Children should be allowed to change their legal gender without the involvement of medical professionals or parents, says Dentons, and the state should take "action" against parents who attempt to intervene.
The recommendations are contained in a report produced by the firm which its authors describe as a "powerful tool for activists".
"Only adults? Good practices in legal gender recognition for youth" advises campaigners to be secretive about the changes they are lobbying to put into law.
The document was written by staff from the firm in conjunction with Thomson Reuters Foundation and LGBT pressure group IGLYO. Its authors include several Dentons trainees and Lamin Khadar, the firm's Pro Bono Manager. A disclaimer states that it "does not necessarily reflect the personal views of any of the lawyers, staff or clients of Dentons".
Mosaic, an LGBT youth group, contributed to the UK portion of the report, as did an unidentified NGO which "wished to remain anonymous".
The report takes as its basis the assumption that everyone has a 'gender identity', which is defined by LGBT charity Stonewall as a person's "innate sense of their own gender, whether male, female or something else, which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned at birth".
Critics say gender identity does not exist other than as a theory. They argue that the concept reinforces male and female stereotypes, because the only way a person can conclude that they have a gender identity which doesn't correspond to their sex is by reference to external gender norms.
Dentons' report states that every child has an accurate conception of their own gender identity which they should be entitled to affirm in law without impediment. "The right to legal gender recognition is crucial for young trans persons to secure all other rights", it states, advising that the UK should "eliminate the minimum age requirement" at which children can change their legal gender "on their own volition, without the need for medical diagnoses or court determination". The document emphasises that there should be "no eligibility criteria, such as medical or psychological interventions".
And UK authorities should “take action” against parents "who are obstructing the free development of a young trans person’s identity in refusing to give parental authorization when required".
Opponents claim that this radical 'affirmation' approach increases the likelihood of sending confused children on a life-changing medical pathway of puberty blockers and irreversible surgery, which they may come to regret.
Dentons' report states that it is "crucial" that there are "no limitations" to "gender confirmation treatment", including “no requirement to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria”.
At the same time, in a section on tactics, the report advises activists to "de-medicalise" their campaigns "so that legal gender recognition can be seen in the eyes of the public as distinct from gender confirmation treatments". It explains that this is because one of the reasons opponents often cite for “denying such access to minors” is the view that “young people should not have irreversible surgeries until they are of the age of maturity".
Campaigners are also warned to "avoid excessive press coverage and exposure", because the "general public is not well informed about trans issues, and therefore misinterpretation can arise". It describes how activists in Ireland "have directly lobbied individual politicians and tried to keep press coverage to a minimum in order to avoid this issue”. Chances of success are increased if activists “target youth politicians" who in successful campaigns elsewhere in Europe 'brought up the issue at every meeting of any sort - even ones which were not directly relevant, to ensure the issue was at the forefront of everyone’s minds."
The report describes how sterilisation of trans people was once a concern in Norway, and that Norwegian campaigners gained traction by arguing that the human rights of trans people were therefore being breached. Although sterilisation is not an issue in the UK, the report advises activists to nonetheless "use human rights as a campaign point" because of the "political stigma of a human rights violation". Activists are also advised to “tie your campaign to more popular reform”, using it as a “veil of protection”.
Critics of gender self-ID have warned that it will adversely impact women and children in many areas, including rape crisis centres, single-sex hospital wards, women’s sport and identification of discrimination. Dentons' 65-page report characterises their position in two sentences, as concerns which "normally come from women’s groups" about "female prisoners and female public toilets".
Dentons' report also describes critics of gender self-ID as 'TERFs', which began as an acronym for "trans-exclusionary radical feminists" and is understood by many of its targets as a misogynist slur.
When it was asked to comment on aspects of its report, Dentons initially offered up Atanas Politov, its Director for Pro Bono, for an interview. Then it asked for written questions in advance. When these were provided, the world's largest firm by headcount was unable to find anyone prepared to answer them, and gave a general statement instead.
“This report was prepared on a pro bono basis", said Dentons, for which it "offered an analysis of current legal frameworks which regulate gender recognition in several European jurisdictions". Dentons said "the rest of the report was prepared based on interviews with nine different LGBT+ advocacy groups across Europe, who shared their experience in supporting transgender youth and campaigning for LGBT+ rights. These groups provided all opinions on good practices and advocacy, which are contained in the report. Dentons is proud of its work for this and other pro bono clients.”