On 17 May, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, the SNP member of parliament Mhairi Black gave a fantastic speech calling for the reform of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). This came two days after the only trans councillor in Scotland quit the SNP accusing it of institutional transphobia, and just weeks after 15 senior members of the SNP wrote an open letter, publicly attacking the SNP’s plans to reform the GRA, the very reforms Mhairi gave an impassioned speech prompting.
The reforms to the Gender Recognition Act shouldn’t be that controversial. The current act allow a trans person to apply for a gender recognising certificate which states their gender. It is effectively a replacement for the birth certificate and can be used in place of it. Currently, in order to qualify for a gender recognising certificate you have to have to send proof you’ve lived in your “acquired” gender for two years, a number of detailed medical reports, proof of your change of name and, putting it out of the reach of many working-class trans people, £140. The documents are then reviewed by a panel and if all is in order, a gender recognising certificate is issued to you.
The proposed changes would streamline the process allowing the trans person to “self-define”, that is sign a legally binding document stating that they will live in their gender and that it’s not for fraudulent purposes. More or less the same kind of document that you need to sign if you change your name. Critics of “self-declaration” claim that it would allow men to access women’s only spaces, such as toilets and changing rooms, wilfully ignoring the fact that the 2010 equality act already grants trans people the legal protection to use whichever space best suites them (and really, have you ever been asked to show your birth certificate before being allowed to use a loo?) And that it would give men access to domestic violence refuges — again ignoring the fact, such refuges already accommodate trans women.
Clearly therefore those claiming such reforms harm cis women are either mistaken or malicious. Given the 15 SNP members include lawyers and MP’s it would be surprising if they were unaware of the law, and the well stated position of women’s centres.
On the surface it may appear strange that an MP can give a fantastical supportive speech — that a party can set out to make Scotland one of the most progressive countries in the world and yet harbour such transphobia within it ranks, and then not have that transphobia condemned by the party leader.
The SNP has set itself out to be a progressive nationalist party since its beginning. However, it is first and foremost a nationalist party. Its members are happy to promote the notorious transphobic and homophobic “Wings over Scotland” aka Stuart Campbell (who indecently doesn’t live in Scotland, but in Bath) purely because he supports independence. In short, the SNP lacks an analysis of class.
Reforms to the Gender Recognition Act while important, are far from the only issue affecting trans people. However, this highlights how without a understanding and analysis of the class nature of society it is easy for political organisations and movements to become the home to toxic, regressive views.