Public attitudes to gender recognition reform: an overview

This blog places our recent polling results on public attitudes towards gender recognition reform in the context of other polling results on the same topic.

Currently, to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate a person does need not have made any physical changes, but must be able to show they have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and produce reports from two doctors.

Over the past three and a half years, several polls have looked at the level of support for removing all medical involvement from obtaining Gender Recognition Certificate. They have consistently shown a large majority against this.

The earliest poll we have found was conducted in June 2018 (1,688 adults) commissioned by Pink News, which asked ‘Should a doctor’s approval be required to “change legal gender on official documentation (e.g. birth certificate, passport).’ The Pink News article is no longer available, although coverage by the Herald can be found here. The poll found:

18% doctor’s approval not needed
58% doctor’s approval needed
23% don’t know.
(24% doctor’s approval not needed, when excluding don’t knows)

Note: A GRC is needed to change birth certificate. A passport can already be changed without one, but does require a doctor’s letter.

YouGov/Pink News June 2018

Next was 19-21 October 2018, Populus (2,074 UK adults), which asked the same question as the YouGov 2018 poll. The results are as follows:

13% doctor’s approval not needed
64% doctor’s approval needed
3% prefer not to say
19% don’t know
(17% doctor’s approval not needed, when excluding don’t knows).                                                    

Populus October 2018

In December 2018 a YouGov poll (1,660 GB adults) asked ‘Do you think a person should or should not have to obtain a doctor’s approval to change their legal gender?’.

14% should not need doctor’s approval
65% should need doctor’s approval
21% don’t know.
(18% doctor’s approval not needed, when excluding don’t knows)

YouGov December 2018

There is then a gap in the polling of 18 months, before YouGov polled again, securing the same results.

14% should not need doctor’s approval
65% should need doctor’s approval
21% don’t know.
(18% doctor’s approval not needed, when excluding don’t knows)

YouGov June 2020

Between June 2018 and June 2020, UK-wide support for removing medical involvement from the GRC process remained at around one-fifth of those with a view, and somewhat less than that for the population as a whole.

Two more recent polls have been Scotland only. In October 2021 a Panelbase survey (1,001 adults resident in Scotland) asked ‘who should be allowed to change the sex on their birth certificate?’ The response options offered were more specific than in the polls above (Q.15).yes

20% A solemn declaration of living in their new gender (self-declaration)
18% A gender dysphoria diagnosis (required now)
21% Gender reassignment surgery (not required now)
19% No-one
22% Don’t know
(25% for self-declaration only, when excluding don’t knows)

Panelbase 20-26 October 2021

Our recent poll was undertaken between 18-21 November. It asked 1,028 adults resident in Scotland if a doctor’s approval should be needed for a change of sex in law. We found:

27% doctor’s approval not required
53% doctor’s approval required
20% don’t know
(33% doctor’s not approval needed, excluding don’t knows)

Survation 18-21 November 2021

The full results are discussed in detail here:

Compared to earlier UK-wide polls using a similar question, ours might suggest that support for self-declaration is higher here than in the UK as a whole, but if so not by a large amount.  But the October results for Scotland gave a result for self-declaration much closer to earlier polls.

For whatever reason, our results for self-declaration are on the high side compared to other polls, and yet they still show minority support in Scotland for moving to self-declaration for obtaining a GRC, heavily outweighed by support for retaining a doctor’s approval. 

Our polling also shows that this is the position across almost all sub-groups of the population examined. It found no sub-group of the population where there was a statistically significant majority in favour of moving to self-declaration, not even in the under-25s.

Contrary to some popular narratives, among those who agree that transgender people should be freely able to express their identity, 51% still support including a doctor’s approval for issuing a GRC while only 35% do not.

These figures can be read a further way: most (61%) of those who support keeping a doctor’s approval for a GRC also agree that transgender people should be able to freely express their identity, while far fewer (18%) do not.

Support for retaining some medical involvement in obtaining a GRC has repeatedly been found by polling to be an ordinary, unexceptional, widely-held position, across the population as a whole and within different sub-groups.

Our polling now adds to that by showing that it is wrong to conflate support for retaining medical involvement as part of the GRC process with hostility to those expressing transgender identities.  As Stonewall Director Nancy Kelley states, drawing on British Social Attitudes data, “The majority of people, and specifically women, support trans rights”. What is also clear, based on our polling data, is that the belief that transgender people should be able to freely express their identities and support for retaining a doctor’s approval for a GRC go hand in hand.