Non-Binary Working Group - data collection for service provision subgroup minutes: October 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the subgroup on 29 October 2021.

Attendees and apologies


  • Dr Ben Vincent, The Open University (Chair)
  • Megan Snedden, Stonewall Scotland
  • Sarah Anderson, LGBT Youth Scotland
  • Katrina Mitchell, LGBT Health and Wellbeing
  • Vic Valentine, Scottish Trans
  • Jon Hunter, Equality Analysis Team, Scottish Government
  • Bruce Sutherland, Mainstreaming and Strategy Unit, Scottish Government
  • Non-binary community members


  • Paul Sloan, Equality Unit, Scottish Government
  • Chloe Coldwell, Equality Unit, Scottish Government


  • Oceana Maund, Scottish Trans
  • Non-binary community members

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

The Chair welcomed participants to put forward concerns or comments surrounding the meeting topic and opened by reading excerpts from comments sent prior to the meeting from those unable to attend.

Requirements to disclose gender/sex to access services

The group stated that being asked to provide data on trans data or sex can be a substantial obstacle for people due to formal barriers or other difficulties and fears. The group mentioned the difficulties of engaging with forms with only binary sex/gender options on sign-up forms such with fitness apps. They agreed that if service providers do not ask if people are non-binary, these barriers will remain. 

Most services ask unnecessary gender/sex questions and services should be supported to know when this is required and when it is unnecessary. Participants contemplated the work needs to be done with service providers to make them feel like these adaptations and recommendations make sense to them.

An example was given to describe the level of specificity that would be preferred such as asking whether someone can get pregnant rather than if they are a woman, to avoid making assumptions based on gender.

One member suggested that gender/sex questions be considered sensitively such as other questions regarding protected characteristics. 

The group wanted a non-binary option but also wanted to investigate why services need this information, stating that this should be unpicked further to ascertain whether this is a formality or necessity. They agree it is likely to be important in many situations but the purpose should be considered and asking for this information should not a default.
The group suggested that recording pronouns could be useful but said that it was always better to just ask because these can change. 

Members discussed how the manner in which the question is asked should be considered. It also must be understood that willingness to disclose non-binary status may not align necessarily with how “out” someone is. In specific contexts, many people may not wish to disclose this information. The group questioned whether disclosing this information would offer benefits or only difficulties. 

One member argued that adding a non-binary option to a form would not be the end of the process stating that service providers must consider how people are dealt with and served throughout their interactions with the service after disclosing this information. 

The group mentioned that service providers assume service users must fit into one box. There is a great variety of what it means to be non-binary according to the way in which people transition or do not transition and the ways they present.

Community members highlighted the difficulty in finding a code of best practice or gold standard for asking about gender/sex on service provider forms. They said that those less aware of these issues would not go looking for this information on the best sources, ie. Scottish Trans website, and often do not do this well. This topic is often explored in research contexts with an example phrasing of a gender/sex question being “Which gender do you feel best describes you? Check as many options as you like”.

One member asked if the data collection discussion would cover education settings. They highlighted that SEEMiS, an administrative system used in schools, is a binary system for now and this has been worked on recently but no satisfactory conclusion or solution has been reached. Members agreed that it was important to attend to education as well as health as service provision areas, particularly as these are public services.

The group discussed how organisations may be prepared for the disclosure of information regarding non-binary status, going beyond just asking the question. Members agreed that it would be beneficial for an explanation of the reasoning behind why gender/sex is being asked to be provided alongside asking these questions.

Titles and health services

The group felt the requirement to provide titles should be removed or at least be made optional and Mx should always be an option. 

The group found that, in healthcare settings, not only are gender neutral options missing from IT systems, but titles are intrinsically linked in the IT structure with gender so that only specific titles are permitted according to whichever gender was selected. The group suggest that the asterisks denoting a required answer be removed for title questions. Changing this in IT could be expensive but the group wants the Scottish Government to recommend a review of IT systems and how they create difficulties for service users in terms of inclusion. The group agreed that where titles and gender/sex data serve a useful function, they should be kept but where this is not the case, this should be dealt with regardless of price though this may be financially difficult. 

