LibDem Conference Accreditation: The “I am Spartacus” edition

The latest round in the ongoing LibDem conference accreditation saga has been opened by party president Tim Farron in a LibDemVoice post.

It isn’t good. (Although kudos to Tim Farron for engaging with and discussing the issue – it’s a situation he probably had no role in creating)

Firstly, the cardinal rule of minority issues has been broken: “Nothing about us, without us”. LGBT+ LibDems did not know this was going to be announced and we certainly didn’t approve anything like this. From what Tim has said subsequently on Twitter, it appears that no Trans people at all were involved in coming up with the solution.

Unsurprisingly as a result, the solution is unworkable: If you out yourself to the party as Trans, we’ll let you bypass accreditation. But given that the concern was the risk of people being outed in the first place… well, I suspect you can see the problem. It appears that those in charge didn’t quite understand the concerns.

And if LGBT+LD are involved in vouching for people, I have no idea how we’re supposed to tell. It may surprise people to know that there is no secret handshake and no piece of paper that everyone will have that can serve as proof. So even if we had a system to verify paperwork, at some level we’d just have to take people’s word for it!

A possible solution to all this mess is lots of cis people to come forward and also say they’re Trans. That way, nobody can be quite sure if you’re Trans or not just because you bypassed accreditation.

This also has the advantage that anyone with a sensitive identity who has concerns about accreditation, perhaps because you’re the victim of domestic abuse and changed your name or you have a history of attacking deputy Prime Ministers, you can still get in to conference.

We can call it the “Spartacus” system.

LibDem Conference accreditation: The monster that refuses to die

Just announced tonight is the news that the controversial accreditation arrangements – put in place for last autumn’s Liberal Democrat conference – will also be going ahead for this year’s gathering in Brighton.

This seems a bit premature. For starters, no process has yet been announced for those whose identities require sensitive handling. (Any trans folk for example, or victims of domestic violence) Although I’ve submitted a Freedom of Information request to the police, I fear it will just confirm what I already expect: they have not yet bothered with any equalities impact assessment.

But most worrying is the tone of the announcement, stating that the “possibility of serious harm” to people, including party and venue staff, was a concern. This is the usual campaigning tactic of a totalitarian regime and we should not permit it here, lest it be used in parliament too. The increased risk has not been demonstrated in any meaningful way and certainly has not been shown to be any more substantial than the risk to individuals caused by personal details being leaked.

For some, that risk of details being leaked may just be inconvenience.

For others, it is to risk harassment and physical violence. Other campaigning I am currently involved in revolves around a group whose members will think nothing of using underhand tactics to “out” people, write to their employers to try to get them fired and even make death threats.

Do not underestimate the very real fear with which many people end up living their lives. We should be representing vulnerable people, not making them choose between their safety and being able to speak up at a political conference to make a case for their human rights.

If the current legal and political environment is causing us problems, we need to change things. Some of you may have noticed that we’re a party of government now. We do not need to bow to the powers that be, thinking that it’s all inevitable. It isn’t.

I predict a very interesting set of elections for Federal Conference Committee at the end of his year.

Conway Hall respond on Transphobia

Following the fuss on Friday, and a message I sent Conway Hall, I’ve had a response via EMail – they’ve also said much the same on Twitter.

My initial message was:

I was somewhat surprised to see your response to inquiries about hosting the upcoming RadFem2012 conference, suggesting that (In likely contravention of the Equality Act 2010) your non-discrimination policy does not extend to Transgendered folk.

I note that previously, you have acted against discrimination at events you host and seem happy to publicise this such as whan a radical Islamic group ran an event in 2009. Is your official policy that discrimination against Trans people is somehow a lesser problem than discrimination against women?

And the reply:

Thank you for all of your comments regarding the proposed RadFem 2012 event which has been booked at Conway Hall in July.

We are aware that there are strong feelings on the issue and recognise the conflict of opinion amongst the feminist and LGBT community as a result. We are in dialogue with both the organisers of RadFem 2012 and Camden LGBT forum in order to help resolve the issue.

As an organisation we do not have any actively exclusionary HR or lettings policies. This similarly applies to our status as a venue for hire.

As such we are currently seeking legal advice as to the status of the proposed event as it pertains to the Equalities Act (2010) and will provide an update on the matter in due course.

This doesn’t sound too helpful: Their position currently seems to be that if it’s legal, they’ll let it go ahead. I’ve mailed them back to check if that’s really the case.

Conway Hall, against discrimination (Unless it’s Transphobia)

Conway Hall, who have close links with the National Secular Society and British Humanists Association, have landed themselves in a spot of bother over their hosting of the upcoming “RadFem2012″ conference in London. For those not in the know, many (Not all!) radical feminists are openly and unapologetic transphobic, using inappropriate pronouns for trans folk and excluding them from gendered spaces when ever possible. Recently, people associated with RadFem2012 have taken to publicly outing Trans people, including writing to potential employers to let them know they’re hiring a Trans person.

