I started this blog with a vague idea that I’d critique any new legislation with the specific question “Does this law increase liberty?” There’s more than one way of addressing liberty and the kind I’m talking about is not the kind of freedom you get in Texas where you can carry whatever firearms you like, but the kind where you have the freedom to go walking down a street in Cumbria or anywhere else free from the fear of being shot at. Personally, I think parliament should be morally obliged to discuss that question for every bill it passes and maybe as a blog idea it will work, maybe not; there hasn’t been time for any legislation yet so nothing to work on.

I’m sure you’ve already guessed why I’m writing this now, but the specific theme is Moral Panic: That’s in most Social Science 101 courses and it’s often the enemy of Liberty. At most points in history you don’t have to look far for an example and it looks like we have another one in the making, characterised as usual by misleading information in the press and misinformation is no friend of Liberty. Let us turn to the Daily Telegraph, who are either engaging in some selective quoting or needing new experts as apparently “If you have no criminal record, there is no reason you can’t have a rifle that can drop someone at a distance of two miles”.

I’d like to know which weapons he’s referring to, because the maximum effective range of a British Army Sniper Rifle is 1.4km (Just under a mile) and the too-heavy-to-carry-but-more-powerful American one a range of 1.8km, about 1.1 miles. That’s effective range: just because it can propel a bullet a couple of miles it doesn’t mean it’s going to go where you want it to even if you’re a good enough shot – which unless you’re in the armed forces or Olympic shooting team, you’re not going to be – and it’s not likely to have enough energy to do much in the way of damage when it gets there.

No doubt we’ll see more of this sort of thing and it’ll put the image in the public’s mind of someone picking off targets a couple of miles away with a high power sniper rifle, when Derrick Bird actually carried a .22, most likely a rimfire powerful enough to be suitable for picking off foxes and other wildlife at ranges measured in tens or low hundreds of meters. Myself, if someone came at me with even a military .22″/5.56mm weapon and a shotgun I’d be more scared of the shotgun. You’ll probably survive a hit from a 5.56mm bullet but a shotgun cartridge makes one big mess of anything you point it at: Just ask the doctors dealing with the victims in Cumbria.

But, and here’s the but, it’s also unlikely a Conservative government will take any significant action on shotgun ownership even with a lot of pressure from Liberal Democrats as they’re extensively used by farmers, who tend to be conservative voters. You don’t want to piss off large elements of your core vote, that tends to cause backbench revolts.

So, here’s my prediction: So far, there doesn’t appear to have been anything anyone could have noticed beforehand that would have caused concerns about his mental state and his holding of a firearms certificate and the government in power is not going to want to do much about shotgun ownership. So we’ll end up with a gun control bill that restricts ownership of weapons that were not the major problem in this incident and tighten up controls on getting a firearms certificate, but the new controls will be ones that Derrick Bird would probably have passed anyway. Anyone that votes against the bill will be labelled as pro-guns and thus some sort of gun-crazy right-wing loon.

We must do something about gun control.

This is something!

Ergo, we must do this…?

It seems this was picked up by some news places last week, but with more ambiguous wording – “eunuch” rather than “transsexual”. However, and I suspect largely as a result of a mostly positive and trans-friendly news piece by CNN it looks like it’s being picked up again and it came to my notice after Pink News picked it up.

I shall observe how this plays out with interest, in light of the recent Malawi incident. On the subject of Malawi, I suspect there was some agneda-pushing going on by gay-rights groups. I don’t know what the situation is in other countries, but certainly in the UK the trans aspect is often overlooked if some group (Stonewall, I’m looking at you) think they can score more political points by portraying a couple as gay rather than one of them as trans. There was a lack of newspapers-of-record actually reporting that Tiwonge is transsexual or at least regards herself as, well, herself with the only one, the New York Times, not exactly taking a particualrly trans-friendly tone. On the other hand, it’s exactly this sort of misreporting that may have gotten them out of jail – at least the new UK government seemed totally unaware that there was a transgender angle and was approaching it as purely a gay-rights issue.

