Cambridge City Council today debates a motion supporting the European Union – you can read the full motion on the council’s web site. My contribution to the debate is below – the debate is still ongoing but the balance of speeches so far suggests the motion should pass comfortably.


Mr Mayor,

Like many others in this chamber, I appreciate the hard-won advances in equality that have been secured by the UK’s membership of the EU. Advances such as Equal Pay for women and men; employment protection on the basis of religion, belief, sexual orientation and age; and vital progress towards ending human trafficking.

These have been won not just for people of Cambridge, nor for just the population of the United Kingdom, but for over 700 million people across the EU member states.

And the biggest advance of all: Seventy years of relative peace. It is always those who find themselves most unfortunately at the bottom of society who, despite having so little already, stand the most to lose from war and conflict.

But I share concern expressed by many about the direction of debate. A debate that has to date been dominated by men such as David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage and has seen twice as many women as men respond in polls that they do not know how they will vote.

Although politics across the board has performed poorly in gaining representation from BAME people, in other respects the city council has, on all sides, avoided becoming dominated by any one group, be it gender or any other protected characteristic. I believe that a strong pro-European-Union message from us here today – that we recognise and appreciate that progress towards equality – will help to reengage people who feel left out of the debate so far and who stand to benefit most from this work.

The results are all finally in! Of the 10 trans & non-binary candidates who stood, one – Anwen Muston – has been elected. This brings the total number of openly trans elected politicians to an all-time high of three, or approximately 1 in 6000 councillors in England. (There are none in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland that we know of)

Congratulations to Councillor Anwen Muston and commiserations to all those who were not successful this time. I hope I will be able to include many of in next years’ reporting!

Whilst the increasing number of candidates standing is good news and 1 in 6000 is close to the estimates for the trans population of England, trans people are far more likely to be politically active and a success rate of one in ten is, unfortunately, quite poor. This suggests that out, trans and non-binary candidates are still not being given winnable seats to fight in local elections. However, it is only since 2013 or 2014 that trans people have been standing in any significant numbers and few people are successful at their first attempt, so this will hopefully improve over time.

Trans
(Binary, or predominantly IDs as such)
Northern Ireland Assembly
Green Party Northern Ireland Ellen Murray
West Belfast party list, sole GPNI candidate
11th place on first preference votes: 0.9%, change: +0.9% [source]
London Assembly
Labour Emily Brothers
London-wide party list, 9th of 11
3 party list candidates elected: 39.9%, change: -1.2%
Principal Local Authority
Labour Anwen Muston
Wolverhampton, East Park Ward
Elected: 56.4%, change: +4.5% [source]
Liberal Democrats Helen Belcher
Wokingham Borough Council, Evendons Ward
2nd place: 38.2%, change +17.8%. (1st Place: 43.2%) [source]
Conservatives Jennifer Kirk
Bolton City Council, Tonge with the Haulgh Ward
3rd place: 14.5%, change: -3.8% [source]
Liberal Democrats Jane Fae
North Hertfordshire District Council, Letchworth East Ward
6th place: 6.6%, change +6.6% [source]
Green Party Aimee Challenor
Coventry City Council, St Michael’s Ward
4th place: 5.5%, change -0.9% [source]
Non-binary
Scottish Parliament
Scottish Greens Anna Crow
Glasgow party list, 9th of 9
1 of 9 elected: 9.4%, change: +3.5% [source]
Principal Local Authority
Liberal Democrats Henry Foulds
Amber Valley Borough Council, Alfreton Ward
4th place: 5.0%, change: +1.6% [source]
Liberal Democrats Maria Munir
Watford Borough Council, Vicarage Ward
2nd place: ~13.7%, change ~-1.0% (Turnout figures for the all-up election have not yet been published, so this is an estimate)[source]

Each April, I compile a list of openly trans politicians standing for election in the UK. This year, elections involve a number of local councils as well as devolved Assembly, London Assembly and Police and Crime Commissioner elections. The returning officers have almost all now declared who is to on the ballot, so it’s time to publish the list.

