CHURCH leaders have backed SNP ministers removing psychological assessments for trans people wanting to obtain a gender recognition certificate.

But the Church of Scotland has admitted it is split on whether the minimum age for a certificate to be obtained should be lowered from 18 to 16 years.

The Scottish Government has published legislation to speed up and simply the process for trans people obtaining a gender recognition certificate.

The plans, backed by all parties except the Scottish Conservatives, would remove the need for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria before an application for a gender recognition certificate (GRC) can be made.

The legislation would also drop the minimum age for an application to be made to 16 from 18 and cut the length of time required for a trans person to live in their "acquired gender" from two years to three months and a subsequent three-month reflection period.

Tomorrow, Holyrood’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee will take evidence from church leaders over the legislation including the the Church of Scotland, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Scotland and the Humanist Society of Scotland.

In a submission to MSPs, David Bradwell from the Church of Scotland, has responded to part of the regulations removing the requirement for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria to obtain a certificate.

Mr Bradwell has warned that “a great deal of time has passed” since the last legislation in 2004, adding that “there have been significant developments in the public understand of the issues facing transgender people”.

He added: “In the light of the past 18 years of experience, we think it is right that Scotland should consider a new approach to the process, one which puts greater emphasis on the pastoral and emotional needs of the person applying for a gender recognition certificate, and which brings Scotland’s process into line with that of an increasing number of other jurisdictions internationally.”

He said that the Church of Scotland is “convinced of the evidence that the removal of the medical diagnosis is needed”.

Mr Bradwell added: “The understanding of the World Health Organisation that transgender or diverse gender identity is not a mental or behavioural disorder needs to be recognised.

“Ending the medical diagnosis will reduce stress and have psychological benefit for individuals applying. It will make things easier such as getting married or having a death recorded respectfully.

“The current long waiting times at NHS gender identity clinics means waiting for a diagnosis can prolong the period that someone has to wait for an outcome.”

Asked if the Church of Scotland supports applicants declaring they have lived in their “acquired gender” should be reduced from the current minimum of two years to three months, Mr Bradwell said the organisation “does not have a single view about the time period involved”.

He said that “the idea of ‘living in an acquired gender’ uses outdated terminology, and it is not clear what this means in practice".

He added: “It may be suggested that gender identity is about how a person feels about themselves, and the expression of this identity should be up to them to decide.

“Outward manifestations (how to dress, what name to use) might be understood by some people as indicators of gender, but we have increasingly seen how fluid and flexible these expressions have become. Is there a better form of words than ‘living in an acquired gender’?

“A trans person does not ‘acquire’ a different identity, it is inherent in who they are; this process is about state recognition.

“The use of the term acquire suggests it is a choice or something new to the person. This is language taken from the 2004 Act, and we ask that consideration be given to whether it should be updated.”

Commenting on whether the age should be lowered from 18 to 16 in order to obtain a certification, Mr Bradwell pointed to “reasons why 16-year-olds should not be treated as adults in the criminal justice system”.

He added: “There will be many in the Church who would feel that application for a gender recognition certificate is similarly serious and a level of maturity is expected, and that in our society it is commonly understood that reaching the age of 18 years is the point at which people become responsible for decisions.

“However, there are other members of the Church who would see the issue as one of prioritising the reduction of harm, and the risks for a trans 16 or 17 year old denied eligibility on the basis of their age could result in mental ill health, increasing the risk of loneliness, self-harm and suicide."

“We invite the Committee to carefully consider these arguments and to explore whether applications made by 16 or 17 year olds should be followed by a reflection period which lasts until they turn 18, maintaining a minimum reflection period of three months if they made the application after they were 17 years nine months.”