Christine Burns interviewed Julie Bindle this week, in a long-planned interview – very topical given recent controversy. The initial chat wasn’t about the Stonewall nomination controversy, but it hints at it – at about seven and a half minutes in she says that she doesn’t set out to be controversial only to start debate and doesn’t necessarily stand by things she’s said in the past.

At eveven minutes, half way though, the conversation turns to recent events and she explains her position – classic 1960s and 1970s “Second wave feminism“. In her own words, she’d like to see an “end to gender” and it’s this key point that means second wave feminism and the transsexual movement are never going to see eye-to-eye. Second-waveists believe gender is socially constructed but we’re rude enough to disprove their argument by our mere existence. She also still believes that psychiatrists from the 1950s until very recently used a diagnosis of transsexualism to offer a surgical solution to anything that was seen as gender-inappropriate, thus defending gender. Amusingly, she later tries to claim that she wasn’t misinformed but just holding a different opinion when Christine challenged her with a quote from Stuart Lorimer, a psychiatrist at London’s Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic, that she was “spectacularly misinformed”. I would suggest that if she thinks one might accidentally get a diagnosis of GID when going to the GPs, that she has a look at what most people have to go through to get the diagnosis, hormones and surgery in the first place. If you’re not desperate and already know what’s wrong, you’re not going to get anywhere!

According to Press For Change, Julie said a “very clear sorry for things she agrees she had got wrong”. I didn’t hear that apology myself – she chose her words carefully and apologised for the tone in which she said things that might have caused offence and promoted more discrimination but I didn’t get any more from it than that. Whilst I agree with PFC that she has opened the door for more dialogue I’m not sure this is really that positive as she claims to just be misunderstood and wants to clarify and defend her position, which she’ll do in writing soon. She’d like a “heated debate” but not a “heated argument” but I get the impression she will pick her adversaries very carefully – it’s clear the recent controversy has gotten to her and she attacked those that had “closed the door in her face” while saying that others such as Christine and Stephen Whittle had engaged with her. I don’t believe she understands the position we feel we’re in, as she’s a columnist for the Guardian and we’re… well, not. She even goes so far as to acknowledge herself that writing a column like that gives her immense power. Given that she is on one extreme, it would seem reasonable for her to openly engage with the other “extreme” – the bloggers and others who are angry about her nomination – rather than the more “moderate” and conservative old-guard of the trans activism community such as Stephen and Christine.

Most people are probably aware by now of the fuss over the well-known lesbian feminist and transphobe Julie Bindel being nominated for a Stonewall award. There’s a lot of anger in the community over this, understandably. With the Bitch protest earlier this year and also the Zucker/Royal Society of Medicine protest, there was a sense of “This is the kind of thing we need to make our voices heard over” but we understood that largely it was education that was the problem – we were there mostly to make the organisers sit up and notice the trans community and take our views into account. It’s notable that these aren’t “organised” events in the standard sense. There’s no political lobby group trying to score points behind it all and the only coordination was someone letting the police know there would be a bunch of people handing out leaflets outside the RSM (So they could come and babysit) and someone actually knocking up a few of those leaflets to hand out.

There was nowhere near the level of anger there has been over the Stonewall awards, because it was recognised that these organisations were not involved in LGBT politics. But this is bigger, far bigger, than the previous two demos, largely because Stonewall should have known better. The trans community has long been uneasy about Stonewall (Witness the “Some people are trans, stonewall need to get over it” posters at Pride London 2008) and these awards have generated multiple spontaneous groups arranging protests, including people organising group trips via a hired coach from places like Manchester – it would be pretty hard to argue that there’s anything but solid grass-roots support for a protest against Stonewall.

The Gender Trust then joined in the fight. Lunchtime yesterday, they posted a newsletter in which they wrote Julie Bindel has “…publicly stated views on the care and treatment of trans people which the Trust considers are seriously transphobic”. They continue: “The Gender Trust opposes this nomination which it considers is inappropriate for an organisation such as Stonewall, which holds to the principle of acting to overcome prejudice and discrimination” and close by urging everyone to write to Ben Summerskill, the Stonewall Chief Executive, “as soon as possible… to stop this pernicious attempt to reward an individual who undermines the lives and needs of the transgender community.”

All good stuff. But it didn’t last. Just before 8pm tonight, another newsletter appeared. Apparently, it would be “churlish” (They like their long words, don’t they? I had to look that one up to check it meant what I thought it did) to protest further because of “reassurances given”. Stonewall apparently claimed they “stood foursquare with the trans community in fighting transphobia” and “nominations had had to meet criteria which related to the work that a nominee had been involved in during the preceding year”, so prior work of Bindel’s wasn’t taken into consideration. That’s a pretty fine line to walk, given that the anti-trans-themed debate on Radio 4 that Julie Bindel herself proposed and claimed was “her mission” took place in August 2007 – 14 months ago. But wait, 30 seconds with my web browser and I find an article about this years Lesbian and Gay Film Festival where Julie Bindel whines about the very trans-inclusive policy of the organisers of having unisex toilets. The date? 10th April, 2008. I don’t think I need to start counting pages on the calendar to figure out that’s less than a year ago.

