Archive for September, 2010
I’ve received responses to my FoI requests to the BIS and also the Treasury, who forwarded it on to the Government Equalities Office. The overall tone of the responses is best summarised by this line from the GEO response:
There have been no studies or impact assessments on the cost of implementing “full marriage equality”.
We pretty much knew this already, following Brian Paddick’s revelations in the Pink News last week. But let’s just quickly remind ourselves of the contents of Stonewall’s “clarification” from last week.
Ben pointed out, factually, that there was a cost to including provision of civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples in the motion. He suggested that ministers should publish the Treasury Impact Assessment that will have been carried out.
I guess they felt pretty safe making that suggestion, given it’s not possible to publish something that doesn’t exist. What we do have and has been published is the 2004 impact assessment of the Civil Partnerships Act. On top of one-off costs of £20 million, it estimates the worst case total cost would rise to just shy of £22 million a year by 2020 – more than an order of magnitude less than Stonewall’s calculated figure. (£22 million is the £7.7 Million Pension/Bereavement and Divorce costs plus the £14 million employers cost)
This calculation is based on an assumption of around 43,000 people in civil partnerships. (Taken from section 6.1, figure 1) To get to the kind of numbers Stonewall are talking about we need to multiply by 23 – which means we’re talking about one million people, or half a million extra civil partnerships by 2020, making 50,000 per year. By comparison, the marriage rate is not quite quarter of a million ceremonies per year.
Note that we’re erring on the side of caution in all the above: We’re ignoring separation and aiming for a figure of £500 million per year by 2020, rather than a £500 million average by that date. Despite this, Stonewall seem to think that allowing heterosexual couples to enter into Civil Partnerships will increase the combined Civil Partnership and Marriage rate in the United Kingdom by 20%.
I suggest that Stonewall should publish the Impact Assessment that they have carried out. I’d like to see their assumptions.
With obvious parallels to the case in the Middle East just a few weeks ago, a rather worrying news story has appeared on BBC News. The headline, “Woman faces sex by fraud charges“, doesn’t sound too bad but the first paragraph is somewhat more chilling for anyone Trans…
A 25-year-old woman has appeared in court accused of tricking two women into sexual contact – by pretending to be a man.
Firstly, the obvious: a “woman pretending to be a man” could well be a transman but however they identify, it’s likely they’re on the Trans spectrum somewhere.
Secondly, even after an hour of searching through statute and case law, I can’t figure out what the person accused of this offence is actually guilty of. The case is in Scotland which has different laws from England and Wales and there is a history of “Rape by Deception” in case law, but nothing I can find written down. (If it was England or Wales, it would probably be Section 36 if the other party had mental health troubles) The article says the other people involved “cannot be named for legal reasons”, which would suggest something unusual.
It may be that it’s been misreported by the BBC and the “deception” isn’t relevant to the actual offence but whatever the specifics, this is quite worrying.
It’s getting to the point where I don’t need to write blog posts about Stonewall – they’re writing themselves. Stonewall won’t be “jumped into” gay marriage, apparently. Please, they’ve had five years and spawned a campaign on the topic of their silence. Also:
Stonewall has never pretended to be a democratic member organisation. We have never said we speak for all lesbian, gay and bisexual people
Who do they speak for and are they actually accountable to anyone at all? It’s starting to sound awfully like Stonewall is a well funded clique to keep a few people in champagne and canapé receptions. It gets better:
Referring to Stonewall’s estimated £5 billion cost over ten years for allowing straight couples to have civil partnerships, he argued that the disability lobby would not deliberate over the cost of wheelchair ramps.
However, Mr Summerskill responded: “It is perfectly proper to say there are arguments that will be used against us so we can counter them”.
But Stonewall made the figure up: The five billion figure wouldn’t exist if they hadn’t
invented it “extrapolated” it. How on earth could it have been used against us if it didn’t exist? From other sources, it seems that Summerskill, as he did with the Liberal Democrat party, attacked Labour for not being progressive enough, which is somewhat cheeky under the circumstances given that right now Labour are a whole lot more progressive than Stonewall:
Summerskill took note that in LGBT people are still underrepresented in the parliamentary Labour party, particularly lesbians. This was also reflected in the mostly gay male a(nd suited) audience at the meeting. While praising the advances in LGBT equality, particularly through legislation by the previous Labour government, Summerskill also drew attention to some of the deficiencies in the Labour Party’s record on advancing LGBT equality, including the appointment of Opus Dei member Ruth Kelly as Equalities Minister, and the poor voting record on LGBT rights by Summerskill’s Labour constituency MP Kate Hoey.
