THE debate on reform of Scotland’s Gender Recognition Act needs a reset. Intimidation and distortion of the truth have been tolerated for too long – and, through no fault of their own, it’s trans people who are paying the price.

I’ve had conversations with campaigners on both sides of this debate and although more work is needed to get the legislation right, reform is necessary, because trans people should not be subjected to mandatory diagnoses or distressing medical procedures to enjoy their basic rights.

The World Health Organisation no longer classifies trans identities as a mental health disorder. This matters, both in breaking down stigma and increasing access to healthcare. Is the judgment of these highly qualified clinicians to be disregarded?

Trans people suffer from poorer mental health more than the rest of the population and are at greater risk of taking their own lives. This is largely due to what is known as “minority stress” – psychological distress originating from social and environmental marginalisation which in many cases can lead to a diagnosed mental health condition like anxiety disorder or depression.

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A comprehensive study found 81% of trans people avoided some social situations due to fear. The ugly debate unfolding across the UK – largely on social media – can only compound that marginalisation further.

The first organisation I met as a parliamentary candidate earlier this year was the local Women’s Aid. I knew West Dunbartonshire has the highest rate of domestic violence anywhere in Scotland, so I wanted to know what I could do, as a candidate, to help.

The charity spoke at length about the real issues women confronted with violence and abuse often face. We talked about the need for safe housing, the importance of preventative programmes in schools, the need for more local services and secure funding. It prompted me to contact the SNP-run council administration and put across my view that the charity’s work was pivotal, and that its funding should be secured and expanded – and indeed it was. That’s what I call standing up for women – with deeds, not false narratives.

And yet a parliamentary magazine on Sunday accused me of denying decades – centuries even – of women’s battles for freedom and equality. This character assassination unfolded because I spoke some uncomfortable truths about the GRA reform. The article proceeded to make reference to my wedding a fortnight ago, describing it as “the spoils of the equality that we helped win for you”. Extraordinary words. I owe my rights to the brave LGBT+ men and women who risked their lives for equality, including the trans people who often led the charge.

How dare I support the rights of others in the LGBT+ community, having won my right to marry my husband. Perhaps the magazine would rather I turn a blind eye and just be grateful that centuries later people like me can be equal in the eyes of the law. No, we won’t step back into the shadows. Nor will we allow fundamentalists to distort reality or drive a wedge between women and the LGBT+ community – a script that thankfully is non-existent in the real world as most women support GRA reform.

I have, on numerous occasions, argued that the central problem in relation to gender-based violence is abusive men and toxic masculinity, not trans people. I’ve argued that women and trans people share the same perpetrator.

And yes, I have highlighted that several men who had never shown interest in the struggle for women’s rights suddenly find themselves mobilised against the GRA. Are these people drawing attention to the harms of toxic masculinity and domestic abuse? Of course not. They’re mocking, vilifying, and in some cases denying the mere existence of trans people and their rights. Many gender-critical fundamentalists don’t want to hear this. Instead of focusing all efforts on the rather more complex problem of tackling harmful masculinity they indulge in suspicion against the most marginalised group in society.

As for the anti-GRA demonstration that unfolded outside the Scottish Parliament – put yourself in the shoes of a young gay or trans person still exploring their identity. How would they feel if they witnessed a member of their family hold signs saying: “leave our kids alone”?

Rejection? Fear? What would that do to their self-esteem and mental health? Those banners are the exact replica of the homophobic slogans of the 1970s and 80s. Unsupportive parents or guardians is what we should be worried about, not giving trans people rights.

The number of women and children victims of domestic violence has rocketed since the start of the pandemic – yet we’re obsessing over the hypothetical harms of the GRA.

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In addition to supporting women’s organisations and driving equality for women in all spheres of society we need more discussion – and action – on the drivers of male violence and the harms of certain masculine ideals.

For example, the restriction of emotional expression or the idea that violence is a normal behaviour for men – it isn’t. We need to do more to tackle the societal pressures boys face early on and increase their emotional literacy. And we need to do more to promote healthy masculine identities with positive role models – particularly those that showcase male resistance to violence.

Going after the weakest while avoiding the elephant in the room is the oldest trick in the book. Those of us who believe in equality for both women and trans people will continue to speak the truth – and fight injustice wherever we see it.