For those not aware, or who are not Liberal Democrat party members, the thorny topic of accreditation (vetting) of LibDem conference attendees has cropped up again. This time round, Federal Conference Committee (FCC) is well aware of the sensitivities and has been asking for views from the wider party on the topic.
I won’t go into the civil liberties issues, as that’s been covered elsewhere. I have however been involved in another aspect of the process, that of accrediting transgender party members and by extension, to some extent also anyone else with an inconsistent or secret previous identity such as victims of domestic violence.
The chair of FCC, Andrew Wiseman, was kind enough to come and visit myself and Sarah Brown in Cambridge in Friday for a chat and to catch up on the current situation as a precursor to us both, along with Adrian Trett (LGBT+LibDems Chair) meeting with full FCC earlier tonight.
Sarah spoke first, and has blogged her take on it after which I filled in a few gaps myself. I mentioned that CRB check rates using the Trans process are half what we would expect, suggesting that Trans folk are put off by CRB-like processes and mentioned that special application processes with organisations like the CRB tend to go wrong. Even for those of us who are out, old names are like knowing the real names of daemons from mythology of old, as they give people emotional power over us we would rather they did not have.
Also, anyone with an inconsistent past faces requests for more information, which is off-putting and creates extra work as well as possibly causing people to run out of time before conference. (I know this happened to at least two non-Trans people)
We had a few questions from FCC members. Two stick in my mind – first discussion on the CRB process. This is not guaranteed to keep anonymity even if they get it right, as unaltered records of any previous offence can be sent to a potential employer, complete with old names on. Secondly, “How to Labour handle this”. The answer is simple – pretty much every Labour supporter I know, even if still a supporter of the party, quit their actual membership after the passage of the Gender Recognition Act 2004. It appears there are very few active and out Trans folk in the Labour party these days. They are also of course the party of ID Cards, so unsympathetic to privacy concerns even among their own members (FCC thought it unlikely the Tories had many Trans members – my experience suggests this may be incorrect, presumably because they haven’t had the chance to annoy the Trans community for most of the the last decade and a half)
Members of the FCC seemed surprised by the strength of what we’d said, based on tweets I’ve seen since. I guess one gets used to pointing out that many of us risk a violent death if we’re outed to the point that is loses its impact to us and just becomes a fact of life. To your average white, straight, cis (i.e. Non-trans) person of a non-military background, a breach of confidentiality means messing around sorting out unauthorised bank transactions, not dodging bricks through the window whilst sorting out new accommodation in another city. In that respect, I’m glad we live in Cambridge and not elsewhere, where life would not be so easy.
Things are heading in the right direction, but FCC do not have the final say given the involvement of the police. After tonight’s meeting they have put conference registration on hold to give them more time to sort things out with the police, so for now we wait…