State Opening of ParliamentI noticed a couple of the usual outlets today reporting that the Queen’s speech included measures to protect LGBT+ people. So I went to check the text – and that’s not quite what it says:

My government will make further progress to tackle the gender pay gap and discrimination against people on the basis of their race, faith, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

That is a half-complete list of the protected characteristics from the Equality Act 2010. The complete list is race, faith, gender, disability, sexual orientation, age, marriage/civil partnership, pregnancy/maternity and gender reassignment.

I can understand why some of these might not be included if the topic is employment protections – but the exclusion of gender reassignment given the track record of both the DUP and some (not all, thankfully) of the Conservative Party on these issues is worrying. I hope this is merely an oversight, but it seems worthwhile keeping a close eye on any legislation that comes forward during this parliament, to make sure it is fully inclusive.

It would be very easy for someone to slip through legislation that misses or even penalises trans people while parliament is busy dealing with Brexit.

 

Update: I have now received a copy of the briefing notes for the Queen’s Speech, and whilst they do include trans-related provisions they are all in the past tense. There does not appear to be anything in here for LGB people, let alone T+!

LGB&T Equality

• We have established a £3 million programme from 2016 to 2019 to prevent and address homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools.

• To support transgender equality we have increased investment in Gender Identity Services and issued new guidance to prisons on the treatment and management of transgender offenders.

 

Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament – yes, I know it’s a photo from the wrong year but free-to-use ones aren’t up yet

It will come as no surprise to anyone following the results that no trans members of parliament were elected yesterday, as despite the shock over the overall result relatively few seats actually changed hands. However, a record number of people standing (9) also means some record results – yesterday saw three trans candidates gaining second place. The last time a trans candidate at a parliamentary level reached second place was also the first known trans parliamentary candidate, Alexandra “Sandra” MacRae, who stood for the SNP in 1992.

General elections are predominantly national rather than local campaigns, and the fates of trans candidates have followed those of their party colleagues standing elsewhere – Labour up but with limited gains, Liberal Democrats slipping slightly in non-target seats and the Greens struggling to make an impact.

Liberal Democrats Helen Belcher
Chippenham
2nd place, 25.6% (-3.8%)
Majority: 29.1%
Green Party Aimee Challenor
Coventry South
5th place: 1.3% (-2.6%)
Labour Sophie Cook
East Worthing & Shoreham
2nd place, 39.3% (+19.8%)
Majority: 9.3%
Green Party Andrew Creak
Caerphilly
(Non-Binary)
6th place, 1.1% (-1.2%)
Liberal Democrats Charley Hasted
Swansea East
(Non-Binary)
5th place, 1.8% (-2.4%)
Green Party Dom Horsman
North West Durham
5th place, 1.1% (-2.6%)
Green Party Lee-Anne Lawrance
Runnymede and Weybridge
(Non-Binary)
5th place, 2.6% (-1.5%)
Zoe OConnell Liberal Democrats Zoe O’Connell
Maldon
3rd place, 4.3% (-0.1%)
Labour Heather Peto
Rutland & Melton
2nd place, 22.7% (+7.3%)
Majority: 40.1%

 

Photo sources – not all Creative Commons. Please check before reuse:
Helen Belcher, Charley Hasted: Liberal Democrat candidate promotional literature.
Aimee Challenor: CC BY-SA 3.0, credit Green Party of England and Wales.
Sophie Cook: Labour party candidate promotional literature.
Dom Horsman, Lee-Anne Lawrance: Provided by the candidates for use on this blog.
Zoe O’Connell: CC BY-SA 3.0, credit Zoe O’Connell.

And so, with polls closing in the last set of elections less than a week ago it is time for another election – 4pm today was the deadline for candidates in the upcoming General Election to get their nomination papers in.

This year’s local elections saw relatively few openly trans candidates with only three people putting their names forward, and no winners. That might seem relatively few, but county elections often produce a different crop of candidates to district councils and three was at least an improvement on the last set of council elections, 2013, in which no known trans people stood.