The current situation is that there are two out, full-time trans people holding publicly elected office at a principal local authority level or higher: I sit on Cambridge City Council for the Liberal Democrats, and Zoë Kirk-Robinson on Bolton City Council for the Conservatives. Having one or two out, elected politicians is something that has been maintained almost continuously for the last 15 years, mostly in Cambridge, with Jennifer Liddle, Jenny Bailey, Sarah Brown and (briefly, after she came out) Nikki Sinclaire as an MEP.

I have no local knowledge in any of the seats up for election, but based on past results most people listed below do not appear to be starting from particularly enviable positions. The exception to this is Anwen Muston, whose East Park Ward seat appears to be a Labour stronghold. Unless something unexpected happens in Wolverhampton, it seems likely that we will reach a new peak of three simultaneously out, elected politicians.

Also on the positive side, we have the first non-binary person standing for election – Anna Crow – that I know of. Courtesy of excessive gatekeeping and paperwork in the UK, name changes have made it easy to decide who to include in a binary or mostly-binary-identified list and helped filter out people who cross-dressed once and it made the paper. (On that basis, I’d have had to include sitting MPs in previous lists) That method doesn’t apply so well for non-binary identified people and the problem of spurious press articles and tenuous claims-to-fame seems less likely so for now at least self-declaration is sufficient for listing.

But there are still problem – everyone listed here is white and in seven of eight cases, a binary-presenting trans woman. Although much progress has been made, there is still a relative lack of diverse political representation within the trans community – a problem that likely stems from a general lack of BAME (in particular) representation in national politics.

Update, 28th April 2016: I have now added a second non-binary person, Maria Munir, who came out when asking a televised question to US President Obama. Maria is also BAME, which means that although we are a long way from properly diverse representation, it is at least a step in the right direction.
Update, 4th May 2016: There are now three non-binary people listed below!

Please do let me know if you know of someone who I have missed, as word-of-mouth is about the only way to find out who is standing – political party HQs are generally busy running elections and do not collect diversity statistics on candidates. But I must be able to verify (Either news articles or public statements by the candidate) that they are publicly out or have been outed to the point of no return, i.e. not just rumours. Every time I do this, at least one person emails me to tell me about one of a councillor who is not out – there are far more trans people in politics than most people realise.

Trans
(Binary, or predominantly IDs as such)
Northern Ireland Assembly
Green Party Northern Ireland Ellen Murray
West Belfast party list, sole GPNI candidate [source]
2011 party result: Did not stand. [source]
Scottish Parliament
No known candidates
(But see below under non-binary)
National Assembly for Wales
No known candidates
Police & Crime Commissioner
No known candidates
London Assembly
Labour Emily Brothers
London-wide party list, 9th of 11 [source]
2012 party result: 4 of 11 list members elected [source]
Principal Local Authority
Liberal Democrats Helen Belcher
Wokingham Borough Council, Evendons Ward [source]
2015 party result: 2nd place, 20.4%. (1st place: 50.5%) [source]
Green Party Aimee Challenor
Coventry City Council, St Michael’s Ward [source]
2015 party result: 5th place, 6.4% [source]
Liberal Democrats Jane Fae
North Hertfordshire District Council, Letchworth East Ward [source]
2014 party result: Did not stand. [source]
Conservatives Jennifer Kirk
Bolton City Council, Tonge with the Haulgh Ward [source]
2015 party result: 2nd, 18.3%. (1st place: 42.9%) [source]
Labour Anwen Muston
Wolverhampton, East Park Ward [source]
2015 party result: 1st, 51.9%. (2nd place: 23.7%) [source]
Non-binary
Northern Ireland Assembly
No known candidates
Scottish Parliament
Scottish Greens Anna Crow (IDs as non-binary, see this article)
Glasgow party list, 9th of 9 (Not yet officially confirmed)
2011 party result: 1 of 9 list candidates elected [source]
Police & Crime Commissioner
No known candidates
London Assembly
No known candidates
Principal Local Authority
Liberal Democrats Henry Foulds (IDs as non-binary, see this tweet)
Amber Valley Borough Council, Alfreton Ward [source]
2015 party result: 4th place, 3.4% [source]
Liberal Democrats Maria Munir (IDs as non-binary, see this article)
Watford Borough Council, Vicarage Ward [source]
2015 party result: 3rd place, 14.7% [source]

Unsurprisingly, a motion to Liberal Democrat conference against the Investigatory Powers Bill passed overwhelmingly this weekend. Below is the video and text of my contribution to the debate, which I can share with you as I had written it in advance, albeit only a couple of hours earlier!

