GRA Reform

Nicola Sturgeon’s bungled gender crusade has undermined trans rights

The First Minister’s gender crusade has backfired so spectacularly that it has done great damage to trans rights

The omnishambles playing out in Scottish politics makes one thing clear: Nicola Sturgeon has no clue what she is doing when it comes to trans rights. The First Minister’s flagship Gender Recognition Reform Bill has hit the buffers. Now an ‘urgent review’ has been launched on an issue that hardly requires much common sense: that transwomen should not be housed in women’s prisons.

In its wisdom, the Scottish government has tried to build law and policy on magical thinking – that a man can become a woman just because he says so. Sturgeon didn’t listen to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, nor did she listen to Reem Alsalem, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls. But perhaps she should have taken note of something Ayn Rand once said: ‘We can ignore reality, but we cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.’

Sturgeon might continue to insist that transwomen are women, but it’s becoming clear that that there are limits – transwomen are most certainly not women when it is politically embarrassing for her SNP government. Her car-crash interview with ITV – reported on Monday by Steerpike – was inevitable considering the way she has driven transgender policy without due care and attention to facts and reality.

Meanwhile, on Sturgeon’s watch, some of the most vulnerable groups in society have suffered dreadfully. JK Rowling last year wore a T-shirt that read: ‘Nicola Sturgeon – destroyer of women’s rights’. For doing so, the author received plenty of abuse. But if Rowling did anything wrong, it was that her statement didn’t go far enough. Why? Because the First Minister’s gender crusade has backfired so spectacularly that it has done great damage to trans rights too. In seeking to protect trans people, Sturgeon has, in fact, undermined our rights – and made life harder for us.

Back in 2016, when I first started writing about trans politics, it was plain to see the worrying direction in which this debate was heading – and the deleterious impact on trans rights that might result if this debate was handled badly.

‘Transwomen, in particular, may find that goodwill is replaced by suspicion should abusive men spot an opportunity to exploit women’s spaces and protections,’ I wrote when self-ID was first debated in the Commons in late 2016. In Sturgeon’s Scotland, such goodwill towards trans people has indeed been replaced with suspicion – thanks, in large part, to the decision to put a male rapist, Isla Bryson, in a female prison.

Despite the insistence of some progressive campaigners, trans people don’t need more rights. Even in 2016, we already had the rights and protections in law we needed.

The Equality Act 2010 protected us against less favourable treatment for being ‘a transsexual person’ or merely being perceived to be a transsexual person. It gave my employer the confidence they needed to support me when I transitioned in 2012. It offers security and protection; as Kemi Badenoch told the Commons last year: the Equality Act is a shield and not a sword.

The Gender Recognition Act (GRA) 2004 is a whole different beast. It creates a legal fiction – that trans people are the opposite sex – and then envelops that change in secrecy. Section 22 of the GRA makes it illegal for officials to disclose the fact that someone’s legal sex has been changed by a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). Once someone has a GRC, unless they choose to disclose their history it is virtually impossible to prove from their paperwork that they are not the sex they are claiming to be.

In 2004, those rights were restricted to those who actually needed them – people who had been through a meaningful transition and could provide evidence that they had made significant changes to the way they lived their lives. The law certainly impacted on women’s rights, but the small number of GRCs – along with the checks and balances in the process – offered some reassurance to women that it would be hard for bad actors to exploit this legislation.

But Sturgeon, it seems, viewed things differently. Until her prisons policy blew up in her face, she was happy to open up womanhood to any man who saw an advantage.

Let me offer an analogy that might be helpful to Sturgeon: blue badges are issued to disabled people who need extra flexibility in where they can park their car. There are processes that applicants must follow to get a blue badge. They cost £10 for starters – more expensive than a GRC, but let’s not dwell on that – and the local council conducts an assessment to decide if you are eligible.

Now let’s say that some progressive politicians decide those processes are unnecessary bureaucracy, or even demeaning to disabled people. They decide instead to offer blue badges to anyone who chooses to self-identify as disabled. The incentive to do so is obvious, as is the inevitable chaos. Traffic would snarl to a halt as those who wanted to park more easily filled out the paperwork to be allowed to do so.

Who suffers? Ultimately, everyone – parking is usually restricted for good reason – but specifically those who needed the extra flexibility. The privilege that they required is brought into disrepute by those who merely wanted it. Sturgeon has done something similar to trans rights.

What was once a respected process has become a circus. Now, trans people are more vulnerable to suspicion and mistrust than we were in 2016 – but it is not the fault of JK Rowling, or anyone else grounded in reality. The responsibility lies squarely with those who were so naïve they thought they could sweep away safeguards, and that selfish and abusive men would not take advantage. Sturgeon is not capable of legislating on trans rights; she is certainly not fit to run a government.

Debbie Hayton is a teacher and journalist.

* This article was first published by The Spectator on 2 February 2023: Nicola Sturgeon’s bungled gender crusade has undermined trans rights.

6 replies on “Nicola Sturgeon’s bungled gender crusade has undermined trans rights”

Debbie, you took the gloves off in this article. You made many excellent points.

I myself am an example of the public’s response to trans people. As long as they had the same rights as everyone else — in education, employment, housing, and public accommodations — I felt no resentment towards them. But the moment they started to impinge on other people’s rights, my resentment boiled up. As a male, initially I was angry that they were trying to control the way I spoke about them. But when I found out the ways in which they were invading women’s spaces — sports, prisons, women’s shelters — my resentment hardened into something much worse, so much so that I started to write my own articles on the subject.

