January 24 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Changing gender certificate legislation is dangerous to women, say Church

Responding to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the subject, Anthony Horan, Director of the Scottish Catholic Parliamentary Office, outlines the Church’s concerns

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on proposed changes to gender recognition legislation. This is the law that allows people to legally change their gender so that it is reflected on their birth certificate and other official documents.

The law at present, under the Gender Recognition Act 2004, allows a person to legally change their gender provided they have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, that they have lived in their acquired gender for a period of two years, and that they intend to live in their acquired gender for the rest of their life.

This is referred to as the ‘standard track’ and is the most common route for someone to seek to legally change their gender. Part of this process includes the requirement for the individual to provide medical reports to the Gender Recognition Panel.


The Scottish Government is arguing that this process requires reform and is consulting on the following changes: removal of the current medical requirements; removal of the need to apply to the Gender Recognition Panel; and to change the time required to live in acquired gender from two years to three months.

It is also suggesting that the age limit for legally changing gender be reduced from 18 to 16.

Gender dysphoria, the feeling that one’s biological sex does not correspond with one’s lived/experienced gender, is a medically recognised condition; a condition that often causes significant distress and anxiety.

By moving to a self-declaratory model, as proposed in the consultation, and de-medicalising the wish to legally transition, society may fail to provide the necessary support for those affected by gender dysphoria in the form of contact with health professionals.


This is further exacerbated by the proposal to reduce the time a person is required to live in their acquired gender from two years to just three months.

A study in 2014 found that 41 per cent of people who identify as transgender will attempt suicide at some point in their lives, compared with 4.1 per cent of the general population.

Transgender persons are also more likely to suffer from conditions that often lead to suicide, including depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse.

There is no clear evidence that this is because of social stigma, social stress or other factors.


This is why more effective remedies based on scientific evidence need to be discovered to ensure appropriate support for those who experience gender dysphoria.

Without a clearer understanding of causes, society should not proceed with radical legal reforms or treatments, but rather proceed with caution and sensitivity.

Any decisions in relation to legislative changes must be well supported by solid scientific evidence.

Gender dysphoria cannot be politicised to the point where the science is side-lined.

There are other consequences of the proposed reform such as an increased risk to the safety of women. Could a man who self-declares as female be given access to a women’s refuge or safe house? Could a male prisoner self-identify as female and gain access to a women-only prison?

Prison Service

The Scottish Prison Service policy on transgender prisoners has, to some degree, anticipated the government’s proposals. The guidance declares that, with regard to transgender inmates, ‘the person in custody’s gender identity and corresponding name and pronouns must be respected’ so that the accommodation chosen ‘should reflect the gender in which the person in custody is currently living.’

Rhona Hotchkiss, a former prison governor, stated recently that, prior to this policy coming into force, there were only two prisoners who identified as transgender—this rose to 22 male to female transgender prisoners in custody in 2018.

Ms Hotchkiss stated that none had self-identified as female prior to their conviction. This represents around 7 per cent of the numbers of women in Scottish prisons; significantly higher than the percentage of transgender people found in the wider population, which is estimated at around 0.02per cent.


The dangers posed to women are highlighted by the case of Karen White, a biological male and convicted rapist who, following his incarceration, self-identified as female and applied to be moved to a women’s prison. White’s application was successful. He would later sexually assault a number of inmates at the prison.

The Catholic Church believes that gender cannot be reduced to a mere construct of society that is fluid and changeable. The Church is concerned for those who experience gender dysphoria and expects those in authority to ensure appropriate support is available.

Many people do not believe that gender identity is a matter of choice, or something that may be entirely divorced from the biological sex in which we are born, and the right to hold this view must be protected whatever the outcome of the consultation.


Pope Francis said: “Valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognise myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment.

“It is not a healthy attitude which would seek to ‘cancel out sexual difference’ because it no longer knows how to confront it.”

The consultation is open to all and I would urge you to contribute to the debate.

You can find the consultation at https://consult.gov.scot/family-law/gender-recognition-reform-scotland-bill/.

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