Bridging gaps in law through collaboration
Mollie Gascoigne is a PhD Candidate in the Law School at the University of Exeter. Her research is funded by an Economic & Social Research Council (SWDTP) 1+3 Studentship. Her research project, the Gender Recognition & Reform Project, investigates the attitudes and experiences of non-binary people towards legal gender recognition. Her supervisors are Professor Stephen Skinner and Dr Peter Dunne.
As I progressed through my undergraduate Law degree I became increasingly uncomfortable with the gap that I perceived to exist between the law and people. This discomfort was heightened as I learnt about how this gap has been historically wider for people from particular demographic groups, e.g. LGBTQ+ people. In this blog post, I hope to explore this key theme underlying my research and how I have subsequently sought to close the gap between the law and people through collaboration.
Mind the Gap
I started researching the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA) during an undergraduate module in 2017. The GRA is the law outlining the procedure for people wishing to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) and change their legal gender. There are a range of requirements for an applicant to meet, including – among others – evidencing a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and providing a statutory declaration of intention to ‘live permanently in the acquired gender until death’. The success of an application is then determined by the Gender Recognition Panel, comprised of legal and medical professionals. The language used in the GRA attracted my attention and I wanted to investigate whether the evidential burden was actually striking the proportionate and reasonable balance that it attempts to. An additional fundamental issue surrounding the GRA was the lack of non-binary recognition. It was at this point that I started to question whether the GRA could be another example of a gap existing between the law and (LGBTQ+) people. It was this intrigue which was the motivating force behind developing an interdisciplinary, collaborative project exploring non-binary legal gender recognition.
I was introduced to the importance of collaboration through my funding body ESRC (SWDTP) and I subsequently developed an interest in how research impact may promote evidence-based policymaking and increased accountability. As a result, collaboration was placed at the heart of my project. I worked with Devon County Council on general research design; the Intercom Trust on data collection; and with various LGBTQ+ charities on working with trans and non-binary people. This collaboration helped me to develop a project with impact potential, as my stakeholders could provide unique insight into the issues facing trans and non-binary people in relation to legal gender recognition. The GRA was highlighted as increasingly relevant, as it was the subject of a public consultation in 2018. Collaboration also helped to achieve a strong response from my call for participants. In turn, I have kept the organisations up to date with my findings and hopefully helped them with work on legal gender recognition and supporting non-binary people.
More recently, I have worked with the Innovation, Impact and Business team and Sense About Science who delivered a workshop and one-to-one sessions to highlight the importance of evidence-based policy and produce my own policy brief. The press office helped me to translate my technical research findings from my policy brief into a press release which can be found here. This press release was then picked up in the media in the UK and abroad (here, here and here). From this, I have felt confident to discuss my findings with potentially interested parties (e.g. MPs and APPGs) at a time when the GRA is receiving significant political attention. I hope to continue to promote evidence-based policymaking using this foundation as the interest in legal gender recognition continues to grow. For example, just last week another inquiry regarding the GRA, reform and the government’s response to the public consultation has been launched which I hope to contribute to.
Bridging the gap
The collaborative relationships that I have developed during my PhD have helped me to design a research project which was well received by my target sample and has also been relevant to current trends in society, politics and law. An understanding of policy and impact work is important for prospective socio-legal researchers who hope to redress structural inequalities that exist within law. For me, collaboration is not just a tick box requirement, but has been an effective tool in bridging the gaps that exist between the law and people.