Fact check: Did a YouGov poll find half the British public back ‘trans rights’?
Earlier this week, The Independent boldly claimed: “A large majority of the British public support transgender people having the right to ‘self-identify’ and choose their own gender, a new poll has found.”
The poll in question was commissioned by LGBT news website PinkNews. The “majority” turns out to be just 50 per cent, nearly twice the 27 per cent opposed. If that was the only problem you would have to acknowledge that on such a seemingly controversial issue, that still represents a big number. But it’s not the only problem.
The Independent goes on to imply that this support for ‘self-identification’ shows a desire for changing gender recognition law, and is support for legal sex changes to be based on nothing but personal preference.
This is deeply disingenuous. It is exploiting a confusion in language. And it is undermined by the very same survey.
‘Self-identification’ is an ambiguous term. It usually refers to a person claiming to be the opposite sex, and does not necessarily have any legal weight.
But the poll doesn’t define what it means by ‘self-identify’. It simply asked: “Do you think a person should or should not be able to self-identify as a gender different to the one they were born in?” To most people, this would seem to be a question about personal lifestyle choices, not legal gender recognition. PinkNews, The Independent and others have skewed this to mean that the public supports changing the law.
Under current UK regulations, trans people can obtain a legal sex change, providing they have two medical reports of gender dysphoria and have ‘lived full time in their acquired gender for two years’. Until recently, however, both Westminster and Holyrood had taken steps towards adopting a ‘non-assessment’ or ‘self-declaration’ approach, where a person changes legal sex simply by signing a declaration.
But in recent weeks it has been suggested that Westminster’s move towards self-declaration will be abandoned. Perhaps in response, trans activists have been trying to exploit YouGov’s ambiguous finding, and push for the liberal model. The Independent treated the poll as if it shows majority support for a self-declaration system. In reality, the question simply asked about ‘self-identifying in a gender’. To imply that most of the public support changing the law is to confuse or conflate two very different issues. This is ignorance at best and deceit at worst.
But that’s not all.
Since The Independent’s coverage, the full results from the YouGov poll have come to light. It went on to ask a series of specific questions about the law. The results couldn’t be clearer: 63 per cent think the law should keep the requirement of a doctor’s approval, and 61 per cent think that applicants should still have to give evidence of living in their new gender for two years. From across all social groups, people were much more likely to support than oppose the current requirements.
Even in its present state, the Gender Recognition Act is fundamentally absurd. It divorces legal sex from biology, and allows manhood and womanhood to be determined by a subjective experience given credence by some medical sleight-of-hand. However, the current requirements do at least provide some safeguards. Removing these protections opens the door to everybody and anybody. It would allow legal sex to be changed by merely wishing for it.
The full poll results are like turning on a bright light in a dark room. They reveal that, contrary to The Independent’s portrayal, the public opposes liberalisation. This is good news. At a time of growing confusion over sex and gender identity, the safeguards around changing legal sex are all too necessary.