GEO Transgender Workshop, part 2

And now we move on to the meat of the discussion from the Government Equalities Office Transgender Workshop. Although as I previously discussed, the meeting was held under the Chatham House Rule, the nature of the meeting means that there would also not be much to say about government policy or likely changes anyway, even if I could. This is because it was a chance for us to let them know our views rather than the other way round. Indeed, even if nothing else I think the meeting was very productive just because it did bring so many people together who would not otherwise have had a chance to meet up.

What I think is most useful for me to do is list topics that came up in the various discussions I was present in. Although we split up into smaller groups for some workshops so issues may have been raised I was unaware of, this should give people an idea what campaigners currently regard as hot topics.

  • NHS treatment is, as ever, high on the agenda. As people may be aware, Primary Care Trusts are being abolished in favour of GP consortia. Despite concerns about localism being bad (See below) I sensed a hope amongst some that the change in structure will be an opportunity for campaigners to secure a change in current practice, given it can hardly get any worse than the de facto blanket ban in operation in some areas.
  • The Gender Recognition Act, in several ways:
    • Marriage-related issues are more of a concern than I’d realised, particularly amongst those who have been fully transitioned for some time. Many refuse to get their marriage annulled just to obtain a GRC and having seen Sarah and Sylvia go through this, I know it can be an unpleasant and problematic procedure that does not work the way that was originally intended. Although it seems the usefulness of a GRC is being diminished, it is still key in one area for some people: Pensions. If you are retiring around now or are already past retirement age, your gender affects your pension age. (An anomaly removed for those of us who are younger) For Trans women, this means you might not be getting a state pension unless you agree to divorce! We already know there is little hope of any parliamentary time in the next couple of years to fix the divorce/annulment requirement or any other Trans issues requiring a major change in the law but I would hope that the Trans community can gain sufficient input into any possible marriage equality bills to fix this at the same time.
    • Misuse of Gender Recognition Certificates. One unintended consequence of issuing GRCs is that some organisations would ask for them inappropriately. (Including Police Officers, eg. the Pride London Toiletgate affair in 2008) The idea was floated to only issue new Birth Certificates (i.e. stop issuing paper GRCs) unless someone either requests them specifically or there isn’t a new Birth Certificate to issue. (e.g. for someone born abroad) Hopefully organisations and individuals won’t ask for a document that the majority of people do not posses! This may be achievable without changes required in law, although the consequences would need to be thought out carefully.
    • It concerns me that there is still some confusion even amongst some activists about how the GRC system works. I heard people who thought that you had to be post-operative to get a GRC or that a GRC was required to get a correctly-gendered passport, which is untrue. (The latter probably caused by some apparently badly worded advice on some web sites which is supposed to indicate just that it is one form of acceptable ID)
  • The last of the big three was Localism – i.e. the push by central government for more power to local communities. There were concerns that in more conservative communities, this could be detrimental to power minorities without appropriate safeguards. (Cambridge is pretty friendly to otherwise marginalised individuals and I’m not hugely familiar with the proposals so I have no strong opinions on this myself)

Between them, I think those three topics probably dominated conversation. In no particular order, other ideas and concerns included:

  • Media representation of Trans people. I think pretty much everyone agreed that the Daily Mail and friends were basically a problem we’re unlikely to fix any time soon. However, I did find out there is apparently a ban on showing Trans issues (Possibly just Trans children) before the watershed on BBC and Channel 4 as it’s seen as “sexual” content. Other countries have documentaries on gender variance aimed at children but they do not get shown in this country because of this. (I was already vaguely aware of the Hollyoaks storyline but I do not know how it fits in with this ruling.)
  • Education was discussed, both at school (Trying to get more Trans input into the curriculum, although localism probably means we’re moving away from setting curriculum centrally) and as adults. (E.g. ensuring medical courses have some content on Trans topics)
  • Alongside the idea to stop routinely issuing the paper GRC, a general feeling that use of gender markers or gender-related titles on official documentation needs to be justified. (For example, the passport service probably need to keep including it to keep in line with international standards, but there is no reason for the DVLA to include it on driving licences) There is some need to monitor gender for equalities purposes, but this restricts questions about gender so equalities monitoring forms which are usually held only as generalised and anonymous data.
  • There is mixed feeling about the Equalities Act 2010 and although we recognise that it is not likely to be changed any time soon, some sort of monitoring of use of exceptions was considered a good idea.