The myth spread by the Home Office that the technical industry understands the Bill is always something I am keen to dispell, so that was my main purpose in wanting to speak. The quote from the New York Review of Books is also something that’s stuck in my head since I first read it, and I particularly wanted to give it an airing in the debate. (I have verified the quotes given in the article from other sources)

All of this is, sadly, against the backdrop of a very showing from both Labour and the SNP who abstained at the second reading of the bill yesterday. A particular shout out is due to Cambridge’s Labour MP Daniel Zeichner, who said he wants to “robustly challenge” the bill… but abstained anyway.

(The text below is what I wrote in advance, it does not entirely match what I actually said. No autocue for most speakers at conference)


I am a member of the Security & Liberty working group, so it should come as no surprise to you that I would urge you to support the motion. Brian Paddick has already made the case for the motion very well. However, there are some points I would like to make in relation to metadata and some of the claims being made by the current government.

A couple of months ago, I was asked to speak as part of a Q&A panel on the Investigatory Powers Bill at the UK Network Operators Forum. This forum, in case the name is not enough of a giveaway, was a full of a couple of hundred of the people who really run the Internet. I worked as one of those running the internet myself, for over a decade.

I asked – who here understands what data you are being asked to collect by the Home Office? Now, if you believe what we’re being told by the Tories, every hand in that room should have gone up. Because we’re told that – absolutely – Service Providers really understand the limits of what is being asked of them.

But not one hand went up. Nobody understood the limits of the powers Theresa May is asking for. The bill is so confused, and hands Theresa May such sweeping and unchecked power, that the draft bill includes the now-infamous phrase “Data includes any information which is not data”.

Of course, the Tories claim that it’s only meta-data, or “Internet Connection Records” as they’re now calling it. That can’t be too harmful, can it? Here’s a quote from David Cole in the New York Review of Books, in 2014

As NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker has said, “metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life. If you have enough metadata, you don’t really need content.” When I quoted Baker at a recent debate at Johns Hopkins University, my opponent, General Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and the CIA, called Baker’s comment “absolutely correct,” and raised him one, asserting, “We kill people based on metadata.”

No other democratic country in the world gives such powers to its politicians to monitor and collect Internet browsing history to this extent.

Please vote for the motion.

It’s not often that I give a prepared speech – they’re usually from brief notes or a mind map. But unusually, my speech tonight to Cambridge City Council was one I wrote in advance, so I’m able to share it with you.

The background is in the context of the Liberal Democrat amendment to the Labour City Council budget tonight. As part of a fully costed budget amendment, we’ve asked the council to fund a part time post in the not-for-profit sector to help coordinate efforts. There is a lot of goodwill from the residents of Cambridge towards those in need, but no effective coordination yet.

Proceedings are still in full flow, so we don’t know the outcome yet.

The amendment was not accepted – the relevant executive councillor did not speak, but both the Labour leader and executive councillor for finance did. They seemed confused and did not appear to have given the issue much serious thought, claiming a wildly inaccurate (just four people) figure on the number of refugees housed by Cambridge City council and stating that a document produced by their own officers was “rambling”, apparently in the belief we had written it.


Given the cross-party support we have seen, with the council unanimously passing a motion in support of Cambridge becoming a City of Sanctuary in October, I feel that any lengthy description of the horrors many people are fleeing from would be preaching to the choir, so I will not belabour that point.

However, It it worth noting that Office for National Statistics released it’s latest national asylum application figures this morning. Those figures show that 2015 was fifth successive year in which asylum applications have risen.

There is nothing that would suggest these numbers will fall any time soon, despite the current government limiting it’s commitment to helping refugees.

Against this background of conflict in the wider world, and large-scale displacement of persecuted peoples, we have seen the amount of support for asylum seekers and refugees in Cambridge fall. The Refugee Council’s outreach programme in Cambridge closed when it lost national funding in 2014 – to be replaced by a different organisation, which focused it’s work in larger urban areas, away from Cambridge.