But we’ve saved the best for last:
He also raised the issue of current laws requiring trans people to end their marriages to obtain gender recognition certificates.
Mr Summerskill acknowledged the “terrible unfairness” of this situation but said he had been in talks with ministers and officials about amendments to the Gender Recognition Act.
Whoops. Remember that demo a couple of years ago over the whole Bindel thing? You’re not a Trans organisation, are you Summerskill? What possible reasons could you have for talking to ministers about the GRA unless you wanted to cripple it somehow? This is such insane levels of fail that I just want to mash my head against the keyboard repeatedly until I achieve blessed unconsciousness but sadly that does not make for a good blog post. Luckily, I know from speaking to Lynne Featherstone (Equalities Minister) that she’s not going to fall for any nonsense from Stonewall but still… Nnnngh.
Decency prevents me from repeating the words being used to describe Stonewall and Summerskill in Trans circles at this moment, but most of them are four letters long. It’ll take four weeks but just in case we get something juicy back, I’ve just dropped the Home Office a Freedom of Information Act request, asking for any consultation/correspondence they might have on the topic.
So, I’m thinking perhaps, as it’s likely to be quite a bit bigger than 2008, we should have a few keynote speakers at this years demo. Perhaps we can get Peter Tatchell to say a few words and an MP or two. Stephen Fry would be nice, I’ve always wanted to meet him. Does anyone have his number?
The news late last week that the Office for National Statistics has calculated the percentage of LGB people in the UK as being around 1.5% has certainly caused some head-scratching in the gay press, because common perception has it that the number is much higher. There have been some pretty unscientific responses though, with one dating site claiming that there must be more than the calculated number simply because they have over 2 million registered users. For a start, I think it’s hubris to think that every LGB individual in the UK will have registered on their site and I suspect that perhaps they have people with multiple registrations. Cynics amongst you may think they just wanted an excuse for some publicity…
I’ve always been a little suspicious of the ONS’s results as I’ve been on the receiving end as an ISP. We’ve been asked to count number of customers in an environment where we’re unable to do so (Registration-free dial-up internet, back in the day) and break down customer types when we don’t distinguish ourselves. (Consumer vs. Business) Pointing out we couldn’t provide the numbers just results in snotty phone calls pointing out that failure to provide the information would result in a court appearance – I believe the people responsible for such things may have come up with some “creative” answers that may or may not have borne any relationship to reality.
However, in this case, I think they’ve got they survey about right if one actually reads the reports properly – it’s just the headline result that’s misleading. For starters, it’s an experimental survey and the ONS are very careful to point this out, the survey is based on how people identify, not on their actual orientation. As anyone involved in LGBT and probably any other minority group politics will know, identity is a minefield. To pick just one example, bisexual folk currently in a straight or gay relationship may identify as one of those two rather than as bisexual. I myself might describe myself as lesbian or bisexual, depending on mood and situation.
Secondly, there’s an “other” option at 0.5%, which takes us up to 2% anyway, plus “don’t know” for another 2.8%. Besides asexual, I can’t think of any other answer besides something on the LGB spectrum that might come under “other”. Do 0.5% of the population of the UK really identify as asexual? I would hazard a guess that the number is lower. And do we count “don’t know” as LGB? Some of those will have been straight folk refusing to answer for some reason, but a good portion will no doubt have been those questioning their sexuality – perhaps bi-curious or “I think I’m straight, I just happen to currently be in a gay/lesbian relationship”.
Finally, the surveys were carried out in peoples homes either face-to-face or via telephone. Even with efforts to make things anonymous to other householders, some people are going to be reluctant to admit they identify as LGB due to social pressures. Excluding one DTI workplace survey which had a very high non-response rate, the sum total for LGB plus don’t know/know response is similar across all surveys since 2008 that the ONS compares this one to – 4.9 to 6.5%. (In 2005 it was around 3%, possibly reflecting an increased tendency for people to openly identify as LGB) It’s also possibly quite telling that the region with the lowest percentage of LGB answers, Northern Ireland, also had the highest don’t knows/no response.
