By Iman Ali Mounged
On the 4th of May 2021, the UK Government cut the Gender Recognition Certificate from £140 to £5 and has made its services accessible online. Although long overdue, this is a tremendous move forward for making gender recognition services more accessible to trans folk in the country.
What is the Gender Recognition Act?
The Gender Recognition Act (GRA) was introduced in the UK in 2004 to legally allow people with gender dysphoria to change their gender on legal documents. It was drafted after the European Court of Human Rights were involved in a case in 2002 where a transgender person’s inability to change their legal gender was a breach of their human rights under certain articles of the European Convention of Human Rights. The bill was then officially passed by the House of Commons in May 2004.
The GRA covers topics around applying for gender recognition services, the processes around that, the evidence required and outcomes of applications. It also covers legal matters on civil partnerships, marriage, pensions and parenthood. A Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) is the document that proves a person’s eligibility to seek legal recognition of their gender identity based on some criteria (often medical criteria) that they need to meet.
What has changed?
People can now legally change their gender identity without a medical diagnosis. Before this, you had to go through a process of medically receiving approval that you suffer from gender dysphoria and would need to pursue gender recognition services to ensure your welfare. You had to prove that you were living in your “acquired gender” for a certain period and had to report all medical procedures documenting your treatments regarding this. Arguably a highly uncomfortable and medically intrusive process; trans people had no choice but to embark on this journey to legally recognise their sovereign gender identity across their legal documentation.
The cost of acquiring a GRC was inhibiting about 34% of transgender people from pursuing this, according to a National LGBT Survey. Therefore, the cost barrier being removed now means that this service will be financially accessible to all. Along with that, the online aspect of seeking this service means that the process can now be simpler, easier and safer for transgender folk in the UK.
Additionally, an independent review announced by NHS England will take place to cover how Gender Identity Development Services will continue to provide support to trans children and youth, as well as how that can further improve. The Government is also set to open three new gender clinics this year, significantly cutting NHS gender clinic waiting lists.
Non-binary and non-conforming folk
However, it must be considered that gender non-conforming and non-binary people still do not have access to these services. A petition to make “non-binary” a legally recognised gender identity in the UK was signed and received over 100,000 signatures, which means that Parliament will actively consider in a debate (link below). It’s important to recognise the separation of their identity from transgender people and thus, the process to acquire the legal recognition of their identity.
New Marriage Act Reform
On a different note, the Marriage Act now allows for both names of the parents to be legally recognised in marriage certificates. Previously, only fathers’ names were included. The Home Office calls this the biggest reform to the marriage registration system since 1837, correcting a ‘historic anomaly’.
It’s quite absurd that this has only addressed in 2021, but alas, it is also worth honouring.
Even though a lot of these changes are long overdue, the speed through which these changes occur is indicative of how dynamic and how crucial it is to carefully handle issues around gender, health and wellbeing. In just the span of a few days, the GRA was reviewed and the Marriage Act was reformed. Over the years, public voices have spoken and the government has finally taken some action.
The UK has made great strides over the years in acknowledging and recognising the marginalised identities of the LGBTQIA+ community. Although advocating for the welfare and equality of all LGBTQIA+ and marginalized members of society continues; this ruling is worth celebrating and embracing.
Today we can commemorate the effort and work of those before us and celebrate that of our own. These strides of progression foreshadow an optimistic trajectory in the future of queer politics in the UK.