A number of people have been talking about running a protest outside the event in July and a few people contacted the hosts, Conway Hall, to enquire about their support of the event. Their reply has many people rightly annoyed, stating that it’s all about protecting “vulnerable groups” and thus fine by them. Inconveniently for Conway Hall, they have acted against misogyny at events they host in the past, such as in 2009. They also seem happy to advertise that, which would suggest that whilst they’re keen to publicly announce their strong anti-discrimination policy, that policy does not extend to Trans folk.

(This may also be unlawful under the Equalities Act 2010, by the way)

If you’d like to complain, Conway Hall have a contact form or you con contact them on Twitter. Their CEO is also on Twitter, if you’d like to contact him direct.

Updates: There is also a list of Trustees you can contact on the Charity Commission web site, although I do not know any of them myself, along with an email address: jim@ethicalsoc.org.uk.

Emma Brownbill points out that Andrew Copson on the Trustee list is chair of the British Humanist Association. He is on Twitter at @andrewcopson

ASA: Paddy Power advert seriously offensive, irresponsible and caused harm

Being heavily run by the BBC today is the news that the Advertising Standards Authority have finally (After 3 months!) ruled that the Paddy Power “Ladies Day” advert breached their codes. It had already had its clearance by Clearcast, a separate group who pre-vet adverts, withdrawn after the complaints.

Complaints fell broadly into three categories: That the advert was offensive, that it caused harm and that it was not socially responsible and the ASA upheld that all three rules had been breached. Highlights from the ASA ruling on being offensive:

We therefore considered that the suggestion that trans people could be segregated into the gender stereotypes “stallions” and “mares” as part of a guessing game, trivialised a complex and difficult issue and objectified them in a way that was likely to cause them serious offence.

We considered that the ad in general and those scenes in particular depicted those negative stereotypes in a way that was also likely to be seriously offensive to trans people.

We considered that the suggestion that a trans woman would need to, or should, use a men’s toilet and the reference to a woman as a dog were also likely to cause serious offence to women generally and trans women specifically. We concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious offence.

And on social responsibility and causing harm:

We considered that by suggesting that trans women would look like men in drag and that their gender could be speculated on as part of a game, the ad irresponsibly reinforced those negative stereotypes and, particularly by framing the game in a way that involved a member of the public who had commented on Paddy Power’s Facebook page, the ad condoned and encouraged harmful discriminatory behaviour and treatment.

Sadly, there was no mention that the adverts put Trans folk at risk of physical harm, but unsurprisingly given the above, they conclude “the ad must not be shown again in it’s current form“.

“Hit and Miss”: Clue still required

Having listened to Chloë Sevigny talk about her role in “Hit and Miss” on yesterday’s Woman’s Hour (It’s right at the start) I think I have to stand by my first view that the production company are seriously lacking in clue, as shown by the fact that their initial casting call was for a pre-op trans woman. (The pre-op bit was explicit)

The way such interviews usually work is that the production or publicity company will have a fact sheet or similar that they will give to the show and, although Chloë has some interesting views as a result of playing the part of a trans woman, (Perhaps enough to make me watch the show) it’s pretty clear from the interviewers questions that the fact sheet and likely the show itself will be awful.

We’ll start with the usual rant: Transsexual is an adjective, not a noun. The interview was littered with the interviewer committing the usual crime of referring to Chloë as playing “a transsexual” instead of “a transsexual woman” or “a trans woman”. (Chloë did not make this mistake once)

Interestingly, the text accompanying the podcast refers more correctly to her as playing “a transgender contract killer”.

The worst bit is, predictably given the requirement for any trans people playing the part be pre-op, the rampant genital essentialism which sounds like it’s going to be present throughout the series, and not in a good way. As well as the interviewer referring to her not having had “the full operation”, there’s this exchange:

Interviewer: “And we see her naked on a number of occasions and you wear prosthetic genitalia. Why was it important for the audience to see that?

Chloë: “According to the producers…” (Laughs, slightly nervously: I don’t feel she’s comfortable with this explanation) “…they wanted, that was their way of reminding the audience that she is… still a man or still has her male genitalia… and I think it was provocative.

That’s rather worrying for a series like this: They want to be provocative and they want to remind the viewers that she’s “still a man”. (Because as we know, you’re not “really a woman” until you’ve had “the full operation”… ugh!)

Interviewer: “And how did you deal with this, wearing it?

