Statue of the justice lady at the Old Bailey

Are the traditional gender distinctions of male and female an outdated concept in modern-day law?

Academics are set to explore whether a person’s gender is still relevant in modern law.

A pair of British passports

The study will examine how gender is relevant to legal interactions and documents such as passports and birth certificates

Experts in law, political theory and social psychology will begin a comprehensive three-year project in May 2018, to investigate how sex and gender are defined and regulated for legal purposes.

They will look at the problems the current system raises for many people who do not identify with the limited male and female categories, and the team will explore different models for reforming gender classification.

Reforming Legal Gender Identity will examine the effects on English law if the ways of determining people’s gender changed, particularly if gender became self-determined, as well as the wider implications of reform for advancing equality and diversity.

The project will investigate the implication which when gender is no longer assigned at birth, what implications this might have for single-sex schools, and gender-specific shelters and community organisations – where entry and participation are based on having a particular sex.

Professor Elizabeth Peel, of Loughborough’s School of Social, Political and Geographical Sciences, said: “The research aims to assess and generate public debate about our current system for determining legal gender.

“I am particularly excited about understanding people’s attitudes towards our gender system and whether and how people think gender could be legally recognised in different ways, or perhaps not at all.”

The £724,000 study will be led by Professor Davina Cooper, of Kent Law School, and will include Flora Renz, of City University of London and Dr Emily Grabham, also of Kent Law School.

The grant for the project was awarded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Prof Cooper said: “We are particularly interested in the implications that follow from assigning gender as a legal status at birth. Should this be reformed?

“What are the benefits and challenges in doing so, and what kinds of reforms would best address different people’s needs and concerns?

“It is very exciting to have the opportunity to conduct this innovative research which has the potential to change how gender is understood and regulated.”

The research will include legal analysis, surveys, and interviews with officials, equality and diversity organisations, single-sex service providers, lawyers, activists and a wider public.

The project will benefit from an expert advisory board comprising academics in the field, as well as other stakeholders.

Findings from the ongoing research will be shared through an interactive website and presented at public events as the project unfolds.

One project aim is to develop a draft bill to provide a focal point for discussion of legal reform.

This will present the best case for reform and demonstrate what legal change could look like and mean.

An academic book and several articles will also be published.


Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 17/96

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Elizabeth Peel is Professor of Communication and Social Interaction in the School of Social Sciences, Loughborough University, UK. She is a critical social psychologist and held a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship for the Dementia Talking: Care, Conversation and Communication project. She is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society (BPS) and chairs its Psychology of Sexualities Section. Her co-edited book Out in Psychology: LGBTQ Perspectives (Wiley, 2007) won the American Psychological Association Division 44 distinguished book award, and her co-authored textbook Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer Psychology: An introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2010) won the BPS book award 2013. Her latest books are Ageing and Sexualities: Interdisciplinary