Review of our #BinTheBill GRA Consultation Campaign

On 17th December 2019 the Scottish Government announced the launch of a three month public consultation about changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004. Powerful government funded transgender interest groups were lobbying hard for full deregulation of the legal transition process to allow for any man to change his birth certificate on demand to say he was born female. In the two months prior to the statement about the GRA in June 2019 Stonewall Scotland had meetings in Parliament with 22 different MSPs, including several with the Cabinet Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville. Women’s groups were denied similar access or any input into the framework of the consultation, with Ms Somerville turning down our requests to meet until the end of February, three weeks before the end of the consultation period.

Despite the obvious conflict with female sex-based rights, the public consultation was set to proceed amid a climate of fear which has prevented many women speaking openly about their concerns. Our group has received violent threats for leafleting and our meetings often heavily protested, resulting in the need for an expensive security presence. One meeting at the University of Edinburgh was aggressively protested, resulting in a speaker being attacked by a transactivist. A subsequent meeting was indefinitely postponed as the University could not guarantee the safety of participants. It is perhaps unsurprising then, that unlike other public consultations, the Government did not plan on holding any public awareness meetings throughout the country.

It was against this backdrop that Forwomen.Scot decided to launch our own public awareness campaign to ensure that women’s voices were heard and listened to during the public consultation.

On 18th December 2019 we launched our first public crowdfunder, raising £14,730 for our campaign funds in 28 days. We received massive public support, with 252 individual donations and exceeded our initial target. With the dedication and determination of our members we used these funds to deliver an effective campaign to rival all the well funded transgender interest groups like Equality Network. So successful was our campaign that our detractors declared that we must be in receipt of funding from far right US religious groups!  We have weathered attempts to close down our funding page along with our Paypal and bank account, as well as repeated attacks on our website. They simply couldn’t, or wouldn’t, envisage the idea that a bunch of intelligent and courageous women who care deeply about the sex-based rights of all women and girls, could organise and succeed in challenging the stranglehold of the one-sided view presented to the public for so long.

#BinTheBill – Our campaign to stop sex self-ID

On 1st February we launched our #BinTheBill campaign with an army of women at our hubs in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen ready to take our message to the public. Hundreds of campaign packs were posted out to many more women and men to deliver our message and speak to people the length and breadth of the country. It was incredible to see so many ordinary people, most of whom had never campaigned before, find the courage to speak up in public about their concerns. These brave women truly are the heroes of our campaign!

For years women have been portrayed as hateful, bigoted and transphobic, and threats used to intimidate women into silence. None of the Government funded transgender groups, or indeed women’s groups, have condemned these vile tactics. In fact, we are representative of the views of the majority of ordinary people in Scotland who can plainly see the most obvious conflict of rights – if any man can become a woman just because he says so, then the word becomes meaningless and so do female rights.

The GRA is a legal mechanism for male people to enter the protected characteristic of the female sex. It is beyond ridiculous that some think women should not be allowed to express a view on this, and at the very least the public should be made aware that the deregulation of this law is on the cards. This is not an ant-trans campaign. This is a pro-female campaign. In a democracy, and during a Government consultation process, we have every right to say this is a bad law and to point out how it will detrimentally impact safety, privacy and fairness for women and girls.

With your help we…

Provided information online:
We produced summaries of information and a step-by-step Quick and Easy Guide to help people understand the issues and complete the consultation. This was featured prominently on our website (now archived) and promoted through advertising and social media. All literature was available as pdfs for easy downloading and printing. Over the course of six weeks of the campaign we attracted in the region of 48,000 visitors to our site, with almost 2,000 people viewing our campaign material on the first day of its launch. We also ran a very successful social media campaign along with promoted ads, the production of Twitter cards, and header and profile images to use on social media. Our followers on Twitter exceeded 8,000 and newsletter subscribers over 1,000.

Organised meetings:
A meeting on “Women’s sex-based rights: considerations for policy making and for legislation” was held in the Scottish Parliament on 15th January, hosted by Johann Lamont and Joan McAlpine. This was attended by MSPs and representatives of interested groups. The transcript of Karen Ingala Smith’s speech is available here.

