Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National party, has announced the party’s commitment to legal recognition for non-binary people in Scotland if the party is re-elected on May 5th. This issue has gained cross-party support with the Scottish Green and Labour parties supporting non-binary legal recognition while the Scottish Conservative party and Liberal democrats have pledged to review gender recognition legislation but not announced specific details. At the last elections in 2011 the SNP won a controlling majority of the Scottish Parliament with 69 of the 129 seat and 45.4% of the vote. Recent polls suggest they have extended this to over 50% of the vote.
The SNP’s announcement was made as part of a five point plan for LGBTI rights in Scotland. In this the SNP has committed to “review and reform gender recognition law for all Trans people to ensure it is line with international best practice.” This includes a move towards self-determination with the removal of a gender recognition panel, allowing 16 and 17 year olds to have their genders legally recognised and legal recognition of non-binary genders within the Gender Recognition Act. This would mean that non-binary people would be able to be issued a new birth certificate which specifies their gender as non-binary.
This heralds a great success for the Equal Recognition Campaign, run by Scottish Transgender Alliance and the Equality Network, which called for these three changes. Commenting on why there has been such great success Scotland opposed to the rest of the UK Vic Valentine of Scottish Transgender Alliance told Beyond the Binary that “the accessibility of the Scottish Parliament compared to Westminster has definitely helped non-binary people’s voices to be heard more clearly by politicians.” They also stressed that Scottish Transgender Alliance’s commitment to “always discussing non-binary equality within every presentation, training and guidance document” has helped “make the concept more familiar and accepted among MSPs and public servants.”
Nathan Gale of Non-binary Scotland described the support as “incredible”. “I honestly had tears in my eyes when I heard the First Minister say that she wanted to be able to boast about having brought in non-binary gender recognition. I couldn’t believe it. I think more than anything else it is the simple acknowledgement that we exist that matters the most, that non-binary people matter, that we deserve to have issues that impact on us discussed by the leader of our country. It will be amazing to be able to be seen in law as the gender that I am and not have to feel that I am always choosing between two options, neither of which feel authentic to me.
Clearly the legal situation is just part of what determines whether we can access our human rights and are treated with equality, and there is still so much to do. But a change in the law like this sends a really clear message to the public that our identities should be accepted and respected – we will be able to point to the legislation and say look there are more than two genders, it says so right there!”
Following the conclusion of the Trans Inquiry in Westminster it was announced that further work would be undertaken to assess how non-binary legal recognition would affect UK laws. No pledges however have been made to introduce it. When asked if these changes would prompt the rest of the UK to towards legally recognising non-binary people Valentine described it as “common sense that if a person can be legally recognised as non-binary in Scotland, this should also be the case in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.” Gale was similarly optimistic saying that “it would become untenable for the UK Government not to reform gender recognition legislation if Scotland has. There would be a really strong human rights case to be made if non-binary people in England are treated less fairly than their siblings in Scotland.”
Both Valentine and Gale noted that there was much work left to do to implement the changes including holding the politicians to their pledges, designing what wording would be used on official documents and involving intersex activists to help ensure that they would be included in the legislation.
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Words by Sarah Gibson
Beyond the Binary Assistant Editor