So if someone challenges you that only 1.5% of the population is LGB, there’s a simple response: When asked in an ONS survey, 5.2% of the UK population did not identify as straight
It appears Stonewall have admitted to blatantly lying about the five billion figure.
Sunday night, it was a DTI figure.
Tuesday it was a Treasury Impact Assessment.
Today it’s an “extrapolation” – I guess they had to admit this as we FoIed the original documents and the Home Office already said they “didn’t recognise the £5bn figure”. Yet they had the face to accuse Pink News of being “dishonest” and running an “unethical campaign”?
Did you “extrapolate” the RadFem argument from a random lesbian you met too, Ben? And how much of the money given to you to further the LGb cause did you spend on lawyers to try to suppress the Pink News article?
Who is Stonewall accountable to anyway?
I’m actually too cross to write a proper blog post about this, so instead I’m going to leave you with a video. One that’s completely unconnected to recent talk of a protest outside the Stonewall 2010 awards. Which are on the 4th November, at the V&A in London, nearest tube South Kensington on the Piccadilly, Circle and District Lines.
Google released their “transparency report” a couple of days ago. There’s been a little coverage of how high the UK is in the chart, but what I haven’t seen is an analysis of the data per head of population. It’s pretty logical that the US would have more requests than the UK, after all they have five times the population. So, here we have it, the top ten countries for government snooping per head of population. Data is for the 12 months from July 2009 to June 2010.
|Population||Requests||Requests per Million|
|1. United Kingdom||62,008,049||2,509||40.5|
|4. United States||310,314,000||7,867||25.4|
Removals are harder to count as the numbers are lower and start disappearing into noise, but for completeness, where data is available, here it is:
|Population||Removals||Removals per Million|
|5. South Korea||49,773,145||102||2.0|
|6. United Kingdom||62,008,049||107||1.7|
|10. United States||310,314,000||251||0.8|
Because of all the Equality Act discussion detail recently, I’ve been thinking about other trans-related legislation. An interesting and not often talked about offence is under section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 which basically makes it illegal for anyone to “out” someone if they’ve found out by virtue of being an employer or similar. Although it’s a criminal offence, the penalties are quite mild: A “Level 5″ fine, which is up to £5,000. As an upper cap, that’s pretty mild given you could quite possibly maliciously destroy someone’s life.
I submitted a batch of Freedom of Information requests to various bodies: In England and Wales, the Crown Prosecution Service, for Scotland the Procurator Fiscal and Public Prosecution Service Northern Ireland.
Firstly, kudos to the Procurator Fiscal in Scotland – I had a reply in 48 hours, well less than the 20 days they need to reply in. That’s amazing and much to their credit.
As to the responses themselves:
…there are no charge codes relating to [the Act], so no cases have been reported relating to this Act… (Procurator Fiscal)
…no cases have been reported to the PPS since the introduction of the legislation… (Public Prosecution Service Northern Ireland)
…No offences under this Act/Section are recorded on the CPS Management Information System… (Crown Prosecution Service)
So it seems that it’s such a pointless offence that not only has nobody ever been convicted, but nobody has even been prosecuted… and there has never been a reported case to consider. Does anyone have a possible case they’d like to try to report?
There’s some debate over exactly what was said at last night’s event, which I shall clarify below. However, first I’d like to pay tribute to the excellent work by Adrian Trett, the Chair of the LibDem LGBT organisation. For those who haven’t already heard, the marriage equality motion passed at Federal Conference today, making the Liberal Democrats the first party in government to back equal marriage as a matter of policy. In the short time I’ve known Adrian, there is only one obvious flaw I have discovered: He’s far too hesitant to take the credit for all the hard work he’s put in to promoting this for the whole LGB and T community.
On the comments by Ben Summerskill last night, two points I would like to clarify: Firstly, I’ve seen it reported that Ben Summerskill said a campaign for equal marriage was an unethical one. He did not say this: the “unethical campaign” comment was aimed at Pink News after they tried to get Stonewall to clarify their position on marriage equality. I did speak to Ben briefly about this after the event and asked if he’d be willing to put Stonewall’s views in writing, but he refused and attacked Pink News for trying to get Stonewall to comment on marriage equality in a period of four days, which he seemed to think was unreasonably quick. I don’t know for sure but I get the impression he thinks Pink News are behind “Why the silence Stonewall”. (They are not, to the best of my knowledge)
Secondly, Ben was not questioned on the Stonewall policy regarding Marriage Equality. Amazingly, he volunteered the information himself in his speech.