Julie is someone that the NUS LGBT voted this year to refuse to share a platform with, because her views were so blatantly transphobic. (As far as I’m aware, she’s the only person to have that honour. She was certainly the only one to have a motion to that effect even proposed in 2008)

I, for one, am calling the Gender Trust out on this. Why have they so quickly done a U-Turn and sold out the community they are supposed to be representing? One can only assume politics are involved somehow. Someone knows someone, or someone put pressure on someone on the Gender Trust board and they turned their back on the community they were supposed to be helping over the one issue that has the community the most incensed it’s been since I’ve been a part of it – and all without doing any basic research on the issue at all.

It’s clear there’s a growing grass-roots movement against many organisations that inadvertantly act transphobically. It’s sad that it seems that the “grass roots” are also turning against many of these groups that claim – but fail – to represent us.

Many people who read this are probably aware of what’s become known as the “Toiletgate incident“. That’s not my name for it but it fits – it’s not so much the event itself that has people annoyed, but the subsequent apparent “coverup”. I don’t believe it was a cover up, I just thing the Police can sometimes be really clueless about community relations. Maybe that’s just me, I’m a fan of Hanlon’s razor and I tend to assume people are just a bit dim-witted rather than malicious… probably to a fault.

Anyway, as a result of the incident there was a public meeting last night with Commander Steve Allen, who is in charge of the City of Westminster police. I deal with the police semi-routinely as part of my job working for a communications provider – I nearly ended up having to take the stand in a high-profile terrorism case recently, but things changed at the last second and I didn’t need to. One impression I was left with from dealing with the police over that incident is that they have a very particular view of the world. I regard myself as somewhat of a liberal whereas the view of officers involved in fighting terrorism is decidedly anti-liberal – one police officer involved complained that his job would be much easier if Microsoft put back doors in Windows so they could easily decrypt data. Needless to say, that’s not a view I share. Because of that I went in to last night’s meeting perhaps not with a negative frame of mind, but not expecting that much would change as a result – lots of high level platitudes and promises to do things but no real action. I felt that Steve Allen actually wanted to make a difference on the ground, even quoting Emerson – “What you do speaks so loud, that I cannot hear what you say.” That was unexpected so I came away with a positive feeling from the meeting overall – I may be unusual in that however, as the general vibe I’ve had is that other people weren’t so happy. That positive feeling doesn’t mean I think the police have got it right – yet – but at least they’re trying.

Many versions of the events of that afternoon have circulated and I don’t think we were going to agree on a single version of events last night – if you have 30 witnesses to an event you’ll get 30 versions of the truth and all that – but it was still interesting to hear from people what happened face-to-face as one gets a better impression than on the Internet and a few gaps were filled in for me. I’ll mention any bits that there appears to be some dispute over – much of it everyone seems agreed on however.

After Pride, went to use the ladies at Trafalgar Square and was refused entry by a steward from an external stewarding company and told she had to use the disabled toilets instead. (Pride said that the stewarding company invovled are one of the better ones and if it had been most of the other ones, it would have been “A lot worse”. That’s… not encouraging) We now know this decision (Which is illegal, for those who aren’t clear about it!) was taken as “Health and Safety” decision – Paul, the chair of Pride, confirmed this – although it’s not clear who took that decision. (I.e. Pride staff or someone working for the stewarding company) The implication was it was someone working for Pride but this wasn’t confirmed. This decision was taken because a transwoman was assaulted by a bloke in the ladies a while before, although we don’t have any information on what exactly took place and how on earth a decision to exclude trans people from the appropriate toilets arises from that event confuses the hell out of me but I’ve seen the most bizarre things defended on the grounds of health and safety before – including a doctors surgery that refused to allow in pushchairs because of H&S and when I asked about wheelchairs said they were banned too. Because of hygene. (We changed GPs at that point)

After this event Roz, understandably a little miffed, went away and came back with a number of other trans people, who stood outside the toilet with the placards that they still had from the march. It seems that the steward at the toilets got on the phone to someone else and said they were being “attacked by a bunch of trannies” or words to that effect. Quite quickly (Based on the fact the LGBT liason officer was coming out of the toilets when he saw the situation – I guess it hadn’t started when he went in) a more senior steward became involved, spoke to Roz and relented, letting her use the ladies.

