Archive for July, 2010

Gay community now think they can represent trans people?

An interesting news article popped up in my twitter feed yesterday, from the “Lesbian & Gay Foundation”. The item was “Talks with @lfeatherstone ‘positive’ as LGF table the views of the LGB&T community on the future of civil partnerships“, linking to this news story. It’s odd that the LGF might include “LGBT” in the news item when their name implies clearly that they represent Lesbian and Gay people and trans people only incidentally where we happen to be Gay or Lesbian as well. Is this just another L&G organisation trying to be inclusive in their press releases and attract more funding by saying “LGBT” and not just “Lesbian and Gay”? I thought I’d do some digging and the truth turned out to be somewhat worse.

The linked-to story states that there were “representatives from lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans organisations” present at an informal meeting with the Minister for Equalities and the Home Office on Wednesday to discuss Civil Partnerships. I hadn’t seen anything from the usual T sources, so I asked them specifically via Twitter: “Who was at yesterday’s CP meeting from the T community?” The answer can roughly be summarised as nobody: “We tabled comments from T people who got in touch, for list of people who were there see Pink News“. Uh, so there wasn’t any trans representation there after all? It’s likely the Trans people who got in touch happened to identify as Lesbian/Gay too, so it’s unlikely to be a balanced view. I checked directly with Lynne Featherstone: “No – this was only LGB“.

It looks like we’re being “represented” by the Lesbian and Gay community now, but really we’re being silenced. The Home Office could now table a Bill that ignores the problem of state-mandated divorce for married transitioners and claim “But we consulted with the trans community on this!” because a random L&G organisation claimed they were acting on our behalf. It is entirely possible that the LGF put forward quite a reasonable argument, but they should not have done so as the trans community could end up being denied the chance to make contacts within the Home Office and not be consulted on some future issue. We need a replacement for the Gender Trust and Press for Change, as those organisations seem to have died out, but that is not going to happen if we’re shut out of conversations with the decision makers.

As a community, we’ve been quite loud voicing our opinion to the Equalities Minister – Perhaps too loud. As a result I would hope that we will not be ignored when it comes to new legislation, but that’s no thanks to the Lesbian and Gay community.

Please – if you want to help, don’t try to represent us or claim in press releases that you did. You know where we are, just point people in our direction and we’ll speak for ourselves.

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Scouting equality fail – why it’s best to be stealth even when you’re out

A while ago, I submitted a CRB form for the Scouts as I occasionally (Well, once so far) go to parent and child camp with my daughter, who is a Scout, and in this day and age that sort of thing is required if you’re going to hang around kids at all. I didn’t follow the “transgender application process” as they certainly already knew my relationship to the kids, so I wasn’t exactly “stealth” and to be honest, it’s a bit of a hassle. Because of this, I needed to put my old name on the form as well as my current one but all my other details had my correct name, title (Miss) and so on.

Today, the CRB form turned up. It says “Gender: Male”.

Ahem, excuse me? I know full well my supporting documentation doesn’t say that, because I’ve not had anything I could use to identify myself as male even if I’d wanted to for years. Offensive, yes, but also perhaps problematic in terms of being able to supervise kids of the appropriate gender in certain environments, should it come to that.

So I ring the CRB, who are extremely helpful and tell me the scouting association (Most likely someone in head office in London, I suspect) copied the paper form I’d filled out into an email and put me down as “Mr”. CRB are going to correct it, send out a new certificate and also let the scouting association know, all of which they offered to do without any prompting on my part whatsoever.

I’ll see if the CRB will be helpful enough to send me a copy of the email they received so I can figure out exactly how wrong they went and whose heads needed banging together, but if I have to do one again I’m certainly using the special process!