At this point, I would like to pay tribute to the fantastic work that Council officers have done, trying to fill in the gaps despite the increase in numbers. This is not part of their normal day-to-day duties, and they have gone above and beyond in providing this help. Bit it is a stretch to do this on top of their other work.

But it is a stretch to do this on top of their other work. We should not be placing the burden solely upon the shoulders of council officers, who with the best will in the world simply can not provide as co-ordinated a service as a funded post could.

The void in co-ordinated provision does mean we suffer from a lack of robust data on the number of refugees and asylum seekers in Cambridge. But we know they are here – as well as the numbers we know the council itself has formally housed via the Home Office programme, there are others staying with friends and family in the city.

And we also know that housing a family that has fled from war and persecution is no trivial task, that can be handled by a quick gateway assessment at the local CAB – it takes a long term commitment to work with people who may have no ability to communicate using either written of spoken English when they first arrive.

Those working with refugees in Cambridge tell us that, in the coming year, they will be left “struggling to regards to capacity both in regards to direct service and coordinating services in the City“.

They tell us that that even a small investment in funding would go a long way.

And we know that there are many people willing and able to provide help, if only some way can be found to coordinate this goodwill.

We are proposing that the council fund a post within the not-for-profit sector to both provide direct help and enable coordination, going some way to help those who are in the most dire of need. This is a time limited post, after which we will be in a much better position to know the level of need within the city. We have shown that this amount is also affordable, within the wider council budget.

The council resolved to be a City of Sanctuary, but words alone are not sufficient – we are now asking the council to deliver on that commitment.

Thank you.

What’s below started out as a comment on yet another blog post I ran across, supporting Peter Tatchell and (unsurprisingly) based entirely on a Tatchell-centric view of the world. It got long, so I thought it would be worth putting it up as it’s own post here. Those interested in reading up on the background of Peter’s repeated uninvited meddling can also find more at the following sites: (This is far from an exhaustive list)


This is not about identity politics. Or it wouldn’t be, except that Peter Tatchell makes it.

This is about white knighting. It’s about refusing to listen to marginalised groups who don’t want “help”. It’s about someone who plays the victim when people fail to show gratitude for uninvited and harmful interventions.

Ultimately, this is about Peter Tatchell trying to destroy anyone who does not worship him unconditionally.

What really happened was not someone taking undue offence at some imagined slight. An invite to speak alongside Peter Tatchell was declined, because the invitee disagreed with his views. This is hardly unusual – many people, myself included, who have seen Tatchell’s anti-free-speech methods, his hypocrisy and his attempts to intervene where his is not wanted share those views.

The response was swift and merciless: Tatchell used every available media outlet to complain he was being silenced and no platformed. To complain that a random person who owes him nothing would not spend time to exchange emails with him email and explain to him exactly why he was wrong. (She may have done, for all I know – Tatchell simply ignores any evidence put in front of him and acts like it wasn’t there) Articles in politics.co.uk, Daily Mail, Telegraph, Guardian and even on Newsnight all went on about Peter’s response to this terrible insult. Yet he was never uninvited from any event. The only person being no-platformed was the person who declined the invite. You could say they were no-platforming themselves.

And the only person guilty of publishing this terrible insult is Tatchell himself, taking a private and otherwise unpublished email and using it to destroy the reputation of an activist.

The fury is not about identity politics. It stems from Tatchell misrepresenting event after event to put himself in the best possible light, at the cost of everyone else. It stems from abuse of “free speech” in service of the media elite to mean the ability to arbitrarily demand the time and energy of others.

For those of who have seen this first hand, these accusations are far from absurd. Instead, the uncritical assumption that Tatchell’s views are the only acceptable ones neatly illustrate the terrifying reality: A white cis-gendered man has more power and influence than those they falsely claim to represent.

Today sees publication of the long-awaited Trans Inquiry report from the Women & Equalities committee, which you can read in full here. Sarah Brown has also written about the report, and you can read her views over on her blog.

The report is one hundred pages long, but for those reading along at home the important areas have generally been printed in bold or bold-and-italic text. If you want to skim the report, concentrating on those areas is helpful. With that said, lets dive in…

First up, this is just a report of a cross-party parliamentary committee of back-bench MPs. It’s not a guarantee anything at all will happen, but it’s certainly a useful stick with which to beat government – at least in the areas where the committee is being progressive.

Generally, the language of the report is good and I did not catch any blatant instances of invalidating trans people’s gender on that score, even in areas where the policy recommendations were not so progressive. The report however does not cover intersex people – although it also states that it does not cover non-binary issues “in depth”. Despite this, there are recommendations in the report that will benefit both non-binary people and those intersex people who transition.

Gender Recognition
There are some welcome suggestions here, such as creation of a “legal category for those people with a Gender Identity outside that which is binary”. The more concrete recommendations are updating Gender Recognition to de-medicalise the whole process and turn it into a simple self-declaration and allowing 16-year-olds to obtain recognition. Oddly, there is only a very passing mention of the current two-year wait to get a Gender Recognition Certificate.

Disappointedly, the report recommends retention of the Spousal Veto, reiterating old and trivially discountable logic about “protecting” the spouse.

There’s a suggestion in the report that there have been no prosecutions for revealing the trans status of someone with a Gender Recognition Certificate. (Section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act) I know this is incorrect and that there has been at least one prosecution, but it appears that the Ministry of Justice is either not tracking this correctly or they’re missing private prosecutions. The recommendation to “investigate” this is the first of the many damp squibs and pulled punches in the report.

Equality Act 2010
The recommendation to reintroduce absolute legal protections in employment and service provision for those holding Gender Recognition Certificates is a really big deal. The effects of a GRC have been watered down over the last few years and such a move would really help those who have them. Unfortunately, it would also increase the perception that those without GRCs are second class citizens which would be a problem if the two year requirement to obtain legal recognition was kept. The report also seems to agree that discrimination against trans people early in transition is OK.

It’s also harsh for those who find themselves caught by the spousal veto: GRCs are suddenly easer to get for single trans people and give more protections, which makes threats to block recognition and delay divorces even more powerful.

There’s also a recommendation about updating the protected characteristic “Gender Reassignment” to be “Gender Identity”. Exactly what force this has in law is unclear, but it’s precisely because of this lack of clarity that the update is suggested: Nobody wants to be the guinea pig who has to spend years fighting a test case to find the limits of the current system.

Healthcare
The really big statement here is that the NHS is in “clear breach of the legal obligations” surrounding waiting lists and breaches of the Equality Act, and that’s something the news media is already leading on. This is a lengthy section and goes much further than a political committee usually would, even making detailed recommendations about treatment regimes and professional development for doctors. Some of this is a welcome intervention, such as the recommendation to move gender identity services out of mental health services altogether. On the flip side, the rejection of an informed consent model of treatment is certainly not something many trans people will be cheering, nor the very timid suggestions about trans healthcare for children and adolescents. It’s unclear why the committee thought it was competent to discuss such matters.

There is some more disappointingly weak language here, such as the suggestion that NHS Networking Groups are a good way of making progress. Although some progress does get made eventually, the pace is glacial and many activists including myself have given up on the meetings due to consultation fatigue.

Everyday transphobia
A mixed bag here, containing some weak statements, such as the suggestion that the Ministry of Justice should “consult fully” on the development of hate crime legislation and police should be “better trained” although extending existing hate crime legislation (The detail is lacking) can only help.

The suggestion that IPSO and Ofcom should encourage more trans people to come forward with complaints is so weak that it crosses into victim-blaming territory: People don’t complain because it costs time and energy for little or no gain.

The recommendations about prisons are not very detailed, but given the impending (and now overdue) publication of a new Prison Service Instruction on the topic this isn’t surprising. The “clear risk of harm” to trans prisoners is noted, as is the inappropriateness of anything that amounts to solitary confinement.

On the plus side, an option for X Gender Markers on passports is enthusiastically endorsed by the report, along with the removal of the requirement for a doctors letter to update passports. I know many long-term campaigners in this area will be happy, although the Passport Office has been very reluctant to work on this in the past though, and it may remain a tough nut to crack.

And, of course, the much-trailed suggestion that official documents and records should be non-gendered as far as possible is here too.

The final sections feel rushed: vague assertions that online harassment is bad, and suggestions that teachers, children and social workers should receive more training. The report does not mention which subjects should be dropped from the syllabus to make space for these topics, nor is there any suggestion that additional support or improved policies should be put in place.

The report is fairly comprehensive, and so far the only items missing that I have noticed are discussions about conversion therapy and the other spousal veto. (Section 12(h) of the Matrimonial Causes Act, allowing a spouse to void a marriage if they marry someone who already has a GRC)

Panel for Trans* Candidates and Elected Officials Around the World discussion

Trans* Candidates and Elected Officials Around the World

Panel for Trans* Candidates and Elected Officials Around the World discussion

Earlier this month, a number of trans and other activists met in the Houses of Parliament in London to discuss the release of a new and (to the best of my knowledge) unique report. It collects together a list of trans politicians who has stood for or been elected to public office, and it well worth a read. You can download the full report, in PDF form, from the LGBTQ Representation and Rights Initiative who are based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

I know from having covered this in the past on this blog that it can be terribly hard to get information on this topic, and made more difficult by the need to verify details to an extent not needed in other walks of life. When the authors of Standing Out compiled an earlier report, one party in the UK either “outed” or erroneously listed one of their own candidates as trans, which led to threats of legal action against the authors of the report.

However, I suspect many readers here will have useful bits of information on the topic of trans politicians that have not made it into the report – if you do, please do drop them a line via their web site.

Whilst the media might like to portray trans people as terribly interesting and worthy of several column inches in the battle to sell papers and advertising, my drive has always been to try to make being trans in politics a little more normal and emphasise that there have been and remain quite a number of us active at many levels of government. In that vein, and in the hope it encourages more people to openly stand, I will leave you with a quote from one of the report’s authors, Andrew Reynolds:

There is no evidence that, once selected, LGB and trans people are systematically less likely to win an election.

The latest batch of written responses to the Commons Transgender Equality Inquiry have been released, and there is some interesting data hidden in them, particularly relating to TransDocFail and the Equality Act.

From the General Medical Council:

Of those 98 [TransDocFail cases] we identified 42 cases in which the allegation appeared potentially serious enough and recent enough to engage our processes… Any complaints made as a result of this will have been passed direct to our triage department and so we are unable to track all complaints from this group in isolation from any others we receive. We have however identified three complaints that were submitted to us as a direct result of the survey because the complainants specifically referred to the survey within their complaint. Of these three cases:

  • one was closed as we were not able to identify the doctor involved.
  • one was closed as the allegations related to incidents which had occurred more than five years prior to receipt of the complaint…
  • one was investigated and at the end of that process, two senior GMC staff (one medical and one non-medical) made a decision that the complaint should be closed with no further action because it did not meet our thresholds.

In summary, the GMC are not aware of having taken any action despite nearly 100 complaints of often serious discrimination and maltreatment being bought to their attention.

On the positive side, the response from a Barrister who had been invited to give legal advice to the committee is indicative of where the Inquiry might be headed. Asked about the effects of the Equality Act 2010, it appears that despite a clear intent to strip some rights from trans people it may have been deficiently drafted to our benefit:

The exemption from gender reassignment discrimination in respect of single-sex / separate services in section 35 of Sex Discrimination Act 1975 was not amended by the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to make clear that such an exemption would not be available where the person being discriminated against in respect of single-sex / separate services provision held a GRC.

In conclusion, on this question, whilst decision-making is on a case-by-case basis, if a service-provider sought to rely on the exemption from gender reassignment discrimination in respect of single-sex / separate services in cases where the person holds a GRC, it is likely to be extremely difficult for that service-provider to show that the discrimination is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim

There are some caveats:

Nevertheless, in my view, the gender reassignment exemption in relation to the provision of single-sex / separate services will most likely be upheld by a court in a case of services such as women’s refuges, rape crisis services and other similar services providing facilities or services to victims of violent and/or sexual assault. It is these type of services where the aims of the service might most rationally be connected with the exclusion of trans individuals and so such an exclusion will be most likely to be viewed as proportionate.

The Inquiry asked the effects of amending various laws to reintroduce the “for all purposes” clause in the Gender Recognition Act, which would restore much of the power of a Gender Recognition Certificate if enacted, a very welcome move and hopefully reflective of the mood of the committee as a whole.

There is also a lengthy section on how existing legislation and amendments might help non-binary and intersex people.

Yesterday afternoon, Baroness Liz Barker lead further calls for action on trans prisoners in the House of Lords. For those not following the story, this follows a public outcry over Tara Hudson being placed in a male prison and then, last week, the death of Vicky Thompson in Leeds who had also been placed in a male facility. This is far from a new issue, being one I wrote about back in 2010 and that stretches back to at least 1996, when Press For Change were campaigning about it.

Having had longer to get briefed on the issue, the House of Lords gave the government a much tougher time than in the Commons, although the government still failed to give any substantive answers.

Suggesting that it would be “inappropriate” to place pressure on people to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate when the current policy does exactly that is also a very odd response, and we know that trans communities were not consulted in the creation of the current policy, based on an old Freedom of Information request.

Stripping the extensive parliamentary niceties and paraphrasing heavily, the exchange went much as follows with commentary in italics: (The formal transcript is also available on Parliament’s web site)

  • Liz Barker: (LibDem) In light of the death of Vicky Thompson, will the Government review the Prison Services’ treatment of trans prisoners?
  • Edward Faulks: (Conservative Minister) We can’t comment on Miss Thompson’s death while investigations are ongoing, and the policy is currently under review.
  • Liz Barker: (LibDem) Recent events have shown that placing trans women in male estates is dangerous. Does the Minister agree that trans prisoners should be housed in the estate of their acquired gender in the first instance and moved to another estate only following a thorough investigation that rules out all other safe alternatives?
  • Minister: The National Offender Management Service policy suggests people are housed according to their legal gender under the Gender Recognition Act, but a degree of discretion is allowed to the Prison Service.
  • Michael Cashman: (Labour) What urgent steps will the Minister take to review the location of all trans people in prison and to move them to appropriate prisons according to their acquired gender, to avoid a repeat of the tragedy that befell Vicky Thompson?
  • Minister: The important thing is that there is no generalisation here. Individual assessment is carried out by the Prison Service. It is after that assessment that they should be assigned an appropriate part of a prison.
  • James Hope: (Crossbench) Does this policy also apply in Young Offender Institutions?
  • Minister: The policy applies throughout the prison estate, including the youth estate.
  • Paul Scriven: (LibDem) There has been an eight-month gap when the current guidelines are no longer applicable because they are past their expiry date. If those guidelines are being updated, what open invitation has been given to trans support groups to help the Government update the guidelines?
  • Minister: The noble Lord makes what he may think is a clever point, but the policy remains current until cancelled. We take account of trans communities view when drafting policy. (The accusation from the minister that Lord Scriven’s point is “clever” is rather ill-judged, given that the question follows a death and that evidence to the commons Trans Equality Inquiry includes a submission from someone in prison specifically stating that the expiry of the old policy has caused problems. We also know that trans communities were not widely consulted in the creation of the current policy, based on an a parliamentary question from Caroline Lucas and a Freedom of Information request.)
  • Jeremy Beecham: (Labour) will the Government’s review extend to the size of the prison population, and will the training of prison staff be extended in time and depth?
  • Minister: Prison officer training has been extended to include equalities provisions, including trans issues. The original prison service policy is an impressive document, but there is room for continual improvement.
  • Jonathan Marks: (LibDem) One difficulty under the existing system, with giving priority to legal gender, is that trans people who turn out to be offenders may be the least likely to apply for gender recognition certificates (GRCs) under the 2004 Act. Will the government review take that into account?
  • Minister: The decision to apply for a GRC is an intensely personal one. It would be entirely inappropriate to in any way place pressure on somebody to go through that process. (Suggesting that it would be “inappropriate” to place pressure on people to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate when the current policy does exactly that is a very odd response)

Liz Barker has also written about the issue for the Huffington Post.

The full exchange is worth watching and is below and also on the Parliament Live web site.