If trans people would be satisfied with the same rights as everyone else, my path would have been different. I might have felt the whole thing was a little weird (meaning, women with men’s faces, etc.), but I would have come to accept it.

Actually, my anger started in the 1970’s when Renee Richards sued to be allowed to compete with the women on the women’s tennis circuit. I understood that she was in her forties, but it still struck me as wrong. I knew that she was 6’1″ tall, and I was aware that a man in his forties might indeed have the ability to beat the women. Happily, Richards now agrees that she didn’t belong in women’s sports. But today’s trans people are not so wise.

On another forum that I participate in, there is a lot of discussion about the nitty-gritty reality of sex for trans people. A trans woman can get by with a surgically constructed vagina (provided there are no complications), but bottom surgery for trans men is completely surreal, given that they end up with a man-made facsimile of male genitalia that no person attracted to males would ever accept. Ayn Rand’s words are prophetic. For trans people, it is in the areas of sex and reproduction that reality becomes inescapable.


I think, DH, that we are now way beyond even the legal fiction for transsexuals, so poisonous has this issue become, and it is in no small way down to the activists who are vile and not even ‘trans’, most of them.

Third spaces seems to be the only way forward, but not encroaching on disabled spaces either. It will take time and most businesses will object to the extra costs, but inclusive areas are possible where anyone can choose to use it or not, as they wish, leaving women’s and girls’, and disabled, facilities, alone.

If this encroachment on female spaces, sex-specific jobs, healthcare, hospital wards, sports, et al, continues, fully half and more of the Scottish/British population will be totally alienated and will never forgive the ‘trans’ lobby. No one has ever asked women whether it was okay to invade our spaces, no matter how few the numbers. That is the point. None of this was asked for by women, but imposed upon us by sexologists and psychologists who had no right to do so.

I have heard terrible stories about ‘trans’ people, in old age/with dementia, reverting back to their original sex and being extremely distressed and horrified to discover that their body parts are missing – and I do not believe they are apocryphal, but true. No one who has an ounce of human compassion could possibly wish that on anyone, and it goes to show that ‘changing gender’ will be impossible to sustain into old age, so the ‘wrong body’ nonsense is just that. We have to stop the transitioning of children now, and I’m afraid that we are going to do that only by insisting that men and women have different spaces and these are respected by all, whether transitioned or not, and I take the point that ‘trans’ men have no place in men’s spaces either. That will mean third spaces, and there is no way round that.

I also take the point that some transsexuals wish to live as women, and I can see no reason for not allowing a very limited and restricted GRC – or other documentation – that upholds the fiction, but not the ‘legal fiction’ that men can be women. On no account should any man be able to have legal status as a woman because that starts this nonsense all over again.

That will require all applicants to have their original records kept, but will enable them to have a specified documentation that allows the fiction, and any harassment on account of sex can be dealt with by the police. On no account either, should this documentation allow access to female spaces, so third spaces will become absolutely essential and necessary.

Any legislation in future should be retrospective, so that all men who are in female spaces at present, can be removed, legally, as the occupation of women’s spaces, etc. is illegal in any case. On top of that, the law needs to be strengthened so that both sexes are able to enjoy their own specific spaces that are designed for that sex alone – e.g. rape crisis centres and women’s refuges, women’s sports, etc./men’s specific sports, changing rooms, loos and so on.

For example, the ‘trans woman’ who occupies the top position at the Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre must be removed. His application was illegal, his continued residence there is illegal. I am so sick of Stonewall flouting existing laws and telling naked lies about the law as it stands, and no one does anything. Daft people desperate to virtue-signal believe all the lies. Any other group in society that behaved in this way would receive the Order of the Boot.

I would like to see ‘trans’ doing their own thing in society and not piggy-backing on women, e.g. standing for parliament as ‘trans’, representing the ‘trans’ community and the wider community, as a whole. Women have specific needs in our society that no man, however he presents, can ever understand, and vice versa. If that needs to be spelled out, so be it. Women have tried and been jeered at, but only a fool would believe that men and women have identical needs.


The plight of older trans people never occurred to me. Being trans requires constant maintenance, and I can’t imagine that nurses would be expected to know how to do any of that. Administering hormones would be one thing, but stretching one’s vagina isn’t something that I think a nurse would want to do. (There’s a word for it that I’ve forgotten, but I recently learned that the vaginas that trans women are given surgically can close up and scar over if they aren’t — dilated? — on a regular basis.

Talking about keeping the sexes separate in their private spaces, I keep wondering how the sexes in ancient Rome managed to get along. I know they had communal baths in which men and women bathed together, but I wonder now if it was that simple. I’m sure that ancient Rome had its own misogynists and serial killers, etc.


Oh that interview with Sturgeon is great. Trans-women are women, and some women “will be housed in the male prison estate,” despite being women. Orwellian or what?

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I absolutely agree that Sturgeon has done a lot of damage to relations between biological and trans women. For years I’ve been aware that trans women use womens bathrooms. Of course they do, if you’ve made the effort to look like a woman you aren’t going to want to walk in to a mens toilet. As long as they behave modestly I’m sure most women have absolutely no problem with that. I imagine that womens shelters have also come to a solution without a big fuss and fanfare. However, now the doors seem to be opening to a group of men who appear quite hostile to womens safety and privacy to the extent that you have to wonder why they want to call themselves women at all, which is basically destroying the quiet accommodation we had. Its very sad and its only purpose seems to be to divide us.

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