There were no media I know of present at the event and although we’ve asked around, it seems nobody took a recording of the event. I was hoping to get video of responses to later questions but by the time I realised what he was saying it was too late – Ed Fordham, the chair, was understandably wanting to avoid rocks being thrown!
However, there were quite a few important people in the room: Two MPs, one of whom was a minister of the crown, an Ex-MP and a parliamentary candidate present. They made references to Stonewall’s views in speeches in support of today’s motion, which was covered online by the BBC. I’ve copied out the relevant points:
1147: Gay marriage now. Former MP Evan Harris spoke up for this one, arguing that now was the time to push for full equality – including allowing opposite sex couple to have civil partnerships. Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone watches from her seat in the hall.
1207: Ed Fordham, of neighbouring Hampstead and Kilburn, gets a huge round of applause as he urges the government to “stop faffing around” and get on with legalising gay marriage. He attacks gay group Stonewall, which he says is against the motion because it could lead to tax losses on pensions, again earning a huge cheer. Apart from anything else, he says, the boost to the milinary industry from his mother if gay weddings are legalised would be worth it.
1214: Ex mayoral candidate Brian Paddick tells delegates how he got married to a “gorgeous Norwegian man” last year – “an intensely moving experience”. “My husband and I”, he adds, feel marriage is important, but they are only legally married in Norway. There should be equality in the UK, he says. He also hits out at Stonewall, saying “equality is equality”.
1216: Delegates vote overwhelmingly in favour of the motion calling for same sex marriages to be legalised.
Also widely reported on twitter is Stephen Gilbert’s comment, “It should not be for me as an MP to lobby Stonewall to support gay equality, it should be for Stonewall to lobby me.” I shall try to find the relevant portions from BBC Parliament when it ends up on iPlayer later today. It’s been picked up by the mainstream press though, such as this article by the Guardian.
Finally, in terms of the debate itself, I believe the five billion pounds figure may relate to the cost on private pension companies rather than on the state – I’ve submitted a Freedom of Information Request or two to try to get a copy of the report, if it exists. If it is a cost to private industry, this may go some way to explaining Stonewall’s view as it’s possible a large portion of their funding comes from big corporates who may stand to lose money from marriage equality. On the flip side, Stonewall’s rebuttal of of the Pink News story refers to a “Treasury Impact Assessment” which would imply it’s a state, not private cost.
It’s been noted that the rebuttal is quite carefully worded. It repeats the arguments advanced by Ben Summerskill that marriage equality will cost £5bn and that while “some” LGB people support marriage equality, (Yes, 98% is “some”) some do not. 2% is also, I suppose, “some”.
It also repeats all the arguments I recall him advancing for marriage equality: none.
Of all the bizarre places to come out against marriage equality, an event run in conjunction with DELGA, the Liberal Democrat LGBT organisation, would seem to be the most odd. But that’s just what Ben Summerskill, head of so-called “equality” organisation Stonewall did today.
Also on the panel for the debate, part of the Liberal Democrat Autumn 2010 conference discussing what the coalition meant for equality, were Dr. Evan Harris who is DELGA president, Lynne Featherstone MP, LibDem equalities minister and out gay LibDem MP, Stephen Gilbert.
The views of Summerskill have long been known to be unpopular amongst the Transgender community after their nomination of notorious transphobe Julie Bindel for “Journalist of the Year” back in 2008. But certainly nobody I knew thought their silence on marriage equality meant they would come out against it and on such spurious grounds.
Firstly, he attacked Pink News for running an “unethical campaign” against Stonewall after they failed to answer a request for comment on the topic of Marriage Equality. Then, he argued that it was “too expensive” as increased pension payments to heterosexual couples wanting civil partnerships would cost five billion pounds over ten years according to unpublished government research. Stephen Gilbert quite rightly stated that equality such at this should not be subject to a cost/benefit analysis and that if South Africa had adopted Stonewall’s approach, they would still have apartheid, a view Summerskill labelled offensive.
Another argument advanced against equality was that there is a feminist view that the institute of marriage is fundamentally wrong. He did not explain this view particularly coherently and perhaps this means I cannot do it justice in turn. However, my response to that would be that if you don’t want to get married then don’t and it’s no reason to force it on the rest of us.
