Gender Recognition Certificate: what is it - effect on access to single-sex spaces like prisons and toilets

The debate around gender recognition reform in Scotland has seen the UK government step in to use the rarely-used Section 35 to block devolved legislation

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The debate over gender reform in Scotland continues after the UK took the decision to block the new bill from being introduced in Holyrood.

The reforms would make it easier for trans people in Scotland to obtain a gender recognition certificate. This included a significant shortening of the process to obtain one, as well as a lowering of the minimum age.

The debate was further thrust into the limelight after the case of Scottish trans prisoner Isla Bryson. Debate arose over where the convicted rapist would be housed following her guilty verdict.

Bu does a gender recognition certificate affect this? And what other aspect of life of gaining a gender recognition certificate change for trans people?

Here’s everything you need to know about the process.

What is a gender recognition certificate?

A gender recognition certificate (GRC) is essentially a piece of paper which someone who has changed their gender will receive. The certificate will state which gender the person now identifies as and confirms that their chosen gender will be legally recognised.

How is a gender recognition certificate awarded?

In order for a GRC to be granted to a trans person in the UK, they must match a certain criteria. This currently includes a medical diagnosis for gender dysphoria and proof that the person in question has lived in their assigned gender for at least two years.

Gender recognition reforms in Scotland aimed to shorten and simplify this process. The reforms would have seen the minimum age being lowered to 16, the requirement for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and reducing the time lived in their assigned gender to three months.

Gender Recognition Certificates allow trans people to legally change their gender. (Credit: Mark Hall/NationalWorld)Gender Recognition Certificates allow trans people to legally change their gender. (Credit: Mark Hall/NationalWorld)
Gender Recognition Certificates allow trans people to legally change their gender. (Credit: Mark Hall/NationalWorld)

These reforms have however been put on hold after being voted through by Holyrood. The UK government stepped in by using a Section 35 clause in the Scotland Act, with Westminster saying that there were fears that the reforms could impact UK-wide equality laws.

What is affected by a gender recognition certificate?

A GRC changes gender on official legal documentation. This includes documents such as birth certificates, death certificates and marriage certificates.

Other documents such as passports and driver’s licences do not need a gender recognition certificate to make changes to the sex information for an individual.

Under current equality laws, trans people can use whatever gendered spaces they identify with without the need for a GRC. This includes changing rooms and toilets.

Single-sex spaces such as hospital wards, gender-based violence services and prisons are also available to use for trans people. A recent case in Scotland saw prisoner Isla Bryson moved from the women’s-only prison Cornton Vale to a male institution following backlash.

At the time, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that the Scottish prison system would work on a case-by-case risk assessment to determine where the prisoner should go. During the short incarceration at Cornton Vale, Bryson, who is a convicted rapist, was segregated from other prisoners before moving to the male-only institution.

However, a GRC would not have been needed in this instance. The choice to place Bryson in a women’s-only prison would have come from her living in her assigned gender.