The U.K.’s ruling Conservative Party deployed, for the first time, the legal right for the U.K. government to override Scottish legislation in order to stop Scotland’s new trans rights’ bill from taking effect. This legal maneuvering is known locally as “the nuclear option” and has set off a constitutional crisis, while fueling a culture war.
The Conservative Party is stoking fears of fraud to block the Scottish trans bill — a familiar tool used by the Republican Party to suppress voting rights in the U.S.
The Conservative Party is stoking fears of fraud to block the Scottish trans bill — a familiar tool used by the U.S. Republican Party to suppress voting rights. These unsubstantiated claims of rampant fraud, or the threat of fraud, are ironically used to justify laws that suppress civil liberties and corrode democratic values rather than protect democratic values, as the right purports it's doing here and in the U.K.
Scotland, which has had devolved powers since 1998 and therefore its own government, passed a gender recognition reform bill in December, which would loosen paternalistic and invasive requirements for trans people that had made it difficult for them to legally change their gender identity on birth certificate. The new law proposes changing the age at which one can legally change one’s gender to 16 from 18. It also allows people over 18 to submit the request after having lived as their declared gender for three months, or six months if one is 16 or 17. The current law requires a period of two years before an official gender change can be submitted.
Lastly, under this new law, changing one’s gender does not require the lengthy and costly process of acquiring a gender dysphoria diagnosis from a mental health professional and getting a second medical assessment relating to medically transitioning. “The bill as passed would introduce a simpler and fairer way for trans men and women to be legally recognized as who they truly are, allowing them to live with the dignity we all deserve,” Scottish Trans manager Vic Valentine said. I do, for the most part, agree with Valentine’s sentiment. As a trans nonbinary person, however, I will say one of the bill’s major shortcomings is the exclusion of “nonbinary” as a gender option.
Alister Jack, Conservative Party secretary of state for Scotland, argues the bill would undermine the Equality Act of 2010 by having two different sets of laws: “The bill also risks creating significant complications from having two different gender recognition regimes in the U.K. and allowing more fraudulent or bad faith applications.”
Under this new law, changing one’s gender does not require the lengthy and costly process of acquiring a gender dysphoria diagnosis from a mental health professional.
As mentioned, trumping up fears of fraud is a seasoned tactic used by the political right, whose members perversely claim they are defenders of democracy or democratic values by wanting to combat fraud, when there is little to no evidence to support this supposedly unwieldy problem, while using those same efforts to actually suppress civil liberties. We’ve been watching the GOP do this for decades now to finagle voter suppression with laws that especially affect minorities who tend to vote Democrat, even as, per the Brennan Center for Justice, “Extensive research reveals that fraud is very rare,” and “we must be careful not to undermine free and fair access to the ballot in the name of preventing phantom voter fraud.”
And now we’re seeing a familiar playbook in the U.K. in which conservatives seek to withhold rights from another minoritized community in the name of, among other things, preventing fraud.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon aptly said on Monday that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his party “will be using trans people — already one of the most vulnerable, stigmatized groups in our society — as a political weapon.”
The Conservative Party’s very own Penny Mordaunt published a consultation in 2018 — when she was minister for women and equalities, and Westminster (U.K.’s equivalent of Washington) briefly considered its own version of the law — making a similar case as Scotland did in justifying the passing of its bill. “Many trans people feel that this [current] process is overly intrusive, humiliating and administratively burdensome,” Mordaunt writes. “Further they argue that by requiring a diagnostic psychiatric report, the process perpetuates the outdated and false assumption that being trans is a mental illness.” The incongruity of this message with Jack’s statement only reinforces the belief many trans activists and progressives hold, that the Conservatives are using trans people as political pawns.
As I navigate the bureaucratic and medical changes that come with transitioning (both in the U.K. and U.S. as a dual citizen), I resent the patronizing requirements by the state, which places an enormous burden on trans people to prove who they are — rather than trusting them, as adults are trusted to make their own decisions in practically every other legal walk of life. And I resent the psychological evaluations necessary for some steps of the transition, which pathologize transgenderism. Furthermore, some trans people feel compelled to medically transition to an extent where they can pass as cisgender, when possible, if they live in environments that are hostile toward trans and gender non-conforming individuals (that is to say, living in an in-between state, as I do, can be a privilege). Creating a lengthy process for updating one’s documents can “out” trans people, to say nothing of the psychological burden, which also costs lives.
I resent the patronizing requirements by the state, which places an enormous burden on trans people to prove who they are.
Conservative Party members have also peddled the tired and spurious narrative that this law would make it easier for men to infiltrate “women-only” spaces, potentially endangering women and children. This, much like fraud fear-mongering, is a flat-out lie. Countless data shows trans women are much more likely to be killed than cisgender women and trans suicide rates are so disproportionately high precisely because of the state-sanctioned assault on our rights to live freely, to be recognized and protected under the law.
The only fraud I see in this saga is the specious justifications the Conservative Party has come up with to hinder the rights of trans people and, in doing so, override Scotland’s autonomy. Sturgeon has vowed to legally challenge the ruling, which invariably will produce contentious and important questions about self-determination on both the micro and macro level.