16 is old enough to make a decision on changing gender, suggests education secretary

Education secretary Gillian Keegan has said she believes that 16-year-olds are old enough to make a decision on changing gender. 

Ms Keegan told Sky News that she was “working at 16, I was paying tax at 16, I could make decisions for myself at 16” in answer to a question over whether it was too young to make a decision on gender identity.

The education secretary also said in her response, which came at the second time of asking: “it is not really about what I think. It is how we make sure we get that right balance of supporting children but also making sure that what they are getting taught in schools is age appropriate”.

These comments come after the UK government moved to block Scotland’s new gender reforms on Monday, after concluding that they would have “chilling effects” on women-only spaces. 

The gender recognition reform (Scotland) bill was passed to simplify the process of obtaining a gender recognition certificate. For the first time, it allows transgender people to obtain such a document without the need for a medical diagnosis.

A key provision of the legislation is that it would reduce the age at which an application to change gender could be made to 16.

Labour leader Keir Starmer recently expressed “concerns” at this aspect of the bill. He told the BBC‘s “Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg”: “I have concerns about the provision in Scotland, in particular the age reduction to 16 and, in particular, the rejection of our amendment in relation to the Equalities Act”.

Responding to the UK government’s move yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon said the decision to block the laws was to a “full-frontal attack” on the Scottish Parliament. She said yesterday that the government would be using trans people as a “political weapon” if it decided to block Scottish gender reforms.

Scottish secretary Alister Jack defended the government’s decision, arguing that he had vetoed the legislation because he was concerned it would “have an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation”.

Ms Keegan said she does not understand Nicola Sturgeon’s criticism. She said: “The Scotland Act deliberately was set up with this power in it and I think it was set up about 25 years ago, anticipating that there could be times when legislation, when it looked a bit messy, or there was legislation which could potentially be competing, and it was set up, it was legislation written by a Labour government, voted for by the SNP, so everybody agreed on the Scotland Act and the structure of it and the fact that there would be this power and when it was to be used”.

“Obviously what we can’t have is a lack of clarity in law in terms of gender, gender recognition, having two schemes in place  across Great Britain”.

“I don’t understand those comments because it was something they voted for. It was deliberately designed in the Scotland Act to help us navigate where there were any of these sort of difficulties or things that were less clear”.