The Catholic Church in Scotland has urged Scottish Catholics to oppose a new national parliament bill designed to help transgender people transition genders more easily.
The bill, titled the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, seeks to reform the United Kingdom-wide Gender Recognition Act to make it easier for transgender people, especially transgender youth, to change their legal gender status. The Gender Recognition Act covers the entire United Kingdom, but as a constituent country with a devolved government, Scotland is able to make changes to the law that apply only within its borders. The bill was introduced by the left-wing progressive Scottish National Party that makes up the majority of the Scottish government.
The bill has attracted some controversy, mostly stemming from conservative groups who deny the existence of transgender identities, and trans-exclusionary radical feminist groups who believe legal recognition of gender identity would negatively impact sex-segregated spaces.
On the part of the former, the Scottish Catholic Observer reported that a spokesperson for the church hierarchy said:
“The Catholic Church is steadfast in its conviction that gender cannot be reduced to a mere construct of society that is fluid and changeable. However, at the same time society in general must remain unwavering in its concern for those who experience gender dysphoria and will expect those in authority to ensure appropriate support is available to those who need it. The proposed de-medicalisation of gender dysphoria with respect to the legal process of changing gender is a troubling development, especially for younger people under the age of 18.”
This approach is in line with the common “love the sinner, hate the sin” attitude, where the church will recognize that gender dysphoria exists, but advise that trans people not transition.
The Catholic Church’s leadership has become more and more politically active in Scotland recently. In the lead up to the 2019 General Election, the hierarchy sent out a letter to 500 parishes detailing how their Member of Parliament (MP) voted on topics such as abortion, assisted suicide, and the legalization of same-gender marriage in Northern Ireland. The letter went on to encourage Scottish Catholics to elect parliamentarians “who reflect as closely as possible our beliefs.” The National reported that church sources believe the letter impacted at least two elections: an SNP candidate and a Labour candidate who had voted in favor of legalizing abortion and equal marriage in Northern Ireland each lost their seat. The same church source told The National:
“It’s [the letter] a move towards a more proactive approach to elections.
“There are two purposes. The first is to say to MSPs [Members of the Scottish Parliament] and MPs: ‘the way you vote is monitored, you don’t work in a vacuum.’ Second it is to help Catholic voters by presenting information that might not be that easy for them to find to equip them to make better decisions.”
The church spokesperson also commented:
“Whatever the outcome of this consultation the right to disagree with the idea that gender is fluid and changeable must be respected. […] Many people do not believe that gender identity is a matter of choice, or something that may be entirely divorced from the biological sex in which we are born.”
While church leaders say they want respect for those persons who disagree with transgender identities, their opposition to this legislation does not respect the nation’s transgender people and people who support them. If the church truly supports and cares for dysphoric people, as it claims, church leaders should allow transgender and dysphoric people to be the deciders of what they want, and part of what they want includes an easier process of choosing their legal gender.
—Artemis Walsh, January 29, 2020