 2011 with a majority, in a form of proportional representation voting which was supposed to make majority government an impossibility. They are currently riding very high in the polls, and look set to be returned with another majority government in May, and we can therefore see Nicola Sturgeon’s words as a solid commitment. I am not an SNP member, but I am certainly sympathetic to them, and after the election I shall expect these measures to be implemented as soon as possible.

As we did with Same-Sex Marriage, Scotland is indeed entering a “Brave New World”, but unlike the gloom and doom envisaged by the transphobes, under the wonderful and simply lovely Nicola Sturgeon it is going to be a much better Scotland, inclusive of all who live here no matter their background, and this Scot could not be all the more proud of her country for that.

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