Scottish Catholic leaders have so far unsuccessfully opposed a new bill aimed at helping transgender youth who choose to transition.
The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Act would “make gender transitioning less degrading, intrusive, and traumatic,” according to Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. The bill passed a first vote in the country’s parliament last week.
Ahead of the debate, Scottish church leaders reiterated their years-long opposition to the bill, which, if enacted, would no longer mandate a diagnosis of gender dysphoria in order to transition legally, would reduce the requirement for individuals to have “lived in” their gender identity from two years down to 3 months, and would lower the age for gender-affirming surgeries down from eighteen to sixteen.
The Scottish Bishops’ Conference’s Catholic Parliamentary Office issued a statement on the bill suggesting it “raises serious concerns about the safety, health and wellbeing of children and vulnerable people, and safe spaces for women and girls.” Church officials made clear they oppose previous legislation that allowed people to legally transition genders at all, too. According to Crux:
“The Catholic Parliamentary Office added that the government’s proposal will in effect introduce a system of self-identification, allowing a person to change their legal sex without the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria or having to see a doctor.
“‘Removing this requirement, and the important medical oversight that goes with it, will inevitably reduce the opportunity for crucial healthcare, support, and protection for vulnerable individuals, including children,’ the paper said.
“The Office also noted that lowering the minimum age from 18 to 16 and introducing a system of self-identification will put more children and young people on the path of irreversible elective interventions, including surgery. . .
“The briefing paper also noted that many women’s organizations have recorded their own concern that the proposed reforms will increase risks to the safety of women and girls.”
On this last point, church officials said that the bill would “increase the risk of bad-faith actors taking advantage of the proposed system.”
Scotland’s bishops have objected to much of the LGBTQ-positive legislation proposed in recent years, including opposing the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Act since at least 2020. Last year, the bishops joined conservative Christians to stop hate crimes protections from being expanded to include LGBTQ+ people because the bishops feared it would curtail their ability to make LGBTQ-negative statements. In previous years, Scottish church leaders have opposed marriage equality and sought to protect religious social service agencies’ right to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people.
The vote in the Scottish parliament last week was not without controversy. Indeed, the issue of transgender equality has roiled politics in the United Kingdom generally. Most important, however, is that an initial vote was successful and protections for trans youth moved forward. Scottish church leaders should reconsider the falsehoods and myths on which their arguments against the bill are formed. But, if they do not choose to do so, they should at the very least consider the harm their opposition does to both trans people and the church, especially when they will almost certainly lose this fight.
—Anushah Sajwani (she/her) and Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, November 1, 2022