When Lynn, a transgender woman, contacted her bank to ask them to change her prefix on future correspondence from Mr to Ms, she was surprised at their response.
Ten years earlier, when she transitioned for the first time, Lynn approached NatWest with the same request and they complied without issue, though she decided to go back to dressing as a man three years later due to public hostility – even threats of violence – as a result of her gender transition.
But two months ago, sensing that attitudes had shifted, Lynn, who works in health and social care and lives near Birmingham, decided the time was right to transition permanently. She approached NatWest and asked them to change her name and her title.
NatWest, which is part of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Group, agreed to change her name, but refused to change her title, saying she could remain as “Mr” or change to “Mx (also known as ‘Ms’)” but could not have her preferred honorific – “Ms” – unless she presented a gender recognition certificate (GRC).
“Ten years ago it wasn’t an issue, but now that there’s legislation protecting me, they’re worse,” said Lynn. “Now I’m finding society’s not the issue, but corporations are, whereas before society was horrible, but institutions were fine.”
GRCs were introduced in the UK in 2004 as part of the Gender Recognition Act and allow a transgender person to obtain a new birth certificate, which amends their gender and name. Applying for a GRC costs up to £140 and requires the applicant to present a statutory declaration and notes from two medical professionals confirming a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and give evidence to a panel that they have lived “in role”, or in their acquired gender, for at least two years. Ironically, such evidence can include bank statements which feature their new name and title.
Lynn, who is not yet able to apply for a GRC, has spent the past month battling NatWest. She eventually submitted a three-page letter of complaint to her local branch on the advice of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Last Wednesday, Lynn received a phone call from the bank to say they had reached a final decision and would not change her title to “Ms” without a GRC – and that if she wanted to take the issue further, she would have to approach the financial ombudsman.
“I feel like crying,” said Lynn. “I don’t think NatWest should be able to tell me how I can and can’t live my life. I just felt really unsettled and upset about it. I’m made to feel by the bank that perhaps there are two layers of transgender people – the real ones who have a GRC and fakes like me who don’t have a certificate.”
Helen Belcher, secretary of the Parliamentary Forum on Gender Identity, said GRCs, while an attempt to recognise the validity of gender transitions, often make things more difficult for transgender people.
“The introduction of the GRC seems to have complicated things. Organisations are concerned about security and they misapply various things. I heard of a leisure centre who demanded a GRC for a trans person to access gender-appropriate change rooms,” Belcher said. “It’s a complete mess.”
She said it is unnecessary and “in all probability illegal” for companies to ask to see a GRC before agreeing to change a customer’s name and title.
She added that many transgender people do not have GRCs, either because, like Lynn, they don’t yet qualify for them, object to them on principle, or do not want to go through the hassle and expense of applying. Until 2014, when marriage equality legislation came into effect, if a transgender person was married and obtained a GRC it meant their marriage had to be annulled.
Belcher, herself a transgender woman, is also a NatWest customer and said the bank changed her title without any trouble, but she has been trying unsuccessfully to get her phone company to recognise her new name and title for almost 10 years.
Bernard Reed, trustee of the Gender Identity Research and Education Society, says Lynn’s case is not isolated.
He added that while the big banks, including NatWest, are usually very supportive of transgender people, “the message hasn’t always percolated through to the frontline. Consequently, at branch level you can get issues.”
NatWest says this is what happened in Lynn’s case. After being approached by the Guardian, the bank issued Lynn an apology, saying its policy was not to require GRCs to change a customer’s title and that the staff Lynn dealt with had failed to follow procedure.
Marjorie Strachan, head of inclusion at RBS, said: “This was a case of human error and we have contacted the customer to apologise. This should not have happened. Getting this right for customers is very important to us and we are working hard to ensure that it does not happen again. In the meantime, we have agreed with the customer that we will make a donation to a charity of her choice by way of an apology.”
- Some names have been changed.
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