GEO Transgender Workshop, part 1: Chatham House Rule

On Monday, I had the chance to attend an all-day workshop hosted by the Government Equalities Office with the aim of working on ideas/concepts for the forthcoming government Transgender Action Plan. I’m going to do this as a two part post, because firstly I need to explain that the workshop was held under the Chatham House Rule. Discussion of politics, how it all works and so on is quite a seperate topic from the actual detail

To save everyone now franticly scrabbling around in Google, here’s the rule in question:

When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.

I can see the arguments for why this rule needs to be in place. As part of an all-day workshop, it’s probably unrealistic to expect civil servants to be on their guard constantly lest some chance comment suddenly gets interpreted as official government policy and having the rule allows those that are present to be a little more relaxed and productive as a result. I’ve seen first hand the way that reporting of meetings I have been at has been subject to inappropriate exaggeration and hyperbole so much that I don’t even recognise what has been written as being the same event.

On the flip side, there are arguments against having such a rule in place. There are some things going on already and as a result of people being able to chat face-to-face at the meeting that are genuinely positive and I believe would make people think better of the work the civil service and others are doing if I could tell you about them. It’s pretty safe to say that the rule is not entirely or even overall benefiting the individual civil servants present.

The most troubling aspect is the inability to talk about who was there at the workshop. In the context of the Trans community, this is probably the trickiest bit as the 2008 S’onewall protests reveal. There are groups that at the time were seen as out of touch because they were, rightly or wrongly, not talking to the community and did not appear to be reflecting grass roots views. If an individual or group of individuals had aired a view that it seemed was hugely at odds with the consensus view (And I did not see any evidence for this happening as the community, I’m posing this as a theoretical) it’s much harder to publicly hold them to account or rebut that view.

Having spent some time outlining that, I’ll go on to say that I don’t think it’s as much of an issue as it sounds. I’m not routinely in the habit of regurgitating attendee lists and I’m perhaps more free to pick out certain points as I would usually feel obliged to give attribution, something I can’t do for this meeting anyway.

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