Legal Recognition of Non-binary Gender Identities — [Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:05 pm on 23 May 2022.

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Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities) 5:05, 23 May 2022

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I have to say to him that I am a woman and I am not going to be erased, and other people having the opportunity to have their identity respected is absolutely no threat to me or to my identity.

I wondered whether it was worth going back to consider the principles. Who are we talking about? Who are non-binary people? The hon. Gentleman has used the word “they” a few times. He may have a very clear picture of who he is referring to, but people who are listening or watching may not, so I think it is useful to explain that the term “non-binary people” reflects an incredibly diverse group of people—people who are undergoing various forms of social and medical transitions or none at all—and that not all of those whose views, lives or concerns are reflected here today would use the term “non-binary” to describe themselves. We are talking about a broad range of people.

The one thing that we can be sure of is that this is a group of people who are not currently recognised in the UK, and that presents them with challenges. The lack of legal recognition results in barriers. If they have a piece of identity documentation, as we all do, it may present differently from the way in which they present in their day-to-day lives. I think that all of us can understand that that might present a challenge. When we join a new workplace we have to present an identity document, and it must be a matter of concern for anyone whose identity document does not reflect their daily life. We do not need to agree with everything that has been said today to accept that that is a challenge and that perhaps we can find a better way.

I think that society in general is moving on this issue. We have heard a lot about young people. The young people I speak to have a much broader and open perspective on such issues than was the case many decades ago, when I was at school. At that time, LGBT people faced a difficult climate. My school was very large and it was thought that nobody there was gay—of course, that is complete nonsense, as I now know, because lots of people are gay. There was nothing wrong with the school, but the social climate was not accepting, so the situation was not okay for them.

That shows how we have moved on, and I think we are moving on further. Business and civic society are more open to the fact that we need to accommodate the needs of non-binary people, whether that is in employment, service provision or whatever. The fact that we cannot have this type of conversation about the barriers—never mind legal recognition—is a challenge.

Seventy-eight per cent of non-binary people have told TransActual that they do not have identification documents. That is a real challenge for them. How on earth do people go about their lives without having identification documents that align with their lived experience? How will that affect people socially, never mind things such as employment?

Other countries have moved further forward. The hon. Member for Don Valley reflected that in what he said. I think he said that England is the best country and that he supports the way things are done there. That is absolutely his perspective, but I think it is sensible for us to recognise that other countries around the world have a different perspective. Perhaps we should examine why that is the case and consider whether it has caused difficulties. It does not appear to be challenging in countries such as India, Nepal, New Zealand, Iceland and Taiwan—I could go on—for there to be a different and more open way of recording.

In considering how we go forward, it is key that we take on board the views and lived experience of those directly affected. The Women and Equalities Committee has done that. It produced a report on transgender equality in 2016, recommending a different option for gender recording on passports, with an X. It also suggested that consideration could be given to the removal of gender information from passports and that the UK Government should move towards non-gendering official records as a general principle. In its report on the GRA last December, the Committee asked the Government to clarify which barriers prevent them from allowing non-binary people to be legally recognised. These are reasonable and valid questions. I cannot emphasise enough the need for lived experience to be at the heart of these conversations.

To conclude, people who are non-binary and have a real stake in this kind of debate have had experiences with which that nobody in this Chamber would be comfortable. They have been refused services. They have poorer mental health than the rest of the population. They feel uncomfortable sharing their identity at work. More than half the people surveyed did not think that their identity would be respected. That is why we need to do more.

I am glad that the Scottish Government recognise the need to do more. They have a strong commitment to improving non-binary equality—for example, by recognising the need to end conversion practices. That provides a real contrast to the extraordinary pantomime that the UK Government have got themselves involved in over conversion practices. It is really disappointing that trans conversion support was missing from the Queen’s Speech.

The Scottish Government are also committed to advancing equal access to healthcare for LGBTI people and will also continue to use the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association rainbow index as a benchmark for action. By contrast, in 2018 the UK Government Equalities Office published an LGBT action plan in which it said that it would issue a call for evidence on the issues faced by non-binary people. The Minister may want to correct me, but I do not think that has been published, and we need to understand why.

My hon. Friend Kirsty Blackman spoke about these issues in February and noted that none of the UK Government’s proposals even acknowledged the identity or existence of non-binary people, and that that has to change. She was absolutely right. The Scottish Government appreciate that more still needs to be done, even though there are positives they have put in place, such as the working group on non-binary equality, which includes a focus on the lived experiences and voices of non-binary people. That has been done for reasons of fairness, wellbeing and the good of all of us. I am keen to hear the Minister’s response to the points I have raised.