Will the same international pressure and press coverage happen with Milak and Rani? Somehow, I doubt it. Admittedly, the statement that there was no wedding going on will not help in terms of campaigning internationally, but in terms of trans rights that’s not the point – regardless of what was happening they should never have been arrested, either for being gay or because one of them is transgendered. Sadly, the trans community just doesn’t have the same resources as the gay community: Big budgets, full time staff, many high-profile celebrities and the political contacts.

I live in hope, but it’s so far a folorn hope.

There’s a lot being written about the Digital Economy Act and Ofcom’s latest draft proposal – I’m not sure I have much to add to the debate except on the volume of people affected and how that might work out. Firstly, it appears based on figures for the userbase I have access to that in 2009, around 1 in 500 DSL lines would have ended up on the “Copyright Infringers List”. It’s mostly a home user issue, rather than businesss, so if we restrict it to households the figure appears to be closer to 1 in 300. That’s a surprisingly large number and means that, based on over 17 million broadband lines in the UK, thirty four thousand people could have their details handed over to the media industry under this proposal, even if the companies don’t increase their rate of reporting to ISPs. (Most ISPs at the moment either ignore the reports or just pass them on to the end user without taking any further action) I’m not sure if this figure just demonstrates the scale of the problem in terms of copyright infringment or in terms of the way the act is written but whatever happens, bulk justice is not justice. I’ve had the misfortune of having to defend something very trivial in comparison, a parking ticket, that due to apparent negligence by Islington Parking Services had ended up going to county court via “Bulk Processing” even though it had been appealed, several times by recorded delivery. All that’s required for such “bulk” justice is the applicant to say “We issued this person with X” and the court issues an order against someone, without the court ever sending anything to the defendant.

Are we to adopt a similar system for copyright bulk justice? 35,000 people suddenly finding they’re receiving court orders against them without ever having necessarily had anything before hand because someone messed up? Remember, these are the same people who accused a printer of online copyright infringement so we can’t trust they’re going to exercise due diligence.

Related to that last item about the printer, there’s also one particularly worrying statement in the Ofcom code“This list is based on the information currently produced by agents working on behalf of Copyright Owners. We believe that this matches the standard of evidence required by the courts in relation to civil proceedings by Copyright Owners for copyright infringement.” (Page 18) Either Ofcom have this wrong or the courts really need to insist on better “evidence” because we already know their current methods are far from robust, even if we assume that the bill payer is the infringer when they do get it right, when in fact it’s pretty unlikely.

But while that is going on there’s something else in the background that worries me, specifically related to behavoural advertising. The Office of Fair Trading have been looking into this and in a recent report (Warning: Large PDF) have suggested labeling adverts created based on users past behaviour. This is despite the fact that parlimentary committees have said it should only be used when a user explicitly consents. To my mind, labelling an advert as behaviorally-based is worse than not labelling it and this isn’t just Google-style adwords, showing adverts targeted to the site you’re on. These adverts follow you round after you’re left the site, even if you clear the browser history. Consider that many of the most vulnerable members of society rely on the internet to get help and information and aren’t likely to have the time or experience to research the issue. What happens if someone is living in an oppressive household – lets take a non-controversial example of someone who is the victim of domestic violence – and after having used the internet to research adverts start popping up for divorce lawyers. At the moment there is a degree of plausable deniability, after all I keep getting Google Adverts from the “Ad Council” even though I do not live in the US and have no interest in the public-service issues they’re pushing. Put a nice little icon in the corner of the adverts that lets someone know why that advert popped up and that it’s based on where you’ve just been and you’re potentially creating a lot of trouble for vulnerable people.

I ran across some numbers on the BBC and felt I should probably post them as they related to my last post.

They give counts rather than percentages and cover openly gay male MPs (Lesbians aren’t mentioned, I have theories as to why but that’s another topic) and work out at: (Quoting to 1 significant figure, as the numbers are low enough for it not to make much sense to quote more)

Of 306 Conservative MPs, 258 are Male. 10 are openly gay, which is 4%. (3.8% to 2 S.F.)
Of 258 Labour MPs, 177 are Male. 8 are openly gay, which is 4%. (4.5% to 2 S.F.)
Of 57 LibDem MPs, 50 are Male. 2 are openly gay that the BBC know of, which is 4%. (4.0% to 2 S.F.)

