THE numbers are such that we can expect some form of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill to be passed by the Scottish Parliament today, yet for those of us supporting the changes, it is hard to feel celebratory.

It was more than eight years ago now that the campaign to reform the Gender Recognition (Scotland) Act (GRA) of 2004, led by the Scottish Trans and Equality Network, began. Time flies when you’re having fun, eh?

The Equal Recognition campaign set out three key asks: replace the need for a psychiatric diagnosis to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) with a simple process of self-declaration; reduce the age limit from 18 to 16, and for under 16s with their parents’ or guardians’ consent; and recognise non-binary gender.

If you don’t know by now (and let’s be honest, the chances are high that you don’t, even if you have been tweeting incessantly about the bill with the fervour of someone scribbling on a blackboard at 3am), a GRC is what allows someone to change the sex marker on their birth certificate. This means they can have their gender correctly recorded on marriage, civil partnership and death certificates, and it can impact on taxes and pensions.

It’s the sort of thing that has no business being remotely interesting to anyone other than the person looking to update their documents, and just a few long years ago that appeared to be the consensus. Cue tinkly music and fade into sepia for a journey back in time.

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It was the summer of 2017, the year after every political party at Holyrood had committed to gender recognition reform in their manifestos, and photos of MSPs across the political spectrum posing with “I support equal recognition” placards were in abundance. This was the year I wrote my first-ever articles explaining the proposals and featuring the voices of trans people who would be impacted. At the time, this felt like a niche subject and writing about it certainly didn’t generate any hostility.

It felt like reforming the GRA was the next logical, and frankly quite minimal, step on the road to equality for all LGBT people. I was just 10 when Section 28 was repealed; 14 when same-sex civil partnerships and the Gender Recognition Act were introduced; 17 when same-sex couples gained the right to adopt; 19 when homophobic and transphobic hate crimes were recognised; and 24 when same-sex marriage was legalised.

I had heard the Scottish Government celebrate its record on LGBT rights, I had seen Scotland ranked top in Europe on LGBT legal equality, and it’s fair to say I had bought into the idea that things would just keep getting better.

Of course, bracing yourself for opposition is part and parcel of any campaign, and if recent steps forward on LGBT rights were anything to go by, there would be sure to be some backlash.

At that point, we had already seen some vicious transphobia in the British press, including from those who considered themselves feminists. But there was a real sense that Scotland was insulated from the worst of this, bolstered by the strong working relationship between LGBT and women’s rights campaigners.

Fast forward to December 2022, and I look back on that time the way I look at the characters at the start of a horror film when they say “there’s nothing to worry about”. Legal progress may well be the Final Girl in this twisted tale, but getting here should never have been this painful.

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The bill itself has already compromised on the original asks, with no inclusion of non-binary people, with 16- and 17-year-olds required to go through additional processes. And with 153 amendments proposed (many of which have clearly been put forward by the Tories in such a way to make it sound like a big number, and some of which are outright wrecking amendments), it’s possible the bill could be further diluted and undermined.

But after two public consultations (the first of which began five years ago) and endless “debate” and one-sided coverage, the toughest blow has been to the tone of the discourse on LGBT rights in Scotland. When all is said and done, it’s going to take a lot more than passing this bill to pick up the pieces of the shattered illusion of Scotland as a progressive utopia.

The way trans people have been treated and spoken about in our media, our Parliament, our courts, and on social media is beyond disgusting. Framed as predators, perverts, and liars; taunted on a daily basis by people who act like school bullies; and forced to defend the rights they already have, because apparently stopping progress isn’t enough for some people – they want to drag us backwards.

I can no longer count the times I have had to justify my support for reforming the GRA in the face of claims that my rights as a woman and a lesbian are somehow threatened by trans people.

The irony is that the most vocal trans allies have been LGB people – because we know it’s never “just” about one issue. One attack on LGBT rights invariably leads to another, and we’ve seen that play out as alliances of groups and individuals with all manner of regressive viewpoints have coalesced around this issue. If you’ve got this far and you’re not concerned by any of this, I don’t know what to tell you.

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Perhaps the most sickening thing to observe has been the way a mixture of fear, misunderstanding and bigotry have been cynically exploited. Because while there are certainly people who have a genuine obsession with trans people, and some who have understandably been misled by a constant flood of misinformation, there are arguably considerably more who have seen this as nothing more than an opportunity.

The media has used it as an opportunity for clicks with little regard to the human impact, and there are few in the Scottish Parliament who should come away from this with no regrets.

The SNP have allowed this issue to fester and be taken advantage of in the worst way with delays intended to appease those who were never interested in compromise or facts. Labour are treating this as just another chance to score points against the Government, as if the events of the last few years were not enough to convince them that trans people’s lives are more than a political football. And today’s Tories bring shame to the work their former leader Ruth Davidson did to make them sound remotely reasonable.

In 20 years when we look back on this period, I expect it will be with the same revulsion that we now reflect on the debate around repealing Section 28. The question is whether the people who really needed to feel shame about their past treatment of LGBT people ever truly did.

After witnessing the behaviour of some elected representatives and media personalities during this time, I hope none of us will forget that just because they smile and hold your sign for the cameras doesn’t mean they won’t look you in the eye and stab you in the front the minute it seems pragmatic to do so.

If progress is won for trans people in Scotland today, let’s take heart, but remember this is only the beginning. If there’s one thing the last few years have taught us, it’s that anti-LGBT campaigners are a lot like Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers – they always come back. Next time, we’ll be ready.