Mermaids and Stonewall call for free ‘gender self-identification’ for children

On Wednesday 17th March the Women and Equalities Committee heard oral evidence from several pro-trans groups, including: Nancy Kelley, Chief Executive Officer, Stonewall; Lui Asquith, Director of Legal and Policy, Mermaids; Cat Burton, Chair, Gender Identity Research and Education Society; Dr Jane Hamlin, President, Beaumont Society.

The Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the Government’s planned reform of the gender recognition process by making it an entirely online process and reducing the £140 fee to a nominal amount, along with the opening of three new gender clinics. This followed the Government consultation on reform in 2018. The Committee is looking as aspects of the reform including:

  • Should there be changes to the requirement for individuals to have lived in their acquired gender for at least two years?
  • Should the requirement for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria be removed?

The Women and Equalities Committee is examining these proposals, gathering evidence on whether the Government’s proposed changes are the right ones and whether they go far enough.

This inquiry will explore what changes, if any, should be made to the existing legislation, in order for current legislation to improve transgender equality.


As to be expected, all the witnesses want far-reaching changes to the Gender Recognition Act to make it as easy as possible for anyone to self-identify (or “self-determine”) as they now prefer to call the process of deciding to live as the opposite sex.

Mermaids, Stonewall and the other campaign groups are pressuring the Government to reduce the age that young people can apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate to 16 years old. They also want to end the legally required two-year social transition period and ensure every school is teaching children about trans, non-binary and LGB identities from primary school age.

We were particularly shocked by the response of Lui Asquith of Mermaids answering a question from MP Ben Bradshaw, who asked why the Tavistock Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) has had a staggering 4,000% increase in referrals of young girls with gender dysphoria in the last 10 years:

“Why do you think this is happening and do you think there is a role by the campaign groups in young girls being effected by peer pressure, online forums and the desire to avoid the sexualisation that we have in our western culture? Do you think these are factors at all?” he asked.

Success story of trans teenage girls

Asquith responded: “The figures are not something that should shock us objectively. If we look at the figures around 1% of the population may be trans. If we take that statistic and plonk it into young people, you should see thousands and thousands who come under that umbrella of trans. If you take that number in the context of the Tavistock it suddenly becomes more understandable. The increase in numbers is something that we as a society should treat as a success story in that it is likely to mean that we are creating a culture whereby people can come out and feel empowered to say, ‘this is who I am, and I would like some support for that’. How is that ever going to be a bad thing?”

She added: “In terms of the figure of those assigned female at birth, not long ago there was a higher proportion of those who were assigned male at birth so it will be interesting to see how that looks in future.”

Asquith was adamant that the two-year social transition requirement, otherwise known as real life experience, should be removed because “the waiting period” reinforces stereotypical assumptions around gender that are unhelpful for everybody”. She asked the panel, “how do you evidence gender? I could ask the panel who are cisgender – how do you evidence that I am x-gender? We believe in self-determination and we believe that any arbitrary lived experience is unnecessarily bureaucratic.”

Mermaids wants to lower the age of GRC to 16 as she says trans youth are “being discriminated against” because society is dealing with trans youth and children “completely differently” compared any other group of young people. Asquith said lowering the age limit would “show young people that they are respected and will be acknowledged legally”.

Countering the suggestion from the panel that children do not have the emotional capacity to transition their sex at a young age, Asquith responded: “We need to give them an environment to explore their gender identity”. She added that “changing their gender marker shouldn’t be something to be scared of”, despite some people having regrets and detransitioning.

The panel then asked: “what can we be doing to support trans children?”

Nancy Kelley of Stonewall said that “delayed and untimely healthcare system is causing distress to children, adding that the process should be “decentralised” so that GPs can provide support for children with gender dysphoria.

Kelley wants schools “to have more support in helping trans and non-binary children to socially transition”, saying that the DfE should issue “positive support” for teachers to include trans children in schools. Stonewall is lobbying the Government to produce LGBTQ+ sex education materials so that “children can learn about trans identities as well as LGB identities within the classroom”. Kelly insisted that “headteachers are absolutely desperate for guidance on how to support trans children in their settings”, adding that there is “much more that the Government could do to give positive guidance to schools to helps trans and non-binary children to thrive in their day to day lives.”

Puberty blockers for young children are essential

Transwoman Cat Burton said that puberty blockers “are essential and must be prescribed before the onset of Tanner stage 2” (the medical definition for the stages of puberty in boys and girls). Burton was referring to the onset of puberty in children, around 9-11 in girls and around 11 in boys.

