By Meka Beresford
LONDON, July 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain began a 16-week public consultation to make it easier for transgender people to legally change their gender on Tuesday, amid fears it will jeopardise women-only spaces.
People wanting to change their gender on their birth certificate in Britain must provide two medical reports, including a mental health condition diagnosis, and prove they have lived in their acquired gender for at least two years.
"Transgender people across the UK find the process of legally changing their gender overly bureaucratic and invasive," Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement.
"I want to see a process that is more streamlined and de-medicalised – because being trans should never be treated as an illness."
Transgender suicide and self-harm rates are concerning, with rising reports of hate crime and discrimination in the workplace and public services, the government said.
The consultation to reform the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, which has allowed almost 5,000 people to legally change their gender since it was introduced, is part of broader government efforts to advance equality, it said.
A national LGBT survey found that only 12 percent of transgender respondents had a gender recognition certificate, with nearly half saying they could not meet the requirements.
Jane Hamlin, president of the Beaumont Society, a transgender support network, said the community had been waiting "too long" for reforms to make the process "affordable, straightforward and easy to understand".
"It is time that we were respected enough to have our self-knowledge valued," she said. "The decision to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate should not be taken lightly, but neither should it be a test of endurance."
Some women's groups have voiced fears that the planned reform will allow self-identifying transgender people to use single-sex spaces, like domestic violence refuges or toilets.
"If we have no objective standards of what it means to be trans, then we are creating a system that is wide open to abuse," Sarah Ditum, a writer who has criticised the reform, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"We can't be naive about the fact that male violence exists in society and that men will take advantage of loopholes."
The government said it will not change laws allowing single-sex services to exclude a transgender person if it is proportionate and justified.
(Reporting by Meka Beresford @mekaberesford, Editing by Katy Migiro. (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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