Last night was the launch of Trans Media Watch’s Memorandum of Understanding with Channel 4, which for anyone used to Trans events would have seemed a little unusual, hosted as it was at Channel 4’s HQ in their James-Bond-esque underground bar and cinema. I do feel a little inadequate trying to explain the mood of the room and significance of the event as it really would need the eloquence of someone such as Laurie Penny to do it justice.

This was a novel event to be at because in recent years, when it comes to big LGBT events, I’m more used to standing outside waving a banner than being inside in the warmth with wine and canapés. But Trans Media Watch achieved something truly remarkable with this MoU, aimed to end transphobia in the media and promote more accurate, positive images of transgender people as a whole. As anyone who has been involved in Trans campaigning will know, we can be a very fractious and transient community so it’s good to finally have a cause that I believe everyone can rally behind.

We had several speeches not just from TMW, C4 and the BBC but also from a Government Minister (Yes, a Government Minister turned up and gave a speech about Trans issues at a Trans event organised by Trans folk! How cool is that?) and Channel 4 showed a few clips from “4thought”, a series of short vox pops that include trans folk and I understand will be going out during prime time some time soon.

It was good to finally meet up with many people I know from Trans campaigning that I have either not have the chance to meet or I have not seen for some time. As well as many people from Channel 4 and TransMediaWatch, we had Lynne Featherstone MP (LibDem, Minister for Equalities who gave a speech); Dru Marland and Richard Beard (Becoming Drusilla); Victoria Aitkin (Jason Costello, Hollyoaks); Juliet Jacques (Writes about her transition for the Guardian); David Allen Green (Lawyer, Journalist and Orwell Prize Judge, also gave a speech); Christine Burns MBE (“Just Plain Sense” podcast and co-founder of Press For Change); Dr Stuart Lorimer and Dr Leighton Seal (Charing Cross GIC); Roz Kaveney (Journalist, Author and ex-vice-chair of Liberty); Terry and Bernard Reed OBE (GIRES); Dr Richard Curtis (Transhealth); Dr Evan Harris (President of the LGBT LibDems); representatives from the Government Equalities Office and Scottish Governments; at least one person from the BBC (Who I understand will also be signing the MoU, if they haven’t already) and video clips from Caroline Lucas MP (Greens) and Julie Hesmondhalgh. (Hayley Cropper, Coronation Street). Apologies to anyone who was there who I’ve missed. There were enough people about that I’m sure I’ve neglected to mention someone significant!

And finally, two quotes from the event:
There is no good reason why, just because a Trans person is caught up in a story, it becomes newsworthy” – David Allen Green
This is game changing” – Everyone

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceI hope that these events will stop being unusual and the next time we all meet, it’s inside in the warm and not outside waiving banners.

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.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceAnd 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.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice“Will transsexuals destroy women’s sport?” is the second largest headline on the front of today’s Spectator Magazine – the largest, predictably, being in relation to the Comprehensive Spending Review. It’s not exactly a positive headline, for a start using “Transsexual” as a noun. For those unfamiliar with the territory don’t do it as it implies it is very othering – man, woman or transsexual? It also contributes to the erasure of trans-male identities in this case as the implication in the headline is that only Trans women exist.

Still, “Sure, if all the women athletes transition to become male, that could damage women’s sport” springs to mind as a humorous response to the front-page headline.

There is a copy of the copy of the Article online, but I fear you will need a paper version or subscription iPad/iPhone version to see the article in the context the editors unfortunately intended. It does improve a little on the contents as the article is billed as “Transsexuals on the track – A new divide in women’s sport”… well, it’s not new, really. Any slightly more positive spin on that page is undone by the photo of a female shot-putter with the caption “Gender games” under it. A shot-putter? Please.

