Thank you, Presiding Officer.
I want to open by paying tribute to all the people we have engaged with throughout this process, and to our committee clerks and parliament staff who have supported us, and the cleaners, catering and security staff who have put in quite the shift to facilitate us being here so late this week to debate this legislation.
I became an MSP because I wanted to change people’s lives.
Today is one of those rare moments as an MSP where we all have a real opportunity to improve lives and directly tackle inequality.
Presiding Officer, being recognised for who you are, without suspicion, is hard. Being expected to rely on medical interference where it isn’t needed or wanted to somehow prove you are who you know you are is demeaning, and hurtful. And requiring someone else who doesn’t even know you to confirm your identity is belittling. The pressure to conform to a society that doesn’t quite understand your experience is hard.
It’s exhausting, it means you second guess your instincts, you worry that people think you shouldn’t be how you are or get what you get, you feel a need to justify who you are in a way people that don’t share your characteristics don’t have to.
As a disabled person, I am only too familiar with this world and that experience.
I guess that’s why I’ve always felt a connection with trans people’s desire to be recognised for who they are and for the current process for doing that to be reformed. For society to accept them and to support them to be their best self, without barriers, additional costs, or medicalisation.
Presiding Officer, the thing about stigma and discrimination is that the characteristics of it are almost always the same, regardless of your own characteristics as a disabled person, an older person, a woman, a person of colour, a lesbian, a gay person or a trans person – you’re held back, you’re questioned, you lose out, you earn less, people treat you differently. You internalise this, you agonise over every even micro aggression, and ultimately, it eats away at your sense of self, purpose and potential.
That’s why I believe strongly that the reform we will vote for today has been a long time coming, and why changing the current onerous, lengthy, and invasive process of legal gender recognition has always been so important to me and to my party.
The current system is out-dated, and out of touch with the progressive Scotland we aim to be. It forces trans people to endure trauma and intrusion just to have their gender recognised in law – to have the state to recognise them as the way they see themselves.
I have said many times throughout the scrutiny of this bill that I believe the drawn out process, the delays by the Scottish Government in bringing forward this legislation and its failure to provide the strong leadership necessary to quash misconceptions and allay worries has led to a vacuum which has allowed fear and ignorance to prosper. It has lead to a debate that has framed the rights of trans people as a threat to the rights of women, and created a toxic environment that has let down both causes, and brought hurt and upset to those who spend their lives fighting for them.
We’re here, having this discussion because there is a clear injustice and we have the power to fix it. That is what devolution is for.
In all the evidence I have heard, and I have heard a lot of it, it has been clear to me that too many trans people feel that the current process for being recognised in law as the gender that they identify with is not possible for them.
The current system is so bad, too often trans people are forced to leave themselves open to discrimination in all aspects of their lives, facing a constant fear of being ‘outed,’ or treated differently because their identity documents are not consistent with their lived experience.
Presiding Officer, that’s why I’ve been so keen to make sure that this legislation is the best it possibly can be, I cannot understate the importance of getting this right, it has to do what it says on the tin, and teardown some of the most disproportionate barriers that are denying trans people the dignity of being recognised as who they are.
Its why we on these benches have spent so much time scrutinising it, and why we have done so thoroughly. We have recognised the concerns that exist, on single sex spaces, on age, on the potential abuse of this process and we have spent hours looking at the evidence in detail, debating the arguments, coming up with solutions.
We’ve met with representatives of trans people, women and young people, human rights experts, gender identity specialists, data experts, Members of Parliaments in other parts of the world who have legislated on this, academics, faith leaders, people with lived experience of transition, and de-transition, sporting bodies, legal experts, campaign groups and individuals across the entire spectrum of opinions on this bill.
We have listened to concerns and sought the best possible advice available to us on them all.
In areas where we think the bill needed improved – such as on the collection of robust data, the clarity of the statutory declaration process, clarification on the primacy of the Equality Act and the protection of single sex spaces, the importance of support and guidance, the inclusion of asylum seekers, protections against vexatious allegations, reviews of the impact of the new system – we laid amendments, and we worked with others across the chamber to secure improvements to the bill to ensure that today, as we move to vote on it in its final form, we are able to vote to deliver the change that trans people need and deserve, ensuring their dignity and recognition in law, whilst also ensuring that the public can have confidence in the process.
Presiding Officer, trans people have already been waiting far too long for these changes, they deserve nothing less than good legislation that allows them to be recognised for who they are. That’s why Scottish Labour were determined to ensure the bill did just that, to ensure it meets its objectives and delivers the change trans people need and deserve.
Presiding Officer, in closing, trans rights are human rights, they are inalienable, indivisible, and interdependent. Human rights are our rights not because we are women, or trans, or gay, or disabled, or black, but because we are human, and society and parliament have a legal obligation to uphold them.
For trans people, being recognised in law for who you are is fundamental to this.
In committee and throughout my equality and human rights campaigning, I have heard, and I am in no doubt, that the process to do this is de-humanising, intrusive, offensive, expensive and lengthy and needs to change.
I and Scottish Labour will therefore be voting for this bill today. We have always been at the forefront of equality and human rights and we will always defend and protect them.