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.
And 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.