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Freedom of Information requests – DVLA and Passport service

Based on recent discussions, I put together a couple of FoI requests to the DVLA and Identity & Passport Service – the results should be interesting. I had initially thought that the presence of a title on a driving licence was based on when you received it, but a little research reveals that unless you have an honorific title like Dr. or Rev, it’s just women that get a title! That’s not very 21st Century but it’s been ongoing for at least 30 years, so I’d hope the policy is simply historical and one that’s never been reviewed. If not, that’s also a feminist issue, particularly given all the standard D1 forms I’ve seen have just “Miss” or “Mrs” on them – not “Ms”! (Although one person apparently has “Ms” on theirs, so I guess you can put it in the “other” box.

Hat-tip to Christine Burns, it was her comments on Lynne Featherstones blog that alerted me to the possibility of unspecified gender on passports.

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Right comments, right place, right time

In many walks of life, you want to use the minimum amount of effort to achieve a goal but often the results seem out of proportion to the amount of effort that’s been expended. It’s perhaps somewhat frustrating that 18 months after a number of us put quite a bit of work into the Stonewall protests, not that much really seems to have changed. Similarly, protests and letters about recent events in Milawi and Pakistan don’t seem to have made any difference. Despite this, I get the sense that something may shifted subtly over the last few days that will have a real long term benefit.

A quick exchange with a new MP – a few comments from people along the lines of “What’s the point of the gender markers anyway?”, although I ventured at the time that whilst it’s a good idea, “society is probably a couple of decades away from this being achievable”. This is hardly a new idea, as Christine Burns wrote about it over a decade ago. I do like her title, “Fourth Column Revolutionary”, referring to the removal of the fourth column, gender, from birth certificates. It sounds like the title of a Cold War thriller. (Also – my military ID, MOD90 has no gender marker on it but my Driving Licence does have “Miss” on it, as well as the gender ID in the driving licence number, with second digit being 5 or 6 for women or 0/1 for men. Can anyone with a UK Driving Licence prior to 2006 confirm my suspicion that the Mr/Miss wasn’t present on the licence back then and that the equivalent does not appear on most other EU licences even now? Tempting to write to the DVLA and ask why they changed it if they did.)

Stuff happens in parliament and my blog entry on the topic is picked up and quoted by a Government Minister in her blog. People comment and there a productive discussion on the topic, plus No2ID inevitably pick up on the story (Yes, I meant “defend against”) as do The Register.

Maybe we’re not two decade away – maybe the “right time” is now, with the new government in place and wanting to make it’s mark? Even if nothing changes now, as far as I can see having the discussion at this level can only help equality.

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Politics at work: LibDem MPs defending Trans rights

It’s nice to see an MP who one voted for doing some positive work on issues that affect you, even if that positive work is having to defend against the possibly well intentioned but certainly badly thought out actions of the new opposition. You’d think Meg Hillier, having proposed an amendment to the bill scrapping ID cards relating to transgender people, (Specifically, New Clause 3) might have done some basic research on the issue. Clearly she had not and neither had her colleague, Julie Hilling, before also speaking in support of the clause. They were, to my mind, rather unprepared for the somewhat better researched responses from Lynne Featherstone MP, Equalities Minister, and Dr.Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge. (My local MP)

The amendment was to keep ID cards for transgendered people for a period as, according to Ms. Millier, it’s the “only document that could be given to someone in an acquired identity without a gender recognition certificate”. As anyone that’s been through the process knows, this is nonsense. In regards to passports, the United Kingdom Passport Service will issue a new passport if you can produce medical proof that you are transitioning. This new passport will have the appropriate name, photo and gender marker. In my case, this took around three weeks mostly because I had not enclosed my original birth certificate but Dr. Huppert makes reference to another of his constituents who managed to get a passport in 5 days.

I was particularly pleased that Dr. Huppert went on to suggest that we simply remove gender markers from ID documents. This is, in my mind, a much more satisfactory solution to the problem for a much wider group of people, for example anyone neutrios that rejects any particular binary gender identity, than having to carry two ID cards. Indeed, as he points out, if it is only transgender people that have valid ID cards, the mere act of producing an ID card outs oneself.

Labour went on to try to push for a government consultation on the issue. This appears to be a rather poor attempt to save face on their part as the only issue is one they tried to construct in their own minds without conducting the most basic research.