At this point, versions of events get a little more woolly. The press release put out by the police after the incident implied that “inappropriate language” was used by the trans community and that a steward was barged up against the wall. The version of events I’m more inclined to believe and one that is apparently supported by CCTV evidence (I’ve not seen the CCTV footage myself and I’m not sure anyone outside the police has) is that the inappropriate language was used by the stewarding staff or some other non-trans person and that the steward wasn’t barged but jumped back because some barrier came down. (I’m not clear on what this barrier was or is or why it came down) I don’t know if all these events happened before Roz went into the toilet, while she was in there or after or indeed if it happened before or after the off-duty police officer – also an LGBT liaison officer – came out of the toilet. At some point however, it seems the police officer threatened to arrest people for an unauthorised demonstration (Even the stewards had not asked people to leave at this point) and also in conversation with Roz told her that she needed a Gender Recognition Certificate to use the toilets.

That’s only going to get peoples backs up. Firstly, the historical view is that if a transperson reports a crime, particularly a transphobic one, that they’re more likely to end up in a police cell than the perpetrators. One would hope that’s just historical, but threatening to arrest people who are peacefully demonstrating against an illegal act, albeit a civil rather than criminal one, that’s still taking place (And I believe it’s widely accepted that was happened was clearly and 100% illegal) is really going to reinforce that historical view. made the point that as a result of what happened here, trans people are again less likely to report transphobia, for fear that even if an LGBT liaison officer turns up that they’ll side with those committing the offence. The GRC thing is another sore point – I was sceptical when I first heard about the act and I’ve since heard I’m not the only one and the sceptics amongst us have at least partially been vindicated. There have been stories of banks, building societies and employers refusing to change people’s names on records until they can produce a GRC, which is most definitely not what the GRC is about – you have to have fully transitioned for two years before you can even apply for one! And it’s a piece of legislation that the trans community fought for to improve our rights and so that we don’t have to “out” ourselves with old birth certificates, not something that we would expect to be turned around and used against us like this to deny rights we already had. (I think even asking someone if they have a GRC is dodgy, legally, but I haven’t checked that out)

This, I think, is where Steve Allen got it very, very badly wrong. The press release the next day said that he backed up the actions of the officer involved. What I think he should have said and probably what he actually meant was that he backed up the intentions of the officer involved, but should have quickly acknowledged that he’d made a mistake – due to lack of diversity training – about the actual actions. Steve Allen did make the point that if that one officer got it wrong, he can hardly tell that officer off because the chances are every other officer would have got it wrong too and that’s the big issue – lack of awareness. It seems that the situation should have been referred up the chain of command to the officer in charge on the day, but that didn’t happen and that was a failing on behalf of the police they were willing to admit to.

About half an hour after these events happened and everyone had left, it appears the stewards reinstated their “no transwomen in the ladies” policy. As a result of this, one transwoman ended up in the blokes loos, where she was sexually assaulted. A friend of hers was there last night but she herself wasn’t and as far as I’m aware she hasn’t said anything publicly, so details are thin on the ground and understandably if she doesn’t want to come forward, things have to remain confidential. Pride London weren’t aware of that incident prior to yesterday and Steve Allen couldn’t find the details on the police computers so not much has happened as a result, but he did give his business card to the victim’s friend so they can forward on the details. The victim did receive a letter from the police saying that an investigation was underway so we know it was definitely reported correctly adn the letter will have the reference numbers on it that Steve Allen can use to find out the details. My guess is that the he coudln’t find it on the computer because the incident wasn’t recorded as trans-related, which in itself is concerning.

The mess didn’t end there, although most of the rest of it just goes to show how slow and rumbling a large corporation like the police can be and how they can really stick their foot in it without even trying. There was a conversation between Roz and the police, and it was mutually agreed that it would be handled at a local level and that the police would revise their training as a result of the incident – at the time, everyone who went seemed if not happy with the outcome, at least placated. However, the Met were under pressure to publicly release something quickly to try to assure people that something was happening and although Commander Steve Allen’s letter was run past an internal LGBT group who look at such things, the revised version – which removed much of the content that annoyed people – didn’t make it back to him until after it had been sent out. The release just served to add fuel to a fire that might otherwise have died out of it’s own accord.

The general feeling in the meeting was anger, mostly at Pride and the Met for the misleading press releases which they hadn’t up until then apologised before. I don’t think much was said that addressed that anger, because it seemed like they just weren’t getting it. Amazingly, there was a transwoman with Paul, the chair of Pride, who stood up and tried to say that we were all getting uptight about something very minor. Of all people, as a transwoman, I’d have thought she’d have got it but she really, really didn’t and was probably worse than anyone else in her attitude! (The reaction of others in the meeting was immediate and vocal – she sat down again very quickly) It’s not just that Roz was refused access. It’s that it happened at Pride of all places. And it’s not just that she was refused access, but that the police backed up the steward and threatened to arrest trans people. And not just that the police did that, but that the officer involved was an LGBT liaison officer who of all people should have known better. And not just that, but that a press release a few days later implied that the trans community was at fault.

That’s not minor. When a minority group can’t talk to the police without fear of being arrested or publicly vilified by them, who can we turn to?

Steve Allen said he’d get something out by 1000 today, but I haven’t seen anything – I don’t know who it will have been sent to however. And I hope this time it gets run past the internal LGBT group…