Against that background, and given this was a snap election in which parties would have less time to ensure a diverse slate of candidates, it would not have been surprising to find fewer openly trans candidates standing than in 2015.

But politics at the moment is defying expectations, and trans candidates are no exception with a record of six eight nine trans and non-binary people nominated – four Green, three Liberal Democrats and two Labour. This compares well to four in 2015 and none in 2010.

As ever, if you know of anyone I have missed (and you are certain they are out!) please do let me know.

Liberal Democrats Helen Belcher
Chippenham
Swing required:
9.1% (2015)
-3.9% (2010 – held seat)
Green Party Aimee Challenor
Coventry South
Swing required:
19.2% (2015)
20.2% (2010)
Labour Sophie Cook
East Worthing & Shoreham
Swing required:
15.0% (2015)
15.9% (2010)
Green Party Andrew Creak
Caerphilly
(Non-Binary)
Swing required:
21.0% (2015)
No Green candidate in 2010
Liberal Democrats Charley Hasted
Swansea East
(Non-Binary)
Swing required:
24.5% (2015)
16.6% (2010)
Green Party Dom Horsman
North West Durham
Swing required:
21.6% (2015)
No Green candidate in 2010
Green Party Lee-Anne Lawrance
Runnymede and Weybridge
(Non-Binary)
Swing required:
27.8% (2015)
27.3% (2010)
Zoe OConnell Liberal Democrats Zoe O’Connell
Maldon
Swing required:
28.1% (2015)
20.3% (2010)
Labour Heather Peto
Rutland & Melton
Swing required:
20.1% (2015)
18.5% (2010)

 

Photo sources – not all Creative Commons. Please check before reuse:
Helen Belcher, Charley Hasted: Liberal Democrat candidate promotional literature.
Aimee Challenor: CC BY-SA 3.0, credit Green Party of England and Wales.
Sophie Cook: Labour party candidate promotional literature.
Dom Horsman, Lee-Anne Lawrance: Provided by the candidates for use on this blog.
Zoe O’Connell: CC BY-SA 3.0, credit Zoe O’Connell.

Unsurprisingly – given there were only three candidates standing versus ten last year – none of the openly trans candidates were successfully elected on Thursday.

I will be posting my list of General Election candidates after the nominations close on 11th May, and the notices of poll have been published.

Labour Sam Feeney
Cambridgeshire, St Ives North & Wyton
3rd place: 17.3% (New boundaries, so no %age change)
Mridul Wadhwa
Edinburgh, Craigentinny/Duddingston
6th in a 4-member division, 6.3% of first preference votes
Alex Bear
Derbyshire, Ripley East and Codnor
4th place: 2.2% (+2.2%)

There was hand-wringing piece in the Independent yesterday about an Essex pharmacy that provided a journalist with HRT. It’s so bad and on so many levels that I felt it worthy of mentioning here specifically. However, this is hardly an isolated incident – the media have a very long history of trying to scupper trans healthcare, including David Batty’s persecution of doctors practicing trans medicine and past efforts by the BBC, similar to this one, to shut down entirely legal sources of medicine.

Turning back to the Indy piece, sources such as the pharmacy they mention are often a lifeline for people who can’t get medication in any other way. Even having had to wait, sometiems years, to get help many people subsequently find their GPs refuse to prescribe drugs because it goes against their religion, even when recommended by a specialist. Or they live somewhere where they can’t access specialist care without long journeys – there is no Gender Identity Clinic anywhere in Wales, for example. (Fortunately, there are moves afoot to remedy that particular problem)

This isn’t due to a lack of evidence of the effectiveness of health care – research has shown that blocking health care for those seeing transition is extremely dangerous, with the suicide attempt rate for those unable to access services at around 50%.

