The concern is that the greater ease with which gender could be legally changed would give a tiny minority with nefarious motives greater opportunity.
Gender identity: what do legal changes have to do with women's rights?
That's what the government has now put out to consultation. Other so-called protected characteristics include race, religion, sex and disability. Both Sarah and Stephanie have stressed their support for trans rights, but that hasn't stopped criticism being directed at them. Set against these complaints are other voices, who stress the value of a law change to trans people. But the idea has been met with anger and shock in some forums including parenting website Mumsnet, where the latest in a series of thre attracted more than 1, comments in two days. Related Topics. Transgender prison deaths: Watchdog calls for action Trans prisoner 'let down by prison, NHS and family'.
But some women are worried about the potential impact on their own legal rights. A report on transgender equality published in January by Parliament's Women and Equalities Committee recommended discretion should not apply where a trans person had been recognised as their acquired gender "for all legal purposes" under the Gender Recognition Act - in other words, obtained a GRC. Refuges and rape centres, even changing rooms are places viewed as "safe" by women, some of them fleeing violence, because they typically exclude men.
GRCs do not however, affect the categorisation of people for sporting purposes.
Stephanie Davies-Arai founded the Transgender Trend website - a group for parents to discuss transgender issues. Reality Check: What does legally changing gender involve? Campaign group Stonewall called the current system "demeaning and broken". One Mumsnet commentator, BahHumbygge, described "biological sex" as "vitally important", adding: "The idea that a predatory male can just decree by personal fiat he is now female and can now access any female-only space is simply horrifying.
That means that anyone who identifies themselves as a woman - whether that is their legal status or not - can already use separate-sex facilities such as changing rooms, toilets or single-sex gyms.
Prisons are another area of concern, with warnings that biological males, some potentially dangerous, could be placed in facilities with vulnerable women. Those with a GRC "should be treated in their acquired gender for all purposes". Trans people currently have explicit protection under the Equality Act if they've undergone "gender reasment", be it medical or non-medical.
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One way to simplify things for trans men and women would be to allow individuals to self-declare the gender in which they choose to live, without the need for medical evidence or proof. .
But it does," said Sarah. Published 24 July Published 23 July At present, the guidance issued to service providers - women's refuges, for example - by the Equality and Human Rights Commission states: "Where a transsexual person is visually and for all practical purposes indistinguishable from someone of their preferred gender, they should normally be treated according to their acquired gender unless there are strong reasons not to do so. A lot of the discussion online is around women-only spaces.
How do you legally change gender? In the world of sport, the users also fear women could find themselves at risk or unable to compete as they could be taking part alongside biological males. You are indeed on the wrong side of history," writes BuffyChiro. She told the BBC anything to make the transitioning process "just a little bit easier" was "long overdue and great news". The proposed changes to the gender recognition act does not change that.
Gender vs sex. Sports authorities have their own rules. Make changing legal gender easier - minister. Critics of a change also warn about possible implications for data gathering. The fears expressed echo those raised by some in the feminist movement, including writer Sarah Ditum, who argues the move could create a system "vulnerable to exploitation and open to abuse".
If official information no longer distinguishes between natal sex and identified sex, statistics would inevitably be affected. And it's that which could get much easier in future.
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But the term "gender reasment" has been deemed outdated and a bill to change the protected characteristic to "gender identity", is awaiting its second reading in the House of Commons. Many of those commenting on Mumsnet fear that simply by choosing to call themselves women, "predatory males" - a minority who may want to abuse the system - could get access to those places and put women at risk.
This legislation however, could also change. A guide to transgender terms 'I'm a transgender woman - ask me your invasive questions' Jenni Murray trans women article criticised. This argument - the distinction between sex and gender - is refuted by some, including trans activist and feminist author Julia Serano, who argues there are more than two discrete mutually exclusive sexes.
It's taken a long time to establish women-only services," Sarah said. UK Athletics for example, says trans women can compete in their affirmed gender on providing hormonal evidence.
Trans activists have welcomed moves from the government to "streamline and de-medicalise the process" of changing legal gender. She has not applied for a GRC but her passport says she's female. It can take more than five years for trans men and women in England and Wales to legally change their gender under the current system To change gender in the eyes of the law, individuals have to apply for a certificate under the Gender Recognition Act They must be aged 18 or older and must live for two years in their preferred gender They need to have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria from a psychiatrist - a condition where a person experiences distress because of a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity Once someone has this diagnosis, they can apply to a gender recognition panel - a legal tribunal which will look at the evidence submitted before deciding whether to issue a certificate People can change the gender on documentation including passports and driving licences without a gender recognition certificate.
She rejects the fears raised on Mumsnet and elsewhere as "absurd". The government's consultation is due to be published in the autumn, but until then the debate for all women's rights continues. More on this story.
Many don't though, because they feel the lengthy process is invasive and demeaning. Instead, she argues sex is made up of a of variable dimorphic traits - like chromosomes and reproductive organs - that sometimes align in a person, and sometimes don't.
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The Equality Act also permits service providers - including hospitals and prisons - to use their discretion to refuse a trans person access to single-sex services on a case-by-case basis. Writer and broadcaster Paris Lees transitioned when she was a teenager. What this means for women, Stephanie argues, is that the female sex would no longer have a protected category or political representation. In order to qualify, trans people do not need to have had surgery but must have lived for two years in their preferred gender and have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria - distress caused by a mismatch between biological sex and gender identity.