Once we get free from the clutches of the magazine’s editors though, the article by Luke Coppen isn’t that bad. It’s jumping off point is the recent news about Lana Lawless, a Trans woman golfer, who has had to sue a US Golf Association over their Women-born-Women policy. It’s not too bad an article, starting off by listing the concerns of others – “enjoying the physical advantages of men” and then going on to deconstruct them.  It doesn a pretty good job of covering most of the well known (Within Trans circles) problems that the International Olympic Committee have had in trying to figure out who they should allow to compete… and the problem that as in this case, if a Trans woman does succeed, it’s clearly because she was “born male”, not actually because she’s a good athlete.

It’s shame this generally positive attitude is spoilt by one particular phrase in the last paragraph: “As long as there is a male-female division in sports, there will be people stealing across the border.” I’m not “stealing” across anyone’s border, thank you very much. And if anyone did try, I think they would be in for a rude awaking given that the penalty for transitioning when one shouldn’t is similar to not doing so when you need to – depression and suicidal thoughts.

There’s a reason for this post, other than just generally getting annoyed at the headline on the front page. Coppen’s article points out recent research shows that any advantage Trans Women have over cis-gendered wimen is lost after around a year on HRT. This is broady in line with current International Olympic Committee guideline that stipulates a 2 year gap between transition and competing in your aquired gender.

So, we return to our old friend, the Equality Act. Sadly, the sort of nonsense that’s happened in the US with this case could happen here too and it’s entirely possible someone in Lana’s position would lose the case because the act just makes vague references to “fairness” and “safety”. (If it’s not safe for someone to compete, regardless of gender, then you’re doing it wrong)

But if a random author of a magazine article can figure out that there’s no advantage to Trans Women (Where are the Trans Men?), why couldn’t the authors of the act figure out how to express it in terms that didn’t give anyone an excuse to discriminate indefinitely and justify it.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceIt’s been touted in a few places today that two Liberal Democrat owned domain names, and have been “hacked”. Until a couple of hours ago, those sites redirected to this Tuition Fees-related video on YouTube.

A few people did a quick lookup on the “whois” database for UK domains and found it apparently registered to Liberal Democrat HQ. Cue stories of the site either being hacked or it being an “inside job” by disgruntled staff.

A little digging reveals a much longer and less nefarious story. Firstly, we can look at the Google Cache of the page, which shows a link to a YouTube video of Gordon Brown. That’s pretty odd for an official party site.

To get further back we can jump onto the rather useful “Wayback Machine” to see a history of sites at that address. There, we find random sites attacking Surrey Police, going on about legal proceedings and anti-Gordon Brown attacks.

Despite the anti-Labour sentiment, it is pretty clearly not an official Liberal Democrat site.

In fact, it looks like it dates back to squabbles in what most people would regard as the “early days” of the Internet. One keen New Statesman reader found a story on The Register from May of 2001 that mentions some domain squatting going on and one reader registering the domain names supposedly “hijacked” today in retaliation.

The whois information states the domain was registered in August 2002 so it appears the initial registrant allowed it to lapse and someone else picked it up since. As for the registration details on the domain name, supposedly fingering the party itself? You can put whoever you want as the owner of a domain name. The details given are exactly what you get if you search for “Liberal Democrats” on Companies House and I don’t believe that’s a coincidence.

There is a reason you don’t put someone else’s details on your domain name, for the same reason you don’t put someone else’s name on your car registration documents – they can do things with it. Which looks like it has happened in this case, as the YouTube video has been removed and the site now goes to a holding page.

As of today, I am no longer a woman.

Today, I can be refused entry to a hospital that only operates single sex wards, despite being at a hugely increased risk of violence.

Today, I can be refused rape counselling, despite being at a hugely increased risk of sexual assault.

Today, I can be refused entry to sheltered accommodation, despite being at a hugely increased risk of domestic violence.

As of today, the Equalities Act comes into force and I am a “transsexual person”, despite holding a full Gender Recognition Certificate.

And if you think this can’t happen to you because you’re not transsexual? You don’t need to be, someone just has to believe you are – or claim to believe – and it’s perfectly legal.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceUpdated 3rd October 2010: For anyone not getting the point of the above, see this clarification post. There is also more background in my original Equalities Act post and the followup post from the same day.