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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Protests cause delay to gender reform debate

protestorsPA Media

A marathon debate on controversial plans to make it easier to change their legal gender was suspended after protestors interrupted the session.

It came as MSPs voted against a move to make it harder for sex offenders to change gender.

The result was met with shouts of “shame on you all” and “there is no democracy here” from the public gallery.

The session was suspended for 30 minutes while the gallery was cleared.

Members of the public were later allowed back into the galleries, with MSPs describing the decision to remove them as “a disproportionate response” to the heckling.

The Scottish Parliament had been due to discuss and vote on 150 proposed amendments to reforms of the Gender Recognition Act on Tuesday evening.

But the debate will now continue on Wednesday ahead of a final vote on the proposals.

  • What are the plans for gender reforms in Scotland?

The Scottish government wants to make it easier for trans people to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), which changes the gender recorded on their birth certificate.

The proposals will remove the requirement for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

They will also lower the minimum age for applicants from 18 to 16 and drop the time required for an applicant to live in their acquired gender from two years to three months – or six months for people aged 16 and 17 – with a three-month reflection period during which they can change their mind.

Efforts by some MSPs to keep the minimum age at 18 have already been voted down.

Anyone who does obtain a GRC will need to live as their acquired gender for the rest of their life – and could face prosecution if they do not.

Opponents of the proposals fear they could be a danger to women and girls, particularly around the provision of single-sex spaces.

Conservative MSP Russell Findlay tabled an amendment that sought to prevent convicted sex offenders being allowed to change their gender.

The amendment was defeated by 59 votes to 64 with two abstentions – sparking angry scenes in the gallery.

scottish parliament chamber

Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

However, the government is expected to back another proposed amendment by SNP MSP Gillian Martin that would mean anyone convicted of a sexual offence who wants to apply for a GRC will need to be fully risk assessed.

If the risk is thought to be too high, their application could be refused.

It follows concerns that predatory men could attempt to change their gender to gain access to female prisons.

There have also been protests over a decision to send a trans woman who has convictions for sexually assaulting young girls to the all-female Cornton Vale prison in Stirling.

Katie Dolatowski was awaiting sentencing after previously admitting assaulting a fellow inmate while in a male prison.

A former governor of Cornton Vale, Rhona Hotchkiss, recently told BBC Scotland that in her experience it was “always an issue to have trans women in with female prisoners”.

Seven SNP MSPs voted against the legislation at an earlier stage in the process – including former community safety minister Ash Regan, who resigned ahead of the first parliamentary vote – while two others abstained.

Ms Regan spoke during Tuesday’s debate to criticise the lowering of the minimum age to 16, saying she believed it was too young for someone to make such a “very profound change”.

The session began with apparent attempts from the Scottish Conservatives to delay proceedings by tabling four separate amendments to the parliamentary agenda.

The party has accused the government of attempting to rush the reforms through parliament in a attempt to avoid proper scrutiny.

Despite the heated debate around the bill, it will almost certainly pass into law in a final vote – which is currently scheduled for Wednesday – given the wide support within the SNP, Greens, Labour and Liberal Democrats.

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