Following on from this we held a public meeting in Edinburgh on 16th January with our largest audience to-date of 250 people. Discussion focused on the GRA reforms with speakers Maureen O’Hara, Rhona Hotchkiss and Nicola Williams.

Several of our group spoke at the LGB Alliance launch in Glasgow on 18th January.

Marion Calder spoke on the GRA reforms on STV’s Scotland Tonight on 20th February.

We held two fully-booked public meetings in Glasgow (28th February) and Edinburgh (29th February) specifically to discuss and provide support in completing the consultation.

We attended two further meetings at Parliament, one focused on children and the other on transsexual’s voices, as well as speaking on request at several more informal gatherings.

Finally, towards the end of the consultation period we held a highly successful demonstration for women’s rights outside the Scottish Parliament on the 7th March, the eve of International Women’s Day.

Campaigned on the street:
We provided gazebos and campaign material to our hubs in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen for public awareness campaigning out and about on the streets of Scotland, concentrating on the last six weeks of the consultation period. Those who were signed up for our newsletter were invited to join in and/or request campaign packs by post. 60,000 leaflets were distributed by our fantastic women in the hubs with a further 8,000 sent out around the country by post, and many more downloaded from our website. Several hundred printed versions of our guidance were handed out along with paper consultation forms for submission. Several thousand cards, stickers and badges were also distributed. Packs were sent down to various women’s events and marches in Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, London and Cardiff.

The dedication of our volunteers is not to be underestimated with many women out leafleting and speaking to the public in all weathers – from the howling wind outside a rugby match in Edinburgh and the bitter cold outside shopping centres everywhere, to finally a sunny day in Stirling. The response we received confirmed what we all know: the vast majority of the public share our concerns, think self-id of sex is ludicrous and do not wish to see the GRA reformed in this way.

We took out full page adverts in the Herald on 17th January and the Scotsman and Metro on 6th March designed to raise awareness of the consultation and our demonstration at Holyrood. This was extremely successful and allowed us to reach a huge audience throughout Scotland.

The future

Thank you to everyone who supported us during the consultation. Many politicians and public bodies, even Government funded women’s groups, turned their backs on ordinary women. It was therefore up to ordinary women to organise and run an ambitious grassroots campaign to get our voices heard. Together we have shifted the public debate, in an area in which we are legitimate and essential stakeholders. Women deserve to be heard.

The consultation submissions were due to be analysed by an outside agency with the final report due to the Government on 24th July. However, there was a Parliamentary announcement on 1st April that work on the GRA will be halted in order to focus on dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. The consultation analysis has now been cancelled and, without the opportunity to reflect on the analysis results, it seems impossible that the Gender Recognition Reform Bill can be added to the legislative programme in September.

With the Scottish Government elections due in May 2021 there is still plenty for us to do. We will be campaigning within each of the political parties to keep existing women’s rights to the forefront and not make any manifesto commitments for self-identification of sex. It is important for us all to contact our MSPs regarding this and we will be providing guidance and template letters shortly.

We will also be continuing to raise awareness and tackle the self-ID policies in use NOW. The Government failed in meeting it’s own deadline to replace the “not legal” transgender guidance for schools by the end of last year and, in light of the withdrawal of similar guidance in England, we would like to see this guidance removed before the pupils return to school after the current pandemic lock-down. We will continue our support of the Violence Against Women sector, to ensure that the silenced voices of professionals and survivors are heard.

There is still much work to be done on what we consider to be two bad pieces of legislation, one which has already been passed into law: the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act on which the results of a consultation have recently been published, and the second: the Hate Crimes and Public Order (Scotland) Bill which has just been introduced into Parliament with a Stage 1 Call for Views.

You can help by sharing and joining in with our campaigns. All the work we do is carried out by volunteers and we are totally reliant on public donations. Please support our work by signing up to our newsletter or consider making a small donation.

Thank you from all of us at Forwomen.Scot!