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What do young Scots think about the controversial gender reform bill?

We spoke to five people about the proposed legislation, which would make it easier for trans people in Scotland to change their legally recognised gender

Chiara Wilkinson
Written by
Chiara Wilkinson

Headlines have been dominated this week by news about Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill after Westminster announced it was blocking the law change from reaching its final stage. If passed, the legislation would lower the minimum age that someone can obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) to legally change their gender in Scotland from from 18 to 16. There would also no longer be a need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and someone would only have to live in their acquired gender for three months (or six months for under 18s), rather than two years.

Trans campaigners say the bill is a long-overdue step forward for human rights and gender equality, but critics have argued it could lead to ‘gender tourism’. Others have raised concerns about GRCs being abused by predatory men to gain access to single-sex female spaces. The block was the first time the UK government has decided to enact a section 35 order, allowing Westminster to prevent something the Scottish Parliament has voted for to become law. Westminster says it is objecting to the bill as it would have an ‘an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation’, while Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said the block is an ‘affront to democracy’. 

So the topic has been controversial – to say the least. But what do Scotland’s youth actually think about it all? We spoke to five young people from across the country to find out. 

We should be caring more about the climate emergency

‘People have been talking about this bill since I was like, 12. It always seemed like something that just made sense – I didn’t expect it to become the culture war it has. It concerns such a small population, and literally comes down to just wanting to go to the bathroom without harassment. And it’s not just an attack on human rights: it’s an attack on democracy.

‘We should be caring more about the climate emergency than making life difficult for a marginalised group – or we should focus on things like the shocking healthcare situation for trans people. It’s about a four-year wait to get an appointment at a gender identity clinic: I got referred when I was 14 and still haven’t had my first appointment. It’s created a situation where people need to deal with terrible mental health for years, or they have to find the money to go private.’–Dylan, 18, climate activist, West Lothian (he/him)

I’m a big advocate for women’s rights – I can’t see how it’s not going to be taken advantage of

‘Personally, I think the bill is a bad idea. I don’t think it will help trans people in the way it was intended to. As a female, I have fears about it being used maliciously. Changing the requirement of living as your preferred gender from two years to three months will make it easier for people to fake it, especially if they have ulterior motives at play. It’s very difficult to tell who’s genuine. I’m a big advocate for women’s rights, and can’t see how it's not going to be taken advantage of. You hear stories of that going on in the news, already. 

‘I also think the age for changing your gender should be 18 rather than 16 years. I remember being very impressionable when I was 16: I just listened to everything I saw on social media and regurgitated it. As much as I would love for Scotland to be fully able to make its own decisions, I’m glad there is a safeguard in place for things such as this, and I’m hopeful that the bill won’t pass. I’d never mention my opinions about this in person, though, because it’s so unpopular among my peers.’–Tasha*, 20, student, Aberdeen (she/her)

It’s unfair to use such a marginalised group as a political pawn

I don’t think the safety concerns that the legislation would allow predatory males to abuse the system are fair. The thing is, if men are going to use that to sexually assault someone or invade a female space, then they’re going to do that anyway – whether they have a certificate or not. It’s not like sexual assault only happens in female living spaces. It’s unfair to assume that people are going to take advantage of it when such a marginalised group in our society would benefit from it.

‘I think the argument has become more about SNP versus Westminster, which I think is completely unfounded. It’s unfair to use such a marginalised group as a political pawn or to be anti-devolution – I also think it’s ridiculous that it’s been blocked at this really late stage, where it’s so close to just being put through. And there are bigger issues we should be worrying about: like the number of sexual assault allegations within the police. We should be allocating more resources towards getting people actually prosecuted for these things.’–Sarah, 21, student, Edinburgh (she/her)

I would just like it to be over and done with

‘The first time I heard about the Gender Recognition Bill was in 2017. Back then, it seemed like a really exciting thing, but it’s been watered down so much – for example, non-binary was going to become a legal gender, which was removed. Scotland is meant to be this progressive country, so I was a bit disappointed with the final bill. I’m glad it is [proposed to be] happening, but it’s not going to have a massive impact.

‘Instead, I think we should be paying more attention to healthcare concerns. I’m non-binary, but I’ve taken testosterone and I’m now coming to the end of my medical transition: we need to look at the way gender identity clinics work, the waiting lists, their processes for prescribing and seeing patients and how trans people are treated by the GRCs. If the bill does go through (I think the backlash from Westminster is ridiculous, but completely expected), it will be a relief: now we can move on. I would just like it to be over and done with.’–Sam*, 21, theatre technician, Midlothian (they/them)

It seems like a distraction from the cost of living crisis

I think the bill is a good thing: we should be enabling people to have the freedom of expression. But I do question the Scottish government and wonder if their motives are genuinely compassionate or part of a self-serving political agenda to rebel against Westminster. The pushback has been an interesting curveball, though, and I think that denying us democracy hasn’t left a lot of young Scottish people with a great taste in their mouth.

‘I’ve followed the headlines through Instagram, which is like a huge echo chamber for people with a similar perspective. Generally, though, I think a lot of people in Scotland don’t think that the bill should be our highest priority: it seems like a distraction from things like inflation, the cost of living crisis and healthcare.’–Peter, 22, student, Edinburgh (he/him)

*Some names have been changed. 

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