The process to obtain a gender recognition certificate is ‘invasive’ and ‘inappropriate’ according to trans rights groups, despite the fee to apply for one being cut significantly.
The government announced this month that certificate fees have been reduced from £140 to £5 following a pledge by the equalities minister to ensure the process is more affordable for transgender people.
Those who want their acquired gender to be legally recognised in the UK currently have to apply to the Gender Recognition Panel for a Gender Recognition Certificate.
However, the process can be time consuming and involve hidden costs, while the need for a doctor’s diagnosis of gender dysmorphia has been described as ‘dehumanising’.
‘Fee reduction falls short of removing financial barriers’
Hannah Pittman, founder of TRACE, a campaign that supports trans individuals working in care services, says that each of the steps for getting a certificate “can have hidden costs associated with the provision of evidence for them, which is why the fee reduction falls short of removing financial barriers”.
Ms Pittman says that the fee reduction “is largely an optical change” and fails to address the financial barriers that remain in place for those trying to obtain and collate the evidence required to be able to apply for a certificate.
For example, the process doesn’t take into consideration transport costs, says Ms Pittman.
The campaign worker explains that although the change to fees is “a small step in the right direction” the process as a whole “remains expensive and inappropriate” and “does very little to address the wider issues presented by the application process.”
‘Invasive, dehumanising, and unfit for purpose’
As well as paying the certificate fee, the current process for legally changing gender requires a trans person to go through a review or appearance before a specialist panel.
Those applying through the ‘standard route’ have to be aged 18 or over, and must have lived in their acquired gender for at least two years, and intend to live in their acquired gender for the rest of their life.
They are also required to have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, which the NHS explains as “a sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity.”
A gender dysphoria diagnosis involves being assessed by a specialist team at a gender dysphoria clinic (GDC), which the NHS has admitted often requires long waiting times given “a huge increase in the number of people seeking a referral to a gender dysphoria clinic”.
Ms Pittman argues that this process is “invasive, dehumanising, and unfit for purpose”.
Following a public consultation, equalities minister Liz Truss announced in September 2020 that the Government had rejected calls for people to be able to self-identify their gender and change their birth certificates without a medical diagnosis.
Instead, the government agreed to reduce the cost of applying for a gender recognition certificate, and to move the process online in order to make it simpler. While the fee has now been reduced to £5, the process still hasn’t moved online and the government has not confirmed any clear timeframe for this.
The Government’s Equality Hub states that it is “working at speed to move the application process online, with more details to be set out in due course.”
Ms Pittman believes “it is obscene that the requirement for a gender dysphoria diagnosis should remain,” especially when the waiting list for Gender Identity Services means that getting the required diagnosis can be a long process.
‘A barrier for trans people’
Eloise Stonborough, associate director of policy and research at LGBT charity, Stonewall, says the reduced fee is a “small step in the right direction” but that the existence of the fee is a “barrier for some trans people”, and further changes to the process are desperately required.
“It’s important that the UK Government sets out a clear timeline of the further changes to streamline the application process, and move it online,” she says.
“All trans people deserve to be respected for who they are. Westminster’s failure to introduce a streamlined and de-medicalised gender recognition system based on self-determination, which includes non-binary people, continues to be a hurdle in progressing LGBT+ equality across the UK.”
Kathryn Bristow, 31, is a nonbinary trans woman from Bristol, who says the fee change “isn’t even a start to addressing the inequities trans people face, as a reduction to £5 ignores the real costs of a gender recognition certificate.”
The challenges include “having to prove you live up to antiquated ideas of gender, getting permission from your spouse and providing medical reports that may not be available to you because of NHS waiting lists over five years long,” they said.
“I can’t even start the process yet, as it’s been under two years since I began to live as my true self,” they added.
“Trans people have been completely let down by the limited scope of this reform.”