So it looks like parliament is pretty well balanced across the parties and reasonably close to representative of the population as a whole if government figures are accurate

Interestingly, the LibDems are only party that doesn’t produce stats on gay MPs. Not sure if that’s a privacy thing or just nobody ever got round to it? If the BBC missed someone that’s openly gay, we could be doing rather better than the other two parties. Conversely, it could be argued that the numbers are low enough any difference between the parties is just noise.

Anyone in the UK who has been following the news – and I suspect that’s a small number of people because if you’re not involved yourself, I don’t blame you if you’re sick to death of politics by now – will know there’s been a LibDem conference this weekend. I’ll point out the usual that’s been pointed out by many others before me now, which is that despite the best efforts of the press to portray the party as split over the deal it’s not. There is concern and trepidation about what might come to pass but we’ve got a good deal out of it and most people there recognised that.

Zoe O'Connell speaking at the Lib Dem's Special ConferenceBut the reason for my post is that I stood up to talk in an “intervention” slot. 30 people (Picked randomly from 110 who put their names down, so I was lucky) got to stand up to speak from the floor for 60 seconds. Those that have met me will know that I’m not great with social situations but for some reason, standing up in front of an audience of 2000 people that includes government ministers and the Deputy Prime Minister didn’t at the time seem like such a big deal. Despite the microphones and lights and cameras and being projected on a huge screen it’s oddly somehow more impersonal than knocking on the door of some stranger you’ll probably never see again and asking who they’re going to vote for. This is completely at odds with , who is supremely confident socially but thought standing up to talk was too much!

On to the reason I stood to talk. As with most people who stood up, it wasn’t to acclaim nor oppose the motion, but to make a point about policy that risked getting overlooked and in my case it was equality. Here’s what I said: (Emphasis is from my notes, so that I could emphasise the appropriate words when speaking)

Equality. It should not be a dirty word. It is a word we have heard here today when the press are not present, yet it does not appear in the coalition document. I do not have easy access to statistics on LGBT, ethnic and other power minorities being represented in the new parliament but certainly in terms of women, we are now third in equality behind the Conservatives.

It is unfortunate that much of the good effort in this area did not bear fruit on May 5th but against a possibly, in equality terms, dark background of a conservative-lead government, should we not lead from the front more in terms of public voice and policy rather than silently reinforcing a typically conservative and, as Lynne Featherstone said, “Male and Pale” cabinet and agenda.

Did it make a difference? I hope so, but sadly I don’t think people pay too much attention to the intervention speakers in general. You only get 60 seconds and you’re speaking from the floor, not the stage. This seems to make a difference in terms of how the audience view you, despite the fact that everyone looks as you on a huge screen in front of them rather than having to turn round to see you.

I’m not sure how I came across as I’m not used to public speaking and unfortunately it’s unlikely there’s any video. However, a couple of people did come up to me afterwards with positive comments particularly as I was one of the very few speakers who did not run over their 60 seconds and need to be cut short by the chair. We’d already had a DELGA representative propose an amendment to the motion reaffirm LGBT support plus Lynne Featherstone and the vice-chair of the Gender Equality group within the party speak on, unsurprisingly, gender equality in the parliamentary party.

What did strike me however was that I was the only speaker who pointed out that tackled equality as a whole and spoke for the fact we need to be more vocal publicly about it. The other speakers just mentioned their own area of concern and wanted to “reaffirm their commitment” to it rather than stating we need to, as politicans would have it, “get the message out there”. (Does the fact I spoke at a conference make me a politician now?)

I’d been offered the chance by Belinda Brooks-Gordon to be introduced to Lynne Featherstone after the conference but unfortunately there wasn’t much chance of finding people in the crowd. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to be meet to her soon as she could be a very interesting and useful person to know.

This seems to be creating quite a fuss – I’m not sure why though. I’m not going to get too wound up if some computer system only lets me choose Miss or Mrs, but labelling an initiative to get rid of it as “political correctness gone mad” seems a bit… patriarchal.