The discussions highlighted that the healthcare context is likely to be where people feel the most anxious. It was emphasised that the barriers faces by non-binary people are not just abstract ideas, but have real life ramifications in the way that people engage with services with one member giving the example of sex-specific blood tests being cancelled by lab technicians due to titles/gender labels conflicting with expectations. Furthermore, reminders for certain cancers which occur with specific body parts are tied to sex markers on the system. This could be solved by the asking of specific questions for specific information rather than gender assumptions. 

Information provided around name changes

It was reported that Scottish Trans receives a high volume of enquiries about the name changing process and this is felt to be a difficult and confusing process. 

There is a general confusion on how to change your name in Scotland and the differences between Deed Polls and Statutory Declarations so a clear guidance document from Scottish Government on how name changes work would be useful. It would enable service providers to point to the Scottish Government document if people encounter difficulties accessing services when trying to update name/gender as the changing of a name is not a one-step process, with names also needing to be change individually across many services. The group suggested a step by step guideline. LGBT Health and Wellbeing agreed with this as they provide this service but both agreed an official SG set of guidance would help. 

Banking and financial services were highlighted as particularly difficult. 

LGBT Youth added that it would be good if the document contained guidance for professionals working with young people because the misunderstanding of young people's rights and concern about the reactions of parents/carers is often a barrier to name/gender change. It was agreed that any guidance should make specific statements to say that there is no age restriction on when young people can express desires about changing their name or gender with a service provider and they should be able to understand how their data has collected and processed, with the obvious exception of very young children. 

The group highlighted that all information about name changes is disparate and, recommending that the Scottish Government should provide a two-part document: one for transgender people wanting to change their name and one for service providers to remind them of the process. This would make a big impact of the day to day lives of people dealing with these issues. 

The group stated that Scottish Government information on this subject does not have information about deed polls and statutory declarations and the differences between these ie. UK laws and Scottish laws. They said that the deed poll information website does not give info about enrolment of deed poll. In Scotland you may change your birth certificate name through National Records of Scotland but it would still have an original name as well as the new name and original gender on it too. The group said that this works for changing details with services but it is expensive and not very helpful.

Equality impact assessments (EQIAs)

The group discussed potential issues with those leading the EQIA processes not having the necessary understanding of non-binary issues to complete tasks.  They questioned whether EQIAs are able to capture the needs of non-binary and transgender people, considering if individuals carrying out this research are always equipped to understanding or processing this data in a way that reflects the needs of non-binary people. 

The group agreed that it is important to ask questions and value lived experience beyond raw data, stating that individuals carrying out research must engage with people with experience and qualification. It was said that without this, data is not full and effective and it therefore informs policy inadequately. 

The group understood that the Scottish Government is promoting EQIAs across service providers and public bodies and there are a number of work streams, such as the Equality Data Improvement Project which started in the spring of 2021 and will run until the end of 2022.

EQIAs often question effects on transgender people as a whole rather than measuring how policies have impacts on specifically transgender women, transgender men or non-binary people. The group asked, how can we understand the differences between people who share the same protected characteristic but will be effected in very distinct ways by policies? The EQIA team is looking at ways to move away from siloed thinking and grouping people by 9 protected characteristics, aiming to take a more holistic approach and understand nuances in order to emphasise and open up critical thinking.

Draft recommendations

The group recommends that the Scottish Government create a guidance document to assist those in the process of changing their name. They suggest that this document includes information for both service users and service providers, including both legal information and practical advice.

The group recommends that the process of updating IT systems be explored, particularly within a healthcare setting, in order to reduce the barriers faced by non-binary people in accessing services.

The group recommends that, where titles are an essential requirement for registering with services, an Mx option be added as a minimum.

Meeting close

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