Source: The Telegraph
Teenagers as young as 15 will be able to begin the process of legally changing their sex after MSPs blocked a last-ditch bid to exclude children from Nicola Sturgeon’s transgender reforms.
The SNP government on Tuesday rejected pleas to make meaningful concessions to critics of its controversial proposals, as a minister confirmed that Scots would become eligible to apply to change their legal sex on the day of their 16th birthday.
Shona Robison, a close ally of Ms. Sturgeon who is steering the bill through Holyrood, confirmed time spent living in an “acquired gender” as a 15-year-old would count towards a six-month minimum time period required by the legislation.
A bid by Jackie Baillie, the Scottish Labour deputy leader, to close the loophole was opposed by the Scottish government. An attempt to keep the legal age limit at 18 was also defeated, by 87 votes to 37.
Safeguards designed to make it harder for sex offenders to fraudulently apply to change their legal gender were also voted down on Tuesday, to the dismay of feminist critics.
The proposals had been designed to address concerns the legislation will be exploited by male predators to gain access to women's spaces.
However, Maggie Chapman, a Green MSP who is one of the legislation's most vocal cheerleaders, accused MSPs of sending transphobic "dog whistles" that "equate trans people with sex offenders."
A final vote on the legislation, which will allow Scots to change their legal sex simply by signing a declaration, will take place on Wednesday.
The provision to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to apply for Gender Recognition Certificates (GRCs) for the first time, potentially against their parent's wishes, is the most unpopular aspect of what is among the most contentious Bills in Holyrood’s history.
MSPs who oppose the plans, including several SNP rebels, warned that allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to choose to change their sex risked encouraging them onto an irreversible medical pathway.
Figures show that the number of young people with gender identity issues has rocketed over recent years, for reasons that are not yet fully understood, with the phenomenon particularly prominent among girls.
‘Bad faith actors’
Ash Regan, the former government minister who resigned from the government to vote against the Bill, urged MSPs to exercise “extreme caution” and warned that it was not appropriate to allow 16-year-olds to decide on such a profound change.
However, Ms. Chapman insisted lowering the age limit was “the right thing to do”.
“Changing one’s legal gender is not something one does on a whim,” she insisted.
Meanwhile, the SNP government was also accused by one of its own backbenchers of prioritizing the rights of male sex offenders above women.
Michelle Thomson, who has previously spoken publicly about being raped as a teenager, had proposed a change to the legislation that would have prevented those accused of serious sexual offenses from obtaining a GRC before a trial.
She warned that under existing proposals, this could lead to a female rape victim having to address her attacker as “she” or “her” in a courtroom.
However, it was opposed by the Scottish Government on the grounds that it could breach human rights legislation and create a risk of the legislation being struck down by the courts.
“My biggest concern about this Bill is bad faith actors, about whom the First Minister herself has recognized concerns,” Ms. Thomson said.
“In a court case won by the Scottish Government, they argued that a man with a GRC becomes a woman for all purposes.
"The logical extension of this position is that the Scottish Government also regards a man convicted of rape or sexual assault [with a GRC] as a woman for all purposes.
“Is that really the Government's view, and what message does it send to women? Does the government understand that they are putting the rights of a GRC-seeking man, charged with sexual assault or rape, above the rights of the woman who is the victim?”
Living in an ‘acquired gender’
Alexander Burnett, the Tory MSP, claimed that the Scottish Government of going to “extraordinary lengths” to push the Bill through by Christmas in an attempt to dodge scrutiny.
Holyrood sat late into the evening on Tuesday to vote on more than 150 amendments in a highly unusual timetable.
A late bid by the Scottish Tories to have today’s vote delayed until the new year was defeated after it failed to attract the support of other opposition parties.
Ms. Robison said that she did not support the attempt to raise the age at which someone could apply for a GRC to 16 years and six months so that the time period of living in an “acquired gender” was not completed by a 15-year-old.
“Setting a minimum age of sixteen and a half would be confusing," she said. "The principle of the Bill is that someone will declare they have been living in their acquired gender… and it’s a retrospective look. The person can only apply from 16 onwards, they can’t apply at 15-and-a-half.”
She said other measures would be put in place to hand the police the powers to block a GRC application from a sex offender or suspect.