OK, so it’s a deliberately tabloid attention-grabbing headline, but I don’t think they realise what they’re doing with this story.

As an ISP, this disturbs me greatly. We have customers that pay for bandwidth and the BBC are using that bandwidth? And did they bother to consider the fact that DDoS and spam attacks can have an detrimental effect on networks in the middle as well as their “willing” targets. The full BBC article makes it clear they just purchased an existing botnet from someone online, but supply and demand means this will just stimulate the botnet economy. The BBC even report themselves on the link between organised crime and botnet herders – fraud, blackmail, all that sort of thing. This isn’t just scare tactics, it’s part of my day job to deal with the fallout from such things so I’ve seen it first-hand.

And just because they didn’t have “criminal intent” it doesn’t make it legal – they freely admit to multiple violations of the computer misuse act.

g3 Magazine, a free magazine for gay/bi women mentioned the whole S’onewall/Bindel thing in their December 2008 edition. (Ed’s letter on page 5 and Bindel’s piece on page 98) Bindel’s piece is the usual stuff, but I thought I’d correct some of the editors misconceptions and wrote them a quick letter…

I guess I’m not the first person to mail g3 about this and I’m sure I won’t be the last. This isn’t a comment on Julie’s piece – Julie is a lost cause as far as I’m concerned – but rather about the comments in “Ed’s letter”.

Yes, many of us there did have better things to do with our time and certainly I for one don’t think Stonewall should explicitly include T in their mandate. However, so much of homophobia and transphobia is linked as an attack by the privileged majority on those perceived to transgress the gender norms. In that regard, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a champion of diversity such as Stonewall to be an ally. How are we supposed to fight transphobia in the wider world when even those we would like to think of as our allies don’t get it?

As well as the 2004 article for which she only apologised for the tone of, I’m sure Stonewall were aware of the 2007 Radio 4 hecklers debate she appeared in, proposing the motion that “Sex change surgery is unnecessary mutilation” and her 2008 piece objecting to unisex toilets at the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.

Despite all that, this was never about Julie, even if she’d like to think it was. She has a right to free speech, we just don’t think Stonewall should have nominated someone so opposed to diversity and this made it more likely that her work will continue to be published.

It’s been done elsewhere (Including on my journal!) but here’s a roundup of press coverage and a selection of blog enties from people who where at the protest. Many thanks to everyone who turned up – there were 150 of us in the end!

I should point out that some of the articles rather unfairly give us credit for organising the demo – we didn’t, we just did a few press releases. Natacha deserves the credit for organising things with the police and Queer Youth Network were also instrumental in publicity and getting people to turn up.

Original Press Releases

News Stories


Other blogs from people who were there

Other items of note

Issued: 7th November 2008
The London Transfeminist Group

Around 150 protesters turned up outside the Stonewall awards at the V&A yesterday to take part in what is believed to have been the largest trans rights demo ever to have taken place in the UK. Activists from transsexual, transgender and queer organisations as widespread as London, Liverpool and Manchester held the noisy but peaceful protest against Stonewall’s refusal to withdraw their nomination of Julie Bindel for Journalist of the Year, a journalist known for her anti-trans opinions and writings.

“It was great to see so many people turn up to this event”, said one organiser, “particularly when the larger transsexual organisations have refused to support us or give us any publicity. The event went peacefully which was good to see and the police even commented on how well behaved everyone was. Many of the people attending the event seemed genuinely surprised at the protest and were happy to talk, take leaflets and ask questions. This should make organisations like Stonewall sit up and take notice – if you trample on trans rights, you will get called out on it very vocally and very publicly.”.

Contact: Zoe O’Connell

Notes to editor

1. Previous press release announcing the protest available at http://www.transfeminism.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=44&Itemid=1

2. Press reports (http://www.pinknews.co.uk/news/articles/2005-9517.html) state that Dr Miriam Stoppard won Journalist of the Year although the winners list had not been published officially by Stonewall at the time of writing.

3. A copy of the leaflet handed out is available at http://www.transfeminism.org.uk/Stonewall.pdf and photos of the event at http://www.transfeminism.org.uk/stonewall/