Opening statement on the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill

Evidence session of the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee, 7 June 2022.

Decisions made about who to count, what to count and how to count are not value-neutral but bring to life a particular vision of the world around us.

Data should reflect the vibrancy, messiness, and ups and downs of our experiences – it should not define who we are or how we live our lives.

Thank you Committee for the invitation to present evidence today.

I will focus my contribution on aspects of the Bill related to the collection, analysis and use of data as this reflects my expertise as a researcher, particularly in relation to LGBTQ data in Scotland.

The vast majority of data collection activities across Scotland’s public, private and voluntary sectors do not currently ask questions about an individual’s ‘legal sex’.

In other words, and in plain English, how someone answers a sex question in a survey or another data collection activity is not contingent on whether or not that individual has a Gender Recognition Certificate.

Ahead of today’s evidence session, I reviewed major data collection activities that involve the capture of information about sex, including:

  • Quantitative social research
  • Reporting requirements for the Equality Act’s Public Sector Equality Duty
  • Gender pay gap reporting
  • Crime and police records
  • And census data

All of these data collection activities follow a self-identification approach that acknowledges that individuals are best placed to describe themselves.

There is nothing radical about a self-identification approach to data collection – it is the status quo in social research and is also used for questions on race, religion, sexual orientation and disability.

Those opposed to the Bill or wishing to delay its passage through Parliament cite concerns about data collection or the lack of existing data.

I have witnessed throughout my work how demands for more and more data can operate as a means to stall meaningful action.

The mention of ‘data’ can obscure the topic under discussion and give credence to abstract concerns about policymaking and the law.

Committee, contrary to claims that we need more data, I believe we are drowning in data that demonstrates the need for reform.

The proposal for a self-declaration system is not untested – it is happening today in many countries around the world and has been happening for the past 10 years.

Although my work focuses on data, we cannot lose sight of the people behind the numbers.

It is vital that we design data collection tools that are robust and inclusive, engaging as many people as possible.

I therefore wish to reiterate that data collection activities in Scotland do not currently ask individuals to share information about the sex recorded on their birth certificate or GRC.

With this fundamental point in mind, the Bill will not impact the collection, analysis and presentation of data.

QUEER DATA at University College London

How do we use equality, diversity and inclusion data to actually build a better world for LGBTQ+ communities?

I’m speaking with Kevin Coutinho at University College London (Bloomsbury, London) about themes from Queer Data on 12 May. All welcome.

The event is in-person and online, click here to register.

To engage LGBTQ+ people in data collection, we need to look at its harmful history

LGBTQ+ communities are told that to change the status quo we first need to gather evidence about the nature, size and scale of the problem before work can commence. But, considering data’s dark past, why should we participate?

I wrote an article for The Conversation for LGBT History Month on the harmful history of collecting data about LGBTQ+ communities.

Read the full article at The Conversation.