Chloë: “Not very well. It was painful… physically and emotionally because Mia, of course, has a very bad relationship with her genitalia as most, I think, people that are transitioning do. It’s very uncomfortable and humiliating being naked with it on. It’s hard enough to be naked yet then to have… you know, I just felt like a freak which Mia does, it helped me inhabit the character

This is more interesting – as Paris Lees put it, “Sounds like gender dysphoria to me”. (Or at least, a serious degree of body dysmorphia, even if I’m not entirely happy that she used the word “freak” there)

Later the interviewer refers to an earlier role of Chloë’s, in Boys Don’t Cry as the girlfriend of a trans man. The interviewer describes Brandon Teena as “a female-to-male not quite transsexual but crossdresser” which is pretty inaccurate.

If I watch this, it’s going to be because it sounds like Chloë’s experiences playing a trans woman are interesting. From the ham-fisted approach taken by the production company, I suspect overall it will do nothing to advance Trans equality and understanding and will likely be horribly cringeworthy.

Police creating crimes out of thin air

This morning’s annoyance was a story on BBC Newsbeat Friday morning. (Newsbeat the branding used by BBC Radio 1 for news) There’s an online version of the article, although that doesn’t mention the quote that wound me up – you’ll have to go to iPlayer to hear it. (Part of the 0830 news, go to 2:02:42 to hear the story) In a nutshell, it concerns warnings from the Attorney General that Twitter and other social network users risk prosecution if they “seriously offend” or “cause distress” via their posts.

The offending sentence: “Police have told Newsbeat more of their officers are now scanning web sites to spot illegal posts“.

The police force(s) concerned hasn’t been named, or an FoI request would already be on it’s way to them asking how much time they’re wasting with this. This is exactly the sort of problem that lead to the controversial and illiberal Twitter Joke Trial taking place. If the police scan for things, they may decide someone probably took offence or was distressed even if nobody was, just as in the Twitter Joke Trial case where nobody (Including the airport) took the tweet seriously.

The police have enough crime to investigate and prevent as it is. Do they really need to go looking for and creating new ones?

Thinking Allowed on Transgender issues…

A comment I sent in to the BBC’s “Thinking Allowed” last week on Transgender issues has been read out on air. I’ll publicise this here mostly because I just love the inflection the presenter has given my words. I don’t think I could have done better myself! Start from 13:45, it’s about 30 seconds long.


Also on BBC’s Thinking Allowed Podcast site

The programme I’m commenting on is the one from 2nd May and Zowie Davy’s piece is towards the end. Here is the full text of my comment – the second paragraph was read out on air.


I was somewhat surprised on today’s show to hear basic linguistic errors being made by both the presenter and the academic author, Zowie Davy.

As someone who has apparently spent some time working with trans people, I would have expected Zowie to understand that “Transsexual” is an adjective, not a noun. You would not say “John is a black” or “Sue is a disabled” as that is very othering. Similarly, you should talk about someone being “a transsexual person”, lest one cause serious offence.

I hope that Zowie’s overall research is better informed than her use of language would suggest!

Communications Interception: LibDem party view, round two

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceFollowing the confirmation in today’s Queen’s Speech that something that might look like the Communications Capability Development Programme is going ahead, a conference call had been (pre-)arranged with the cast of the earlier, somewhat more confrontational call. The main difference this time is that instead of being lead by a handful of Senior Political Advisors, the main speaker was none other than Cambridge’s own Dr Julian Huppert MP, who Nick Clegg has publicly deferred to on the issue of Communications Interception.

First of all, I shall start with the LibDem Win: As reported by the Guardian today, if the Tories were left to their own devices, this would probably be rammed through as part of a larger bill.

Whilst we’re not there yet, we (And I mean all campaigners here!) are already making a difference and I’m told some of the plans the Home Office had are already being torn us in the face of opposition. They have been careful not to put anything in writing so far and the full details of the most draconian measures that were in the works will probably never be publicly known, but it seems likely that any plan to put compulsory black boxes on service providers networks to snoop on traffic are already out the window, which is excellent news. Also out is apparently any suggestion that the police would simply be able to pull data from service providers directly over the Internet, without needing to request it specifically from a human.

As to the conference call itself, there was much less technical content than last time. This was partly because we know Julian Huppert very much Gets It, and if he doesn’t he’ll ask those of us that do. But also, it’s because we’re worrying about how we get where we want to be and not the unannounced detail.

As it stands, we’re waiting for the Home Office to say what they want, in writing. They may ask only for entirely reasonable things that we can agree to, but that is unlikely. Instead, it should go through a similar committee process the Libel Reform Bill that was also announced today to allow experts to pick it apart. Some of what the Home Office propose will probably be unacceptable, and we’ll kick it out. Some might be a little awkward, but a genuine attempt by the Home Office to come up with something workable towards a specific goal. We should help them on that if we think it’s a worthy goal.