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SEO Fail? Or, if you’re looking for a job, try the Cambridge News.

If you’re in the Cambridge area and need a new job, it might be worth speculatively sending a CV in to the local paper, the Cambridge News. After the events of the last 24 hours, in which they’ve had one male member of staff up in court for exposing himself, and another female staff member with a drink problem jailed for a beating, one can only assume that management would have been in no mood to be lenient to the poor staff member who crashed one of their cars this morning.

Of course, it’s just Search Engine Optimisation gone wrong, but one hopes that there won’t be any “Publisher goes bankrupt” or “Editor caught having an affair” stories in the Cambridge area soon or the results could be embarrassing. Is it silly to suggest that such basic errors could get out of hand and lead to all sorts of trouble? That sort of nonsense couldn’t possibly cause Chinese whispers and affect share prices could it? Of course not, all reputable newspapers check information they get from sites like twitter before publishing. OK, maybe not always but I’m sure they’ve learnt from their mistake and they won’t do it again.

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Body scanning: Almost getting it right?

Coming back from holiday last weekend, I flew from Las Vegas airport. I was constantly misgendered, but this really doesn’t surprise me or bother me. I was returning from a canyoneering holiday in Zion, Utah and wearing dark Jeans, combat boots, carrying a DPM backpack and, in an effort to get bumped to an exit aisle (as has happened on the way out) a green British Army T-Shirt. Whilst I had no problems before as I fitted right in back in Springdale’s outdoor shops and caf├ęs, this was somewhat in contrast to the majority of the female population of the airport who tended to be scantily clad in deference to the heat at the lower altitude of Las Vegas and given that they had presumably spent some time in the shops, bars and casinos of Las Vegas decked out in fashion and jewelery more appropriate to tackling a catwalk, not a canyon or muddy assault course. Generally in the UK, gender ambiguity is less of an issue because if someone is uncertain they just avoid use of gender but the Americans seem to be fixated on calling everyone “Sir” or “Madam”. “Sir” is of course the default, because women don’t generally mind but calling a man “Madam” might somehow impinge his masculinity. This is of course because no woman could ever fight in the army or do hardcore outdoor sports…

Approaching Security at terminal 2, I saw one of them new-fangled Full Body Scanners which are apparently in American airports optional. It seems that in this case, they might be optional but you’re strongly encouraged to use them anyway as they have rope barriers that funnel you away from the metal detectors. When I tried to head for the metal detector, I was herded by staff back towards the full body scanner largely I suspect because they only had one person manning the metal detector – a bloke. I would guess blokes are not allowed to “pat down” women. Personally I don’t mind either way if it’s a bloke or a woman doing it – helps if they’re cute of course but sadly uniforms aren’t my thing!

The scanning process is quite quick and as I’d seen promised before these things went live, the operator who can see the image isn’t present on the floor but communicates with staff by radio and this is where the system breaks down if you’re transgendered. For some reason the image the operator sees isn’t live – you have to wait in a queue of two once you’ve been through the machine and there are designated spots you have to stand on so they don’t mix you up. When you get to the front of the queue, the security officer hears something through their earpiece, replies and waves you on. In my case, the officer said “copy on the female”.

Big oops. I have no idea if the radio procedure is formally documented or if it’s just come about by habit, but there’s clearly going to be a problem that occurs here if someone outwardly passes perfectly and is very femme/masculine. I don’t think the agent would have been particularly confused if the operator had misgendered me, although I’d have been somewhat pissed off. However, if some typical hungover stag-do victim happens to be a transman or one of the more dainty waifs a pre-op transwoman, I can see some major security panic happening as they’ll think people have got out of order. Resolving this is likely to be terribly embarassing to the transperson concerned, particularly if they’re with friends to whom they’re not “out”. It could even be a life-changing incident.

Update: Apparently at the same time, terminal 1 were only using the body scanners on about 1 in 3 people, due to lack of capacity to scan everyone.

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