Coming back from holiday last weekend, I flew from Las Vegas airport. I was constantly misgendered, but this really doesn’t surprise me or bother me. I was returning from a canyoneering holiday in Zion, Utah and wearing dark Jeans, combat boots, carrying a DPM backpack and, in an effort to get bumped to an exit aisle (as has happened on the way out) a green British Army T-Shirt. Whilst I had no problems before as I fitted right in back in Springdale’s outdoor shops and cafés, this was somewhat in contrast to the majority of the female population of the airport who tended to be scantily clad in deference to the heat at the lower altitude of Las Vegas and given that they had presumably spent some time in the shops, bars and casinos of Las Vegas decked out in fashion and jewelery more appropriate to tackling a catwalk, not a canyon or muddy assault course. Generally in the UK, gender ambiguity is less of an issue because if someone is uncertain they just avoid use of gender but the Americans seem to be fixated on calling everyone “Sir” or “Madam”. “Sir” is of course the default, because women don’t generally mind but calling a man “Madam” might somehow impinge his masculinity. This is of course because no woman could ever fight in the army or do hardcore outdoor sports…

Approaching Security at terminal 2, I saw one of them new-fangled Full Body Scanners which are apparently in American airports optional. It seems that in this case, they might be optional but you’re strongly encouraged to use them anyway as they have rope barriers that funnel you away from the metal detectors. When I tried to head for the metal detector, I was herded by staff back towards the full body scanner largely I suspect because they only had one person manning the metal detector – a bloke. I would guess blokes are not allowed to “pat down” women. Personally I don’t mind either way if it’s a bloke or a woman doing it – helps if they’re cute of course but sadly uniforms aren’t my thing!

The scanning process is quite quick and as I’d seen promised before these things went live, the operator who can see the image isn’t present on the floor but communicates with staff by radio and this is where the system breaks down if you’re transgendered. For some reason the image the operator sees isn’t live – you have to wait in a queue of two once you’ve been through the machine and there are designated spots you have to stand on so they don’t mix you up. When you get to the front of the queue, the security officer hears something through their earpiece, replies and waves you on. In my case, the officer said “copy on the female”.

Big oops. I have no idea if the radio procedure is formally documented or if it’s just come about by habit, but there’s clearly going to be a problem that occurs here if someone outwardly passes perfectly and is very femme/masculine. I don’t think the agent would have been particularly confused if the operator had misgendered me, although I’d have been somewhat pissed off. However, if some typical hungover stag-do victim happens to be a transman or one of the more dainty waifs a pre-op transwoman, I can see some major security panic happening as they’ll think people have got out of order. Resolving this is likely to be terribly embarassing to the transperson concerned, particularly if they’re with friends to whom they’re not “out”. It could even be a life-changing incident.

Update: Apparently at the same time, terminal 1 were only using the body scanners on about 1 in 3 people, due to lack of capacity to scan everyone.

I wrote a relatively quick note to the BBC to point out the bias in their coverage of the Malawi incident. Below is the reply I received a couple of days ago. (The “reports carried by other media outlets” was a link to the New York Times) The original story hasn’t been changed and still mentions the “gay men“, a story published after I wrote to the BBC makes the same mistake and the language in the first full paragraph below, “one of the men”, is particularly disappointing. It looks as if they really do not “get it”.

Thanks for your e-mail.

I understand you feel our coverage of the conviction, and subsequent pardon of two gay men in Malawi has failed to acknowledge that one of the men, Tiwonge Chimbalanga, is transgender.

While I can’t comment upon reports carried by other media outlets, such as the one you link in your complaint, I can confirm that we’re committed to reporting all stories in an accurate, balanced and informative manner. We seek neither to promote nor denigrate any point of view and aim simply to report the relevant facts and allow our audience to make up their own minds.

I acknowledge your strong sentiments on this matter however, and with your complaint in mind I’d like to take this opportunity to assure you that I’ve recorded your comments onto our audience log. This is an internal daily report of audience feedback which is circulated to many BBC staff including senior management, producers and web editors.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks once again for taking the time to contact us.