I’ll sound a note of caution here: As I said above, the civil service may – hell, probably will announce draft clauses that are very illiberal. I’ve no doubt some will react with alarm if that happens. That doesn’t mean that LibDem MPs have “gone native”. It means they’ll discuss them in public and kill them there, and not in private. Secondly, don’t let it become a campaign of misinformation. I’ve heard there are already one or two organisations have put out some inaccurate information based on outdated plans, which won’t help discussions further down the line if they become the focus of discussion when they’re already dead and buried.

(On the flip side, if there are MPs being illiberal: It’s open season. Regardless of party)

In terms of next steps, the Home Affairs Select Committee has written to the Home Secretary, Theresa May, asking for more detail of what’s proposed. She should have responded today and hopefully the committee will publish both their questions and the response on Tuesday, before a full session to question her on the topic.

In parallel to this, some draft clauses will be forthcoming over the next few weeks which is the first time we’ll have something concrete to critique properly. It may be the Home Affairs Select Committee that works on this, or it might be another committee specificity formed to discuss this bill, but the key is the MPs working on it should have the chance to be fully educated on it. One memorable quote from this evening was that “any group that knows what they’re talking about won’t make daft decisions“. I hope that’s true.

Once the draft clauses are in the open, we can finally decide if what they’re thinking of doing is acceptable and call down upon them the wrath of the community if they’ve got it wrong.

Communications Interception in the Queen’s Speech: It’s all a bit vague

From the Queen’s Speech today, there will be “measures to maintain the ability of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access vital communications data under strict safeguards to protect the public, subject to scrutiny of draft clauses“.

More information has been released by the Home Office, which I’ve included below, (Edited to add: This isn’t a draft bill, it’s just vague background notes on what they might like) but it’s not particularly helpful: It just refers to “an updated framework for the collection, retention and acquisition of communications data”. Which, frankly, could mean anything from minor fiddles with the way ISPs provide information we already hold all the way to full-blown and widespread interception.

I am pretty sure they intend the more Orwellian scenario, but do not want to admit this in writing yet.

There is a section on “appropriate independent oversight”, but the interception of communications commissioner does not appear to have done much good to date so I cannot see this as a positive contribution. (See Mark Pack’s post giving six reasons why the post is a failure for a good discussion on this)

And a “Technical Advisory Board” mentioned, but the role of that body seems to be just someone for the ISPs to talk to in order to figure out the impact of the proposals. My experience of these things is that the industry will have a much better idea of what it’s doing than any government-appointed body!

There is another conference call for LibDem bloggers tonight which I shall report back on, but I doubt we will see much clarification on the above.


Draft Communications Data Bill
“My Government intends to bring forward measures to maintain the ability of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access vital communications data under strict safeguards to protect the public, subject to scrutiny of draft clauses.”

The purpose of the draft Bill is to:

  • The draft Bill would protect the public by ensuring that law enforcement agencies and others continue to have access to communications data so that they can bring offenders to justice.

What is communications data:

  • Communications data is information about a communication, not the communication itself.
  • Communication data is NOT the content of any communication – the text of an email, or conversation on a telephone.
  • Communications data includes the time and duration of the communication, the telephone number or email address which has been contacted and sometimes the location of the originator of the communication.

The main benefits of the draft Bill would be:

  • The ability of the police and intelligence agencies to continue to access communications data which is vital in supporting their work in protecting the public.
  • An updated framework for the collection, retention and acquisition of communications data which enables a flexible response to technological change.

The main elements of the draft Bill are:

  • Establishing an updated framework for the collection and retention of communications data by communication service providers (CSPs) to ensure communications data remains available to law enforcement and other authorised public authorities.
  • Establishing an updated framework to facilitate the lawful, efficient and effective obtaining of communications data by authorised public authorities including law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
  • Establishing strict safeguards including: a 12 month limit of the length of time for which communications data may be retained by CSPs and measures to protect the data from unauthorised access or disclosure. (It will continue to be the role of the Information Commissioner to keep under review the operation of the provisions relating to the security of retained communications data and their destruction at the end of the 12 month retention period)
  • Providing for appropriate independent oversight including: extending the role of the Interception of Communications Commissioner to oversee the collection of communications data by communications service providers; providing a communications. service provider with the ability to consult an independent Government/ Industry body (the Technical Advisory Board) to consider the impact of obligations placed upon them; extending the role of the independent investigatory Powers Tribunal (made up of senior judicial figures) to ensure that individuals have proper avenue of complaint and independent investigation if they think the powers have been used unlawfully.
  • Removing other statutory powers with weaker safeguards to acquire communications data.

Existing legislation in this area is:

  • Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000
  • The Data Retention (EC Directive) Regulations 2009

Devolution:
The Bill would apply to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and relates to non-transferred matters.