The British government has said it will block Scotland from making it easier for transgender people to change their legal gender, amid an increasingly toxic national debate over the issue.

Scottish secretary Alister Jack said the UK government would be invoking powers for the first time allowing it to veto the Scottish law after Edinburgh last month passed a bill allowing people to self-certify a change in gender.

Self-ID laws have caused debate around the world, with LGBTQ+ groups saying the process will greatly improve trans people’s lives and opponents stating it could endanger women and girls.

More than a dozen countries worldwide allow trans self-ID, including Malta, Denmark, New Zealand and Argentina, while others like Germany, the Netherlands and Finland are currently considering similar legislation.

Here’s what you need to know about the process.

What is self-ID?

Self-ID allows trans people to self-determine their gender, without the need for a psychiatric diagnosis to confirm their status.

In many countries, a legal gender change is not required to enter single-sex spaces like women’s toilets or alter their gender on many official documents such as medical forms.

Britain requires a person to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria – the discomfort people can feel if their gender identity does not match their body – and prove they have lived as their acquired gender for two years to legally change gender.
Some countries also require trans people to undergo medical treatment or surgery.

The process of self-ID removes these demands and often shortens the time a trans person is required to wait, making it significantly easier and quicker to make the change.

Where does self-ID already exist?

At least 13 countries allow self-ID, according to a December report by Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the United Nations independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity.

They include Argentina, Ireland, Malta, Belgium, Portugal, New Zealand, Colombia, Denmark, Uruguay, Iceland, Brazil and Norway.

Nepal and Pakistan also use a self-ID process for people who identify with a third gender or use a non-binary marker.

Argentina in 2012 became the first country in the world to bring in trans self-ID, with more than 12,000 people changing their gender in the following decade.

Denmark became the first European country to adopt the process in 2014. Nine other EU member states had also followed suit as of June 2022, according to the Council of Europe, a human rights organisation.

What is the controversy about?

Trans activists have said legal gender change processes are often invasive and take too long, while requirements to get a diagnosis or treatment are unnecessarily medicalised and stigmatising.

“Legal gender recognition is essential for trans persons to be able to live a life of dignity and respect, but these procedures are often lengthy and downright humiliating,” said Julia Ehrt, executive director at ILGA-World.

Long waits mean trans people “are constantly exposed to the risk of violence and discrimination, and of seeing their most basic rights denied also because the gender indicated on their documents doesn’t match how they identify or present,” she said.

The debate has become increasingly polarised in countries like Britain and the United States.

Opponents of self-ID laws have said they put women at risk as the process could be used by predatory men to gain access to same-sex spaces, while LGBTQ+ rights groups say data indicates those concerns are unfounded.

Critics also oppose under-18s being allowed to legally update their gender under some countries’ laws.

In December, Madrigal-Borloz said he had received no findings of the self-ID process being used by predatory men to cause violence against women in gender-segregated spaces in any of the 15 countries which have adopted the law.

In Argentina, there has been no evidence of a rise in violence against women since self-ID was introduced, with a government study revealing only one trans woman was accused and convicted of sexual abuse between 2013 and 2019.

Reporting by Lucy Middleton.

GAY TIMES and Openly/Thomson Reuters Foundation are working together to deliver leading LGBTQ+ news to a global audience.