I should stress at this point that effectively what we did was a brainstorming session: Do not expect to see all of the above in the plan when it comes out next year. Some ideas may be impractical once studied further but we were not going to get into the detail of every possible idea in the time available to us. As I understand it, the intention is to release the actual plan some time next year after further, more widespread and public, consultation. I would hope that such a plan can include more aspirational goals such as eventually updating the Equalities Act 2010 but I am not clear if such things are within its scope. What we’re more likely to see, in my opinion, is “quick wins” by changing existing civil service policy or monitoring procedures. Being Civil Service, there was a general requirement that any changes required a measurable outcome. I’m not sure how this would work in terms of more quality-of-life changes such as sorting out the requirement to divorce to get a full GRC, but I guess there are established solutions to such issues.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceAnd finally, there was discussion about consultation processes themselves and general communication with the community. One concept that came up briefly was the idea of “Consultation Fatigue” and this is certainly a danger as it can be quite draining to repeatedly get asked the same questions by the EHRC, the GEO etc. At the very least, it’s prone to promote frustration about too much talk and little action when it is largely a volunteer community doing the work and not people as part of their full time jobs. Another issue was the pressure for grass-roots organisations that revolve around email lists, forums and blogs to formalise into “proper” charities before groups, particularly the likes of NHS Specialist Commissioning Groups, will talk to them. Sadly, becoming a formal charity takes a significant amount of time away from actual activism and I don’t think the Trans community has the resources to sustain more than a very small number of such groups.


  1. Hi Zoe,

    Good to see you at that meeting…. 🙂

    I can’t really add any more than what you have said, apart from yes it is frustrating, but it’s something I’ve always been frustrated with, and that’s the ability to work together.

    We had people from what… 24 different organisations in there, and people went away from that meeting, many of them back home, some as far as Scotland never to possibly not do any more together on this. In addition some of the bigger organisations trans wise are already doing what they usually do, do their own thing and then if we are lucky let us know after.

    But that’s not good enough…

    I gave a brief run down at the spectrum meeting, well as much as i could do with chatham rules and there was 20 people there genuinely wanting to know more, input more, they had no idea what the transgender plan was and they wanted to give their input, so it could be fed back up.

    You and i know the bigger organisations won’t be consulting their members, they will let them know sometime after the fact, but we have 1000s of trans people out there, who sometimes just give up because they feel no one is listening to them, these are the people that are needed to expand on the themes we have identified, they need to have their voices heard. Why can’t we put together a survey, supported by as many organisations that shows the likes of the GEO that we need to be listened to, it’s achievable, why is there always barriers put up by people within the “community”.

    We have to change this, and it’s concerns me, it always concerns me that yes we may never have one voice that will ever be able to speak for us, and hell of course we shouldn’t… but by goodness we need to allow others, encourage and empower others to stand up and be heard with us…

    I am worried that this plan when it comes to be will not have addressed the issue of making sure it hears from enough people…. and that the plan will be a shadow of what it could be…. the chance to show the outside public that many of the issues are those we share with them, with the added hassles that trans people face, and that we put plans in place to work to get rid of stigma, discrimination and more, that’s what we should be striving with this work.

  2. Hi

    were a national transgender social enterprise charity who are not invited to attend these workshops sadly our input from grass roots was not to be included. Well we hope we can get involved at some point

  3. we were told by the GEO that there was not enough room at the meeting for any other groups to attend and that it was full. So why is people saying that there was not enough people to put there view accross. Typical

    1. Which charity are you from?

      I’ve not heard anyone comment that there were not enough people there to get views across, if anything I suspect too many more would have been problematic in the time given. (Longer would have been better, as always!)

  4. Hi

    I’m from the GIC Gender Identity Coalition were a realitivly new social enterprise trying to offer an umbrella service to transgender groups in the UK, run by transgender for the community as well as our sister charity Mix-T aGenders which covers the east midlands. Both us and Derbyshire friends were not invited and were told that there was not enough room from kevin.

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