The Indy also plays up the risks of HRT, which if you believe the tone of the article must be incredibly dangerous, and state that it shouldn’t be “used unmonitored”. However, amongst the long-term-transitioned trans women I know of who have been able to find a stable supply via cooperative and responsible GPs, none are being monitored – because the real world risk for most people is not high enough to make it worth the GP’s time. Progynova is even an over-the-counter medicine in some countries, such as Spain.

In case you’re wondering, the side effects list of an over-the-counter drug in the UK such as Ibuprofen includes difficulty breathing, vomiting blood, stroke, liver failure, heart failure and heart attacks. If there’s a lesson here, it’s “don’t read the side effects list on the leaflets”.

Finally, the headline cites “Fears of ‘DIY transitioning’“. DIY transitioning is exactly what people have been doing for decades because the press and medical establishments have a long history of making it as hard as possible to access treatment.

To be clear, having to defend grey market medication is a far from ideal situation to be in. But it is disingenuous to harp on about the “dangers” of these sources, while ignoring the effects of cutting off that supply. And trawling forums for “exclusives” like this is terribly dangerous and will just force desperate people further and further underground, where they’ll end up being taken advantage of or finding sources of supply that are really dangerous. I imagine many people will be wary of asking for help on that particular Reddit forum after it was cited by the paper.

The NSPCC have now announced the cancellation of the debate into the care of trans kids. At first, this seems like good news, given one of the speakers was to have been Sarah Ditum – known for her support of those practising conversion therapy.

However, I am quite annoyed by the tone of their response which is at best disingenuous. Here is what they said: (I received the same text via email in response to my letter)

However, the trans community have raised concerns and told us that they don’t support the NSPCC hosting this discussion. We have listened, and following the withdrawal of a keynote speaker, we are no longer hosting this event.

To be fair, getting a press release like this right in a way that doesn’t cause repercussions is hard. However, I would expect a withdrawal from an organisation with a competent press department to use phrases like “Having considered the background of the speakers, we can understand why this would upset members of the trans communities“. Some people might regard these as “weasel words”, but they’re there to indicate that they don’t blame those who protested, that they can see both sides of the argument and they really just don’t want a fight. Instead, we’re treated to a spin on the facts stating that trans people don’t want the NSPCC to discuss this issue. We do, because we think this is an important issue and I said as much in my letter to them. We just don’t think it’s appropriate for the debate to involve someone supporting those engaged in child abuse.

I expect we’ll see a concern-trolling New Statesman rant by Sarah Ditum about how her right to freeze peach has been violated soon. As always, it hasn’t.

Following the news that the NSPCC had invited Sarah Ditum to a debate on trans kids, I sent them the note below regarding Ditum’s support for those advocating conversion therapy against kids. Since I wrote this yesterday evening, Kellie Maloney (also an odd choice for this debate) has pulled out which means it may not go ahead, although Kellie’s withdrawal appears to be because of concerns about personal attacks from Ditum rather than due to her controversial views on trans people.


Dear NSPCC,

I would like to thank the NSPCC for giving time to discuss the issue of treatment of trans children. As I am sure you are aware, this is an important but often overlooked topic in an area in which many involved in setting policy, including teachers, social workers, clinicians and politicians, are unaware of the facts and of the desperate need for more resources.

However, the as someone who had until now held the NSPCC in high regard, I was appalled to learn that you had selected speakers who will harm rather than help this issue. Sarah Ditum’s position on trans issues in general is controversial and well-documented, but I would particularly like to highlight to you two specific incidents regarding Ditum’s support for those practising conversion therapy.

Firstly, in 2014, Sarah Ditum wrote an article for the New Statesman, best characterised as “concern trolling”, regarding the suicide of Leelah Alcorn. (“If you believe trans lives matter, don’t share Leelah Alcorn’s suicide note on social media“) Leelah was a trans teenager who had been cut off from her peers and subjected to conversion therapy by her parents. After 5 months of this, Leelah posted a public suicide note on the social media site Tumblr in which she was highly critical of her parents, before stepping into traffic on Interstate 71. Despite this, Ditum wrote an article for the New Stateman in which she was highly critical of the media coverage highlighting the dangