Archive for July, 2008

The “Toiletgate” meeting last night

Many people who read this are probably aware of what’s become known as the “Toiletgate incident“. That’s not my name for it but it fits – it’s not so much the event itself that has people annoyed, but the subsequent apparent “coverup”. I don’t believe it was a cover up, I just thing the Police can sometimes be really clueless about community relations. Maybe that’s just me, I’m a fan of Hanlon’s razor and I tend to assume people are just a bit dim-witted rather than malicious… probably to a fault.

Anyway, as a result of the incident there was a public meeting last night with Commander Steve Allen, who is in charge of the City of Westminster police. I deal with the police semi-routinely as part of my job working for a communications provider – I nearly ended up having to take the stand in a high-profile terrorism case recently, but things changed at the last second and I didn’t need to. One impression I was left with from dealing with the police over that incident is that they have a very particular view of the world. I regard myself as somewhat of a liberal whereas the view of officers involved in fighting terrorism is decidedly anti-liberal – one police officer involved complained that his job would be much easier if Microsoft put back doors in Windows so they could easily decrypt data. Needless to say, that’s not a view I share. Because of that I went in to last night’s meeting perhaps not with a negative frame of mind, but not expecting that much would change as a result – lots of high level platitudes and promises to do things but no real action. I felt that Steve Allen actually wanted to make a difference on the ground, even quoting Emerson – “What you do speaks so loud, that I cannot hear what you say.” That was unexpected so I came away with a positive feeling from the meeting overall – I may be unusual in that however, as the general vibe I’ve had is that other people weren’t so happy. That positive feeling doesn’t mean I think the police have got it right – yet – but at least they’re trying.

Many versions of the events of that afternoon have circulated and I don’t think we were going to agree on a single version of events last night – if you have 30 witnesses to an event you’ll get 30 versions of the truth and all that – but it was still interesting to hear from people what happened face-to-face as one gets a better impression than on the Internet and a few gaps were filled in for me. I’ll mention any bits that there appears to be some dispute over – much of it everyone seems agreed on however.

After Pride, went to use the ladies at Trafalgar Square and was refused entry by a steward from an external stewarding company and told she had to use the disabled toilets instead. (Pride said that the stewarding company invovled are one of the better ones and if it had been most of the other ones, it would have been “A lot worse”. That’s… not encouraging) We now know this decision (Which is illegal, for those who aren’t clear about it!) was taken as “Health and Safety” decision – Paul, the chair of Pride, confirmed this – although it’s not clear who took that decision. (I.e. Pride staff or someone working for the stewarding company) The implication was it was someone working for Pride but this wasn’t confirmed. This decision was taken because a transwoman was assaulted by a bloke in the ladies a while before, although we don’t have any information on what exactly took place and how on earth a decision to exclude trans people from the appropriate toilets arises from that event confuses the hell out of me but I’ve seen the most bizarre things defended on the grounds of health and safety before – including a doctors surgery that refused to allow in pushchairs because of H&S and when I asked about wheelchairs said they were banned too. Because of hygene. (We changed GPs at that point)

After this event Roz, understandably a little miffed, went away and came back with a number of other trans people, who stood outside the toilet with the placards that they still had from the march. It seems that the steward at the toilets got on the phone to someone else and said they were being “attacked by a bunch of trannies” or words to that effect. Quite quickly (Based on the fact the LGBT liason officer was coming out of the toilets when he saw the situation – I guess it hadn’t started when he went in) a more senior steward became involved, spoke to Roz and relented, letting her use the ladies.

At this point, versions of events get a little more woolly. The press release put out by the police after the incident implied that “inappropriate language” was used by the trans community and that a steward was barged up against the wall. The version of events I’m more inclined to believe and one that is apparently supported by CCTV evidence (I’ve not seen the CCTV footage myself and I’m not sure anyone outside the police has) is that the inappropriate language was used by the stewarding staff or some other non-trans person and that the steward wasn’t barged but jumped back because some barrier came down. (I’m not clear on what this barrier was or is or why it came down) I don’t know if all these events happened before Roz went into the toilet, while she was in there or after or indeed if it happened before or after the off-duty police officer – also an LGBT liaison officer – came out of the toilet. At some point however, it seems the police officer threatened to arrest people for an unauthorised demonstration (Even the stewards had not asked people to leave at this point) and also in conversation with Roz told her that she needed a Gender Recognition Certificate to use the toilets.

That’s only going to get peoples backs up. Firstly, the historical view is that if a transperson reports a crime, particularly a transphobic one, that they’re more likely to end up in a police cell than the perpetrators. One would hope that’s just historical, but threatening to arrest people who are peacefully demonstrating against an illegal act, albeit a civil rather than criminal one, that’s still taking place (And I believe it’s widely accepted that was happened was clearly and 100% illegal) is really going to reinforce that historical view. made the point that as a result of what happened here, trans people are again less likely to report transphobia, for fear that even if an LGBT liaison officer turns up that they’ll side with those committing the offence. The GRC thing is another sore point – I was sceptical when I first heard about the act and I’ve since heard I’m not the only one and the sceptics amongst us have at least partially been vindicated. There have been stories of banks, building societies and employers refusing to change people’s names on records until they can produce a GRC, which is most definitely not what the GRC is about – you have to have fully transitioned for two years before you can even apply for one! And it’s a piece of legislation that the trans community fought for to improve our rights and so that we don’t have to “out” ourselves with old birth certificates, not something that we would expect to be turned around and used against us like this to deny rights we already had. (I think even asking someone if they have a GRC is dodgy, legally, but I haven’t checked that out)

This, I think, is where Steve Allen got it very, very badly wrong. The press release the next day said that he backed up the actions of the officer involved. What I think he should have said and probably what he actually meant was that he backed up the intentions of the officer involved, but should have quickly acknowledged that he’d made a mistake – due to lack of diversity training – about the actual actions. Steve Allen did make the point that if that one officer got it wrong, he can hardly tell that officer off because the chances are every other officer would have got it wrong too and that’s the big issue – lack of awareness. It seems that the situation should have been referred up the chain of command to the officer in charge on the day, but that didn’t happen and that was a failing on behalf of the police they were willing to admit to.

About half an hour after these events happened and everyone had left, it appears the stewards reinstated their “no transwomen in the ladies” policy. As a result of this, one transwoman ended up in the blokes loos, where she was sexually assaulted. A friend of hers was there last night but she herself wasn’t and as far as I’m aware she hasn’t said anything publicly, so details are thin on the ground and understandably if she doesn’t want to come forward, things have to remain confidential. Pride London weren’t aware of that incident prior to yesterday and Steve Allen couldn’t find the details on the police computers so not much has happened as a result, but he did give his business card to the victim’s friend so they can forward on the details. The victim did receive a letter from the police saying that an investigation was underway so we know it was definitely reported correctly adn the letter will have the reference numbers on it that Steve Allen can use to find out the details. My guess is that the he coudln’t find it on the computer because the incident wasn’t recorded as trans-related, which in itself is concerning.

The mess didn’t end there, although most of the rest of it just goes to show how slow and rumbling a large corporation like the police can be and how they can really stick their foot in it without even trying. There was a conversation between Roz and the police, and it was mutually agreed that it would be handled at a local level and that the police would revise their training as a result of the incident – at the time, everyone who went seemed if not happy with the outcome, at least placated. However, the Met were under pressure to publicly release something quickly to try to assure people that something was happening and although Commander Steve Allen’s letter was run past an internal LGBT group who look at such things, the revised version – which removed much of the content that annoyed people – didn’t make it back to him until after it had been sent out. The release just served to add fuel to a fire that might otherwise have died out of it’s own accord.

The general feeling in the meeting was anger, mostly at Pride and the Met for the misleading press releases which they hadn’t up until then apologised before. I don’t think much was said that addressed that anger, because it seemed like they just weren’t getting it. Amazingly, there was a transwoman with Paul, the chair of Pride, who stood up and tried to say that we were all getting uptight about something very minor. Of all people, as a transwoman, I’d have thought she’d have got it but she really, really didn’t and was probably worse than anyone else in her attitude! (The reaction of others in the meeting was immediate and vocal – she sat down again very quickly) It’s not just that Roz was refused access. It’s that it happened at Pride of all places. And it’s not just that she was refused access, but that the police backed up the steward and threatened to arrest trans people. And not just that the police did that, but that the officer involved was an LGBT liaison officer who of all people should have known better. And not just that, but that a press release a few days later implied that the trans community was at fault.

That’s not minor. When a minority group can’t talk to the police without fear of being arrested or publicly vilified by them, who can we turn to?

Steve Allen said he’d get something out by 1000 today, but I haven’t seen anything – I don’t know who it will have been sent to however. And I hope this time it gets run past the internal LGBT group…

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