THE Church of England took part in the Gender Reform Act (GRA) consultation that closed on Monday, writing in its response that “excessive bureaucracy” in obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) “is neither welcoming nor affirming of transgender people”.
Members of the public and organisations were invited by the Government to respond to its GRA proposals, including religious bodies.
The Secretary of State for the Department for International Development and Minister for Women and Equalities, Penny Mordaunt, writes in the foreword to the consultation: “Trans people continue to face significant barriers to full participation in public life. Reported hate crime is rising. Reported self-harm and suicide rates, particularly amongst young trans people, are extremely concerning.
“Trans people continue to face discrimination and stigma, in employment and in the provision of public services.”
Mrs Mordaunt continues that one area that trans people are particularly concerned about was the reform of the 2004 GRA. She writes: “Many of the trans respondents to our LGBT survey said they found the current system intrusive, costly, humiliating and administratively burdensome. Whilst many trans people want legal recognition, too few are able to get it.”
The aim of the GRA consultation is to “work to advance equality for LGBT people”, Mrs Mordaunt writes, saying that it would not impact on the 2010 Equality Act and “the protections contained within it”.
In the Church of England’s response, the Revd Dr Malcolm Brown, director of mission and public affairs for the Archbishops’ Council, writes: “Given the Minister’s desire to hear from religious organisations, it would be remarkable if the Church of England did not acknowledge the consultation process and seek to contribute to it.”
Dr Brown makes clear that it cannot answer the consultation fully, “because to do so would mean pre-empting ongoing work that we are currently undertaking ourselves”. This is especially with regard to Living in Love and Faith, the wide-ranging project looking at sexuality, marriage, and pastoral practice for LGBTI+ people, which is expected to be finished in 2020 (News, 30 June 2017).
Dr Brown submitted the response after consulting the Archbishops of York and Canterbury, and the Bishops of Newcastle and Coventry. He writes: “We are aware, from transgender colleagues in the Church of England, that the current Consultation has proved divisive, even among trans Christian people themselves.
“Some are in favour of retaining medical scrutiny while others point out that the current proposals still require people to commit to transition and that similar legislation operates uncontroversially in other jurisdictions, for example in the Irish Republic.”
In Ireland, a man or a woman can change their legal sex if they declare that: they “have a settled and solemn intention of living in the preferred gender for the rest of their life”; they “understand the consequences of the application”; and they “make the application of their own free will”. Denmark has a similar system, with the addition of a six-month “reflection” period before it becomes legally binding.
Dr Brown writes: “In July 2017 the General Synod of the Church of England voted unequivocally to both welcome and affirm transgender people and that is the basis for our pastoral practice.
“Trans people with gender recognition are already able to marry in our churches. Being transgender does not prevent someone offering themselves for ordained ministry and we have transgender clergy as well as laity.”
He continues: “We can say with some confidence that excessive bureaucracy in the process of gaining a Gender Recognition Certificate is neither welcoming nor affirming of transgender people in relation to the structures of the law and society at large — but we do not have a settled view in the Church of England about precisely which aspects of the legal process are necessary in this case.”
He urges Mrs Mordaunt and the Government to consult the Church further, saying that, if approached: “We shall consider carefully how to include and to reference the views of LGBTI+ — especially transgender — people within the Church.”
The consultation document also discussed areas where women and men are treated differently, for example in prisons, which is one area where planned changes have drawn criticism.
A government statement said: “In providing these services the Government often produces guidance on how trans individuals seeking to access the services should be considered.
“For example, Her Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service has detailed policies on how to manage trans offenders, whether to place them in a male or female prison, access to treatment whilst in prison and so forth.
“While having a GRC is a factor in these decisions, a managed process also takes into account ‘lived experience’ and the view of the prisoner alongside individualised risk assessment, which forms the core of the decision-making process.”
Earlier this year, the Archbishops were asked to set up an independent inquiry into the process that led to the decision not to proceed with drafting liturgy to mark gender transition (News, 9 February). A 2015 report said that support for trans people in the church was growing (News, 4 December).
The LGBT charity Stonewall urged people to support the Government’s proposals: “Hopefully, this will mean a huge step forward for trans equality. Failure to secure these reforms would not just hold back trans people’s rights, it would represent a major setback in campaigning to secure LGBT rights and equality.”