What is it?
The Gender Recognition Act (GRA) is the law which sets out how trans people in the UK may legally change their sex and obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).
What do I need a Gender Recognition Certificate for?
A Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) is needed for trans people to change their birth certificate and their sex marker with HMRC. Trans people also need a GRC if they want their marriage or civil partnership certificate to reflect their true identity. Having a GRC also means that trans people will have the correct sex recorded on their death certificate, preventing them from being misgendered after death. Many private pension providers and some insurance providers require trans people to have obtained a GRC before they will change the sex on a trans person’s records.
Only trans men and trans women over the age of 18 are able to seek legal gender recognition in the UK. There is no legal recognition offered to trans children and young people. Non-binary people in the UK are unable to obtain legal recognition of the fact that they are non-binary.
Which documents can I change without a Gender Recognition Certificate?
In the UK you can change your “legal name” by completing a deed poll – this can be done through the Royal Courts of justice after signing a statutory declaration, but you can also change your name without doing this. Under 18s require parental consent. There’s more information on how to change your name on the gov.uk website. Once you have a deed poll, you can change your name on all other records (including medical records, HMRC and pensions) apart from your birth certificate. It is important to note that changing your name on a document does not automatically change your sex on the document, where that is recorded.
To change the sex marker on your medical records, you should ask your GP surgery for the form that allows you to change your details. It is generally most sensible to do this at the same time as changing your title and name with the GP. You will be given a new NHS number.
Changing the sex marker on your passport requires a letter from a doctor confirming that you’re trans and that the change is likely to be permanent. Again, it is generally most sensible to do this at the same time as changing the name and photo on your passport. You can apply for a new passport online via the gov.uk website.
UK driving licences are coded with a sex marker and this can be changed at the same time as changing your name and title. To do this you need to send your original deed poll along with your old licence and a D1 form. All of the forms can be found on the gov.uk website.
In the UK there is currently no provision for recognising non-binary people as non-binary on any legal documentation or on medical records.
How do I apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate?
Under current UK law, trans people applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate should provide:
- the completed form
- their original birth certificate
- their deed poll
- “Proof” that you’ve “lived in your acquired gender” for 2 years (this takes the form of your passport, driving licence, bills, payslips, other correspondence)
- 2 medical reports, one of which has to be a medical practitioner from the “approved list”. Please note that you may have to pay a fee for each medical report.
- A fee of £5
Any trans person that has been married or in a civil partnership should provide either their marriage/civil partnership certificate alongside written permission from their spouse, or their decree absolute if divorced.
Once you have applied for a GRC, the gender recognition panel will review your application and either approve or decline your application. You will not at any point meet the panel.
You’ll find the forms and more information on the gov.uk website.
How does the Gender Recognition Act relate to the Equality Act?
In relation to discrimination on the basis of the protected characteristic of sex, the EHRC state that:
“Individuals are treated under the sex discrimination provisions of the EA 2010 in line with their legal sex. Thus, a trans person with a GRC is treated as having the sex recorded on their GRC (and new birth certificate), while a trans person without a GRC is treated as having the sex recorded on their birth certificate. In both cases, they are protected from discrimination because of gender reassignment.“
However, EHRC guidance on the Equality Act clearly states that:
“If a service provider provides single- or separate sex services for women and men, or provides services differently to women and men, they should treat transsexual people according to the gender role in which they present. However, the Act does permit the service provider to provide a different service or exclude a person from the service who is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or who has undergone gender reassignment. This will only be lawful where the exclusion is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.”
In their response to the 2018 consultation on the Gender Recognition Act, the EHRC state that:
“The exceptions permitting different treatment on the basis of gender reassignment in the EA 2010 (for example the exceptions related to single-sex services and associations) do not hinge on whether or not an individual has a GRC.”
What’s wrong with the UK’s Gender Recognition Act?
The UK’s Gender Recognition Act (GRA) is in need of reform to bring it into line with international best practice. The current process:
- does not comply with United Nations Human Rights Commission guidance
- is overly complicated and bureaucratic
- requires a wait of at least 2 years
- requires medical reports and pathologises trans identities
- depends on a panel of strangers deciding a trans person’s identity for them
- doesn’t offer legal recognition to trans people under 18
- ignores non-binary people
- requires married trans people to get permission from their spouse
- leaves people in a legal grey area
What is international best practice in gender recognition?
In 2018, the UN stated that gender recognition “processes should:
(i) Be based on self-determination by the applicant;
(ii) Be a simple administrative process;
(iii) Be confidential;
(iv) Be based solely on the free and informed consent of the applicant without requirements such as medical and/or psychological or other certifications that could be unreasonable or pathologizing;
(v) Acknowledge and recognize non-binary identities, such as gender identities that are neither “man” nor “woman” and offer a multiplicity of gender marker options;
(vi) Be accessible and, to the extent possible, cost-free;
(e) Examine seemingly neutral requirements that are prerequisites for change of name, legal sex or gender for potential or actual disproportionate effects in the light of the realities of the trans populations in each given context.”
The following countries offer trans people self-determination for the purposes of achieving legal gender recognition:
Some areas of Canada, Spain and USA also allow this.
The following countries offer legal recognition to people who don’t identify as male or female (this includes non-binary people, but may also include people that identify in a different way):
Non-binary people are also offered legal recognition in some parts of Australia, Canada and USA.
How could the Gender Recognition Act be improved?
The UK’s Gender Recognition Act (GRA) needs to be reformed to:
- make the process straight forward and easy to understand
- allow for a statutory declaration without a need for medical reports
- offer legal recognition for under 18s
- offer legal recognition for non-binary people
- make the process quicker – 2 years is too long
What have the government said about GRA reform?
There have been consultations in both Scotland and in England about reforming the Gender Recognition Act. A second consultation is currently open in Scotland.
The UK government made an announcement on GRA reform for England and Wales on 22nd September 2020. This announcement followed on from a 2018 public consultation The announcement can be found here and the results of the consultation can be found here.
The proposed reforms appear to be:
- a cheaper fee
- slightly less bureaucracy – TransActual interpret this being an online form rather than being required to submit evidence by post
Whilst the Equality Act 2010 and the Gender Recognition Act 2004 have no bearing on each other, the announcement also mentioned that there will be no change to trans people’s protections under the Equality Act 2010. Trans people will continue to have access to single sex spaces unless there is a proportionate and justifiable reason to be excluded. You’ll find more information on the Equality Act here.
What did the EHRC say about GRA reform?
Read the EHRC response to GRA reform, which unequivocally dispels a number of myths around potential reforms.
Gender Recognition Certificates: https://www.gov.uk/apply-gender-recognition-certificate
Deed polls: https://www.gov.uk/change-name-deed-poll
Driving licences: https://www.gov.uk/change-name-driving-licence
Irish GRA annual report: https://www.welfare.ie/en/downloads/GRAAnnualReport2016.pdf