The Scottish Government is currently consulting on proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act. Many members have contacted us seeking guidance in responding to this consultation before the closing date of 17 March.

The area of transgender and gender identity is topical, sensitive and complex, and it deserves a considered and compassionate Christian response. We have been deeply engaged in this conversation since 2018 and our Transformed resource gives a brief introduction to some of the biblical, pastoral, cultural, legal and political aspects of this issue. We highly recommend reading Transformed before submitting a consultation response. This is an area of hugely polarised opinions and our language and tone should be far better than much of what we see in online debate. 

We believe all people are equally loved and made in God’s image, and so our posture in the gender identity conversation starts with love and compassion. We have huge sympathy for people struggling with their gender identity and encourage our member churches and organisations to treat people identifying as transgender with love, grace and respect. 

However, as those called to follow Jesus, who embodied grace and truth, we also cannot shy away from expressing concerns when we believe the Government is going in a direction that is wrong for individuals, communities and society as a whole.

Although this topic is challenging, we believe there is a great opportunity for Christians to speak well into this cultural conversation with grace and truth and would encourage you to respond to the consultation and also contact your MSPs. 

Consultation background

The Scottish Government first consulted on reforming the Gender Recognition Act in 2018. The proposals at that stage were to bring in a so called Self-ID’ system for gender recognition, to establish a third (non-binary) gender and to reduce the age for gender recognition to below 18 and possibly below 16.

Link to original consultation:

Our response to the original consultation: 

The proposals

Following significant internal and external debate the Scottish Government revised its proposals, removing the non-binary and under 16 elements. The two proposals that remain are:

  1. To introduce a Self-ID system for gender recognition – this is an administrative self-declaration system removing the current medical aspect to the process.
  2. To reduce the age where gender recognition can take place from 18 to 16.

Why does this matter?

There are four key reasons why we believe these proposals are misguided and matter for us as Christians:

1. Subjective approach to gender

The premise of the Self-ID model is that gender is completely subjective and purely a matter of choice. Furthermore, the Self-ID model legislates that in effect where there is a conversation about gender identity and biological sex it is gender identity that overrides biological sex. The reality is more complex, and we believe this approach does not give credit to either the scientific or theological reasons behind the importance of biological sex. It makes assumptions that gender is purely chosen and not given and that both gender and ultimately biological sex can be changed simply by choice. It is this challenge, at the heart of Self-ID, that leads to the variety of potential concerns outlined below.

2. Erosion of biological sex

Self-ID effectively makes choice of gender completely subjective and is in danger of eroding the biological and material basis for the characteristic of sex. As sex is a legally protected characteristic this means that, particularly for women and girls, protections are in danger in areas such as single-sex spaces and sports competitions. There is no mechanism within the proposals to evaluate the genuineness of a self-declaration’, meaning that these proposals are open to abuse. For example, if a dispute arose around access to a single sex space, such as changing facilities at a leisure centre, if a person had a GRC under the Self-ID model it would be impossible to ascertain whether this person posed any risk to other service users. 

There is a direction of travel between legal Self-ID as proposed in this bill and the practical Self-ID policies that have been adopted in a number of instances such as Glasgow Life. It is not clear from the consultation how the proposals will prevent the practical erosion of biological sex if gender recognition becomes purely subjective.

3. Medical support

Gender dysphoria is a medical condition that deserves medical support (even if what is prescribed is not what we would always advocate). By removing this aspect to the gender recognition process there is a clear danger that people will not access the support they need. There are increasing accounts of future regret and de-transitioning’ now coming to light. There is a danger that making the process purely subjective and administrative will significantly increase the likelihood of regret in the future, often following irreversible medical treatments.

In addition, it is not clear how the Self-ID proposal will impact on medical services that relate to biological sex, for example for prostate or cervical cancer tests. If the medical profession is removed from the GRC process it would appear there is a danger of many routine but essential medical services being lost to those who have obtained a GRC.

4. Protection of the vulnerable

One of the biggest concerns relates to vulnerable people being adversely impacted by these proposals. This includes the proposals to allow 16 – 17 year olds to make life-altering decisions (at an age where they cannot buy alcohol, tobacco or place a bet) and potential impacts on women and girls in residential, sports and other contexts from predatory men. 

Responding to the consultation

The consultation and the response form is available here:

The closing date is Tuesday, 17 March (midnight)

There are five questions in the consultation. You do not have to answer all of them, and we always recommend using your own words. We have provided some key points you may wish to make below. 

We also recommend contacting all eight of your MSPs to let them know your views and ask their opinion.

You can find your MSPs and how to contact them here.

Consultation questions and points to use as you respond