Sadly, this response is not atypical. Lynne Featherstone, Junior Minister for Equality, did not respond to comments on her blog about the issue when she made the same mistake beyond saying “thanks for all the information”. She did later make a post on Gender Identity and Human Rights which is welcome publicity for the issue, but I have to say the pretext of the post – that she was sending a “message of support” to a transgender conference – was rather thin at best. It would perhaps have been better to ensure the UK government was just as involved in the case of the Pakistani couple jailed because one of them is trans to show active partcipation rather than just messages of support. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Pakistani case where the transgender element was reported from the outset, did not attract the same coverage as gay issues.

I wonder how many trans people were at the Downing Street reception last night? Not many, I suspect – quite possibly none in fact. On the plus side, Terry and Bernard Reed picked up a well-deserved OBE in the Queen’s Birthday list.

In order of circulation, we’ll start with the largest which is of course The Sun who appear to have nothing to say at all. This isn’t surprising, being a right-wing tabloid, although they may just not have much on the web site – they seem to be short on news on the topic overall.
The Daily Mail, somewhere between broadsheets and tabloids and right wing has a short piece just saying there are calls for a review, so pretty neutral. Interesting they state they believe Derrick Bird didn’t spend time in prison following his theft conviction, the Mirror (below) state he spent 12 months inside. Mostly, they focus on why it took so long to stop Bird. Of course, he was never stopped – he killed himself when under no threat from police from what’s been reported – and if you look at other killing sprees it’s typical for them to end after many hours by suicide of the gunman so the police don’t appear to have been in any way lax.
The Daily Mirror is the other big-circulation tabloid and more left wing. It carries three pieces, two op-eds by “Voice of the Mirror” and another by Paul Routledge who asks “…why does anybody need to own…a high-powered sniper’s rifle?”. Derrick’s weapon was a .22, which is hardly “high powered” and the fact it’s fitted with a scope is irrelevant – anyone can buy and fit a scope. I’ve even put one on my low-powered doesn’t-need-a-firearms-certificate air rifle that I shoot paper targets with from 35m. Their final piece, the source of the 12 months in prison I mentioned above, is a fairly neutral statement of current laws. 12 months seems like an odd period of time to spend inside as I believe prisoners are usually let out early. Perhaps he had a 12 month sentence and it’s not clear how much of it he actually served? It’s not above most tabloids journalistic integrity to be lax with checking the facts in cases like this.
The Daily Star spend significant screen space on alleration in their main piece but only a very short piece on gun control, a faimilar theme developing amongst the right wing tabloids. That they need to put the quotes in More “news” here… at the bottom of the page is telling in itself.
We start on the broadsheets with The Telegraph, who have a longer piece which is predictably, being a right wing paper, fairly neutral. No obvious factual errors either, which is as would be expected from a newspaper of record… except for that fact that their mistaken expert sparked my interest in blogging about this in the first place.
Another right wing middle-market paper, The Diana Express… sorry, The Daily Express, breaks from the trend of other right wing papers in being somewhat more aggressive in it’s writeup, having found a random squaddie to say the laws should be tougher and there should be yearly psychological assessments, something which it probably completley impractical.
As anyone following the news will know, The Times is now behind a “pay-wall” so I’ve no idea what they think as is The Financial Times, although the latter appears not to cover the story in much detail. Similary, the Scottish Daily Record doesn’t go into as much depth as other papers for obvious reasons.
Then we come to the significantly more left-wing Guardian at number ten in the circulation figures. Being left wing, it is predictably saying the law isn’t tough enough and describes the .22 as “high calibre”. Perhaps it’s different for civilians, but from the small amount of military experience I have I’d regard anything in the .22/5.56mm range as small calibre. 7.62mm (0.3″) would be high calibre. It’s disappointing to see LIb Dem MP John Pugh fall into the trap of referring to the two weapons as a “formidable and devastating arsenal” when we don’t know for sure what the .22 was yet and even if we did, it’s hardly a “formidable arsenal”. If it is, perhaps my trips out on military training areas with a single SA-80 count as going around with a “small arsenal” and shooting paper targets in the back garden with an air rifle is considered “well armed”.
Those are the top ten, with The Independent falling just outside that at number eleven. I would include them too except they seem quite on the issue.

So, overall it appears there may not be much pressure to tighten up gun control laws, which is surprisingly not what I expected. Most papers seem to be running with “we already have some of the toughest laws in the world” and focusing, unfairly I think, on the police response to the shootings.

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.