“Non-timely intervention for trans young people can be a lifelong tragedy,” Burton stated. “In Tanner stage 2 there is only a very short window to prevent long term damage from inappropriate puberty. That’s where puberty blockers are essential and must be prescribed before the onset of Tanner stage 2. This is the first visible sign of puberty. If you don’t intervene then the young person very quickly moves on to later Tanner stages. Particularly for a young woman, who’s suddenly getting a flood of testosterone, some of those changes are very difficult to correct in later life. Most notably the voice breaks and there’s very little one can do about a voice that’s broken other than an awful lot of hard work. Facial hair arrives, and I had 147 hours of electrolysis and I really don’t want anybody to know what that felt like. All of that caused by damage caused by testosterone during puberty, and that timely intervention cannot currently be given because of waiting lists. There are better ways for medical pathways to be done than having a single clinic with a huge waiting list and money isn’t the solution.”

Burton was a male airline pilot before transitioning as a woman and spoke a lot about how she was invited to speak in schools about diversity as she became the “highest ranking female pilot” and talked to girls about aspiring for train to be pilots. She then appeared to contradict herself by saying that she “wouldn’t have had my fabulous career” had she been a woman when she entered the airline industry. She frequently told the Committee that she is “going into schools all over the UK to raise awareness of being trans”.

Burton also objected to the term “acquired gender” as it “assumes that you were not that gender before you acquired it, that there is a change of gender. All there is for most trans people is a realisation of gender.”

Spousal veto replaced by marriage annulment

Asked by Ben Bradley about spousal consent to applying for a GRC when a trans person is married, Burton said spousal consent was “hostage taking”. She said no trans person should feel “trapped in a marriage,” adding that “annulment, meaning as if the marriage had never happened” was a good option.

Nancy Kelley said that spousal veto was “homophobic” as this clause was introduced when people found the idea of “a woman being married to another woman” as not something they would want.

She talked about the British media being “famously anti-trans and persistent with anti-trans narratives that made it incredibly difficult for the government to act on the results of the consultation.”

Stonewall wants the UK to “step into the role of being one of the leading nations for self-declaration for trans people.” She said that the Government “had the mandate to do this”, adding it was not clear why “they didn’t take the political leadership in 2018 when the consultation began.”

The Committee then asked what the “self-determination” should actually look like? Asking how the witnesses see access to women’s changing rooms and bathrooms, access to women’s sport and access to women’s prisons working in practice.

Single sex spaces must allow transwoman

Kerr said that this is usually only an issue for trans woman trying to use women only spaces as “trans men don’t have the same issues”. She said there is “no evidence” that trans women accessing single sex spaces such as domestic abuse centres and prisons poses any risk to biological females.

Asquith said the GRC system should be similar to the system to obtain a passport and should remove any medical requirement or any lived experience requirement. She said there is “no evidence” to support the claim that biological women are more at risk by allowing trans women into single sex spaces. She added policymakers should “make decisions based on evidence” and that fear of something happening should not stand in the way of progress.

The Committee asked the witnesses if the government should clarify the definitions of sex and gender?

Sex is not defined by XX or XY

Burton said the definition of sex in GCSE biology as XX or XY is “infantile and it’s impossible to believe that people are using that argument” because “it completely ignores the fact that there are numerous combinations of human chromosomes…If you make sex about chromosomes you’re going to get it wrong a lot of the time… You cannot define sex if your understand of human biology finished in year 11 at school.”

Continuing to boast about public speaking, Burton said: “In terms of gender when I’m off giving a talk to the police or schools or whatever, I tell people that when I transitioned my gender changed into female because of what was between my ears not what was between by thighs. No-one needs to know about what’s down there. I don’t actually reveal at these talks whether I’ve had medically intervention down there as it’s none of their business. Gender is what’s going on in your head.”

The evidence session concluded with the witnesses urging the Committee to look to the other nine countries that offer legal recognition for under-18s, with Asquith offering to provide written evidence of the best “pick and mix” solution to allow children to legally change their sex in the easiest possible manner, simply by “self-determination”.

We dearly hope that the Committee also hears further counter evidence, as if the wishes of the witnesses in the session were to become reality, children could decide on a whim that they are the opposite sex in their head, as biology clearly makes no difference to being a boy or a girl. And single sex spaces and the legality of marital vows will become a thing of the past.

We must take action to ensure that this does not happen.

Parents in the UK should make sure they are aware of what their child is being taught about Relationship and Sex Education lessons in school. You are legally allowed to request a copy of the curriculum and in England parents can withdraw their child from RSE lessons. If you would like to find a better option for sex and relationship educational materials that can be used in schools and at home, Lovewise produces helpful guidance from a Christian perspective and Transgender Trend has some great resources for schools. You can also find a range of downloadable materials in the publications section of our website.