Finally, we’re subject to attempted emotional blackmail and told that as long as people are being murdered in homophobic attacks, we should not be campaigning for something like Marriage. I favour the view that Stephen passionately put: We need to send a clear message to those in society that would try to discriminate that we are equal and we will not settle for any less than equality. As long as LGBT people are “othered” in any way at all, attacks will continue.
It’s not really surprising that the liberal audience became quite hostile to these views, with the first question from the floor attacking Summerskill for his outrageous views. As one attendee put it, speaking of Ben Summerskill, “A homophobe is a homophobe, whether he’s gay or not”
The following clause has been proposed for the Identity Cards Bill:
(1) This section applies to a person who—
(a) is a transgendered person,
(b) has not been issued with a gender recognition certificate, and
(c) is living in both the birth gender and the acquired gender.
(2) The Secretary of State must make arrangements for the issue to any person falling within subsection (1), on the application of that person, of two copies of a passport or some other form of identity document of comparable standing, one in the birth gender of the person and the other in the acquired gender.
(3) The form of the document referred to in subsection (2) shall be prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument, which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
(4) Any ID card issued to a person falling within subsection (1) shall (notwithstanding section 2(2)) remain valid until it expires, or until the requirement in subsection (2) is satisfied, whichever is the earlier, and section 2(3) shall not apply in relation to any cardholder who is a person falling within subsection (1)
I’d appreciate people’s views on this as I may have the chance to provide input to appropriate people. Unfortunately this clause, which is rather more reasonable than the last one, has been proposed prior to the report stage which I believe means amendments will be discussed in the full House of Commons (Next Wednesday, so time is of the essence) rather than in committee. This means that it will be subject to partisan politics, with the proviso that coalition politics may mean we have a greater chance of getting this approved than would otherwise be the case.
I’ll start with the (brief) negatives, so that I can end on the positive note the I feel is appropriate here. “Transgender” perhaps needs defining in clause 1a, although that’s more of a lawyer question I suspect so I won’t go into it.
Clause 1c is more problematic – this could mean providing proof that you’re living in both genders, but if you’re transitioning or transgendered and “living in both genders” then it’s quite possible the last thing you want to do is go to an employer and have to ask for a letter confirming you’re still turning up at work in your birth-assigned gender. It would probably be better if it was removed.
Clause 4 I can’t support at all, period. We’re back into the public perception of “only Trans people will have ID cards” territory, and as I’ve discussed before, that’s just a mess. Besides, it’s already been confirmed that only one person has dual ID cards and it’s basically just an attempt to delay the abolition of ID cards overall. It’s of no benefit to the trans community overall that I can see.
Back to the positives and I think it’s best if I describe how I think I could see this working in practice. Someone wants to transition, or is thinking of it, or is just transgendered and they write to the IPS and/or DVLA requesting a new passport and/or driving licence. (Perhaps with a letter from the doctor or a sworn affidavit or similar – it might be that the powers that be feel that something is required to stop frivolous requests but it shouldn’t be arduous) At the moment, you will have to give back your old documents and will not be able to use them any more. If this passes, I imagine you would be able to keep (And renew) you old documents as well as your new ones until such time as you apply for and receive a GRC at which point you have to hand back or destroy the old ID.
The only drawback I can think of is people might demand to see your old/”real” (Ugh) ID. For that reason, dual ID needs to be optional. Luckily, as phrased there is nothing in the bill to mean having two IDs is mandatory. I would encourage any government departments that implement this to ensure that there is a clear and obvious process for handing back your old ID and perhaps make answering the “Do you want to keep your old ID” question an explicit step in obtaining a second/new ID. I would even go so far as to having had your old ID revoked be a requirement for the GRC. (I.e. you have to confirm you’ve handed back your old ID before you can get a GRC, rather than the GRC triggering the revocation of it)
There’s a possible problem with the police being able to link together records from the DVLA so that area requires more study and it might mean this is limited to just passports. That would be an area for the civil service to worry about if the amendment and bill pass however.
Additional: I’ve just realised this is actually a significant improvement on the current ID card system. As it stands, only one ID card is travel-enabled. This would clearly not be the case if you had two passports – you could travel on both. (Although there are possible issues with Visas for some countries)