HUNDREDS of protesters gathered outside the UK Government’s hub in Edinburgh on Thursday calling on Westminster to reverse its decision to block Scotland’s gender reform legislation.
Campaigners turned the street pink, white and blue as they accused the Tories of a twin attack on trans rights and democracy.
Activists held placards reading “the Scottish Parliament has spoken”, “trans rights are human rights” and “hit the road Jack” – a reference to Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, who invoked Section 35 of the Scotland Act to block the bill.
Politicians from across Scotland’s political parties, including Scottish Green MSPs Patrick Harvie, Gillian Mackay and Ross Greer gave speeches at the event outside Queen Elizabeth House on Thursday.
Scottish LibDem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton told the crowd that the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Act simply extended human rights to trans people.
“We are removing the medicalisation and the trauma of the current process which means you have to submit the final judgement about your identity to a group of strangers you will never meet with no right to appeal,” he told a roaring crowd in Scotland’s capital.
“I am proud to stand with the majority of MSPs in [Holyrood]”
The GRR bill aims to make it easier for transgender people to change their legally recognised gender and was passed overwhelmingly in the Scottish Parliament by 68-39.
Some women’s groups have said the bill is a threat to women’s rights and women-only spaces, such as bathrooms.
There have also been concerns raised by the Tories and Labour leader Keir Starmer over a provision in the bill which lowers the age someone can legally change their gender from 18 to 16.
But protesters in Edinburgh said women’s rights and trans rights need not conflict.
One protester told The National: “Myself and my friend are queer creatives. We have our businesses. We work in the tattoo industry. There is a ridiculous outbalance or outweighing favour for cis, white, hetero men and we are so fed up with it.
“We are sick to the back teeth of people using stuff that isn’t even relevant to try and basically infringe on other people’s human rights.”
Asked if they agreed with the UK Government’s decision to block Holyrood’s gender reform bill, the demonstrator said: “Absolutely not. It’s just ridiculous. It’s just further micromanaging.”
And, when asked for the message they wanted to share with Scottish Secretary Jack and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, they said: “Stop embarrassing yourself and educate yourself.”
Edinburgh right now.
— Beth 🏳️⚧️🍉☂💜 (@pickle_bee) January 19, 2023
The SNP have raised concerns that the use of a Section 35 order could set a precedent for Westminster to bypass Holyrood.
Beth Douglas, Rainbow Greens co-convener, told The National that the Tories using Section 35 on the GRR bill was just the start.
She said: “The reason why we are here today is because the Scottish Government passed the GRA reforms and the UK Government blocked it.
“We are here to say that that is wrong, that this just isn’t an attack on trans rights, it’s an attack on democracy itself.
“It concerns all of us now and we all need to come together to fight it because if Section 35’s become the new normal the Tories will not stop with us, they’ll come after other marginalised groups as well and we all need to stand together against it.”
Douglas said the gender recognition reform bill doesn’t impact women’s rights but merely makes the process simpler for trans people to obtain a birth certificate which represents who they truly are.
“A GRC, a gender recognition certificate, does three things: it lets you pay taxes in the right gender, it lets you get married in the right gender and it lets you die with dignity,” she said.
“Without a GRC, if a trans person dies they’ll get buried under the wrong gender. If they get married, they’ll get married under the wrong gender.”
Douglas said asking for these reforms was an “incredibly low line”.
“The fact the Tories can’t stomach such a small piece of legislation just shows you how intolerant they are,” she said.
“We have an unelected Tory government issuing orders over what we can do over clearly devolved matters.
“So do I trust what they say that this will be a once-in-a-lifetime thing? No I don’t – I think they’re lying.
“So Alister Jack: scrap Section 35, just like we made your government scrap Section 28.”
A UK Government spokesperson said: “The UK Government raised a number of concerns relating to the impact of the Scottish Government’s proposals with Scottish Ministers, as part of our constructive approach, in advance of the legislation passing.
“The Secretary of State for Scotland has made an order under section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998, preventing the Scottish Parliament’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from proceeding to Royal Assent.
“This was done after thorough and careful consideration of all the relevant advice and the policy implications. This legislation would have an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation.
“Transgender people deserve our respect, support and understanding. Our decision is about the legislation’s consequences for the operation of GB-wide equalities protections and other reserved matters.”