HUNDREDS of women have gathered outside Holyrood to demand the SNP-Green government protects their sex-based rights ahead of controversial gender reforms.

The “Women’s Rights Demo” booed mentions of Nicola Sturgeon and the Greens, as the First Minister was accused of ignoring biology while advancing trans rights.

Demonstrators carried placards saying “women’s rights are not hateful” and waved banners and flags in the purple, white and green of the suffragette movememt. 

They also repeatedly chanted “women won’t wheest”, as they demanded MSPs respect women’s rights, single-sex spaces and single-sex services, rather than allowing men who identify as women to use them too.

Several Tory MSPs joined the crowd, as did Alba MP Neale Hanvey.

The TV comedy writer Graham Linehan, an outspoken commentator on trans rights and women’s rights, was also in the crowd, as was feminist campaigner Marion Millar.

There were around 400 people at the main demo and around 100 at a counter-protest.

Counter-protestors accused people in the main crowd of transphobia and of being “trans-exclusionary radical feminists”, or Terfs. One sign said “Terfs get off our turf”.

Scottish ministers intend to push ahead with gender recognition reforms by the spring despite privately acknowledging the public may not back their specific plans.

An internal memo admitted last year’s consultation on the proposals “cannot be taken as representative of the wider Scottish public or indicative of levels of public support”. 

Marion Calder, 51, from Edinburgh, who helped organise the main demo for the For Women Scotland group, said the event was a "wake-up call" for MSPs.

She said: “They need to understand that women won’t wheesht, that they need to consider women’s rights within any piece of legislation, especially over the next year, whether it is self-ID, GRA reform, the census, or the impact of the Hate Crime Bill and the chilling effect on women’s rights and being unable to speak out.

“Today’s event is to give parliamentarians a wake-up call that women should be counted.

“They will have to listen to us. This is just a start, and will get bigger and bigger and bigger.”

She said her group was opposed to granting gender recognition certificates on the basis of people self-declaring a new gender, rather than the current medical diagnosis.

“We want to retain the medical element and are against self-ID, which opens it up to the world and its mother. It means anyone would be able to use this kind of form.

“It hasn’t been discussed enough. They said that they were going to listen to women, and they haven’t.”

However she said the protest went wider than that one reform.

She said: “Women’s rights are being severely impacted by many pieces of legislation that are being brought forward. We’re losing the term of what a woman means.

“It’s not just self-ID, this government has chosen, for whatever reason, to ignore biology and believes that gender has a higher value than sex, and we’re saying that’s not correct. Sex must count.”

HeraldScotland:

One of the counter-protestors supporting trans rights, Jordan Andrew, 29, from Edinburgh, described the main demo as “Scotland’s biggest collection of bigots”.

They said: “They’ve turned up to protest something they have no idea about. They don’t even know the correct name of the legislation, so how can anyone taken them seriously?

“They’re backed by right-wing evangelicals. 

“They’re not interested in women’s right, they’re only interested in transphobia.”

The First Minister's official spokesman said that anyone who knew Ms Sturgeon knew her to be "a robust defender and champion of women's rights".

The joint government deal between the SNP and Scottish Greens includes a commitment to introduce a Bill by next spring to reform the 2004 Gender Recognition Act.

The aim is to “ensure the process by which a trans person can obtaiin legal recognition is simplified, reducing the trauma associated with that process”.

A key element will be automatically granting applicants a gender recognition certificate if they meet certain criteria, including an uncorroborated declaration of their new gender.

At present, under the 2004 Act, certificates can only be granted to transgender people diagnosed with gender dysphoria who have lived in their acquired gender for two years, or who have had surgery to change their sexual characteristics, backed up a medical report.

In 2017, the Scottish Government consulted on reforming and simplifying this “intrusive and onerous” process, including the need for medical evidence and a two-year wait.

It also proposed cutting the minimum age for applying for certificates from 18 to 16.

The Government reported majority support for changing the system after the exercise, which received more than 15,500 responses.

In December 2019, the Government launched a second consultation, acknowledging the debate on the issue had become “polarised, both in Scotland and elsewhere”

In included a draft Bill proposing the Registrar General for Scotland issue certificates, rather than a Gender Recognition Panel, with the time someone has to live in their acquired gender to qualify cut from two years to six months.

Instead of medical requirements, people applying for a certificate will “submit statutory declarations made in front of a notary public or a justice of the peace”.

It will be a criminal offence to make a false declaration.

Provided the applicant made the declaration, met Scottish birth, adoption or residency requirements and “intends to live in their acquired gender permanently”, the Registrar General “must grant the application”.

However courts would be able to quash certificates if the application was shown to be fraudulent “or the applicant lacked capacity”.

The Government stressed the Bill would not change exceptions in Equality Law which allow trans people to be excluded from single-sex services, employment and health services in certain circumstances.

“We will continue to promote and protect and extend the hard won rights of women,” it said.

It also urged organisations “to take account of everyone’s rights when any changes are being considered, to ensure all rights, particularly those of women and trans people, are protected. This includes the protection of women’s rights and safe spaces.”

The second consultation closed in March last year, and received around 17,000 responses.

An independent analysis was due to be published before this year’s Holyrood election, but was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. 

It was completed in late May and was only published today, after the demo. 

READ MORE: Majority of groups support plans for gender self-ID in Scotland

The Government is due to set out its plans for the Bill in next week’s legislative programme.

However newly released material obtained under freedom of information show Government officials are sceptical about drawing conclusions from the consultation.

In March 2020, a week after the consultation closed, family law unit sent a memo to Shirley-Anne Somerville, the then Social Security and Older People, about it.

It said: “There have been just over 17,000  responses to the consultation submitted either in hard copy or [online] through Citizen Space. 

“Since respondents to public consultations are self-selecting and often people who hold strong and polarised views, these findings cannot be taken as representative of the wider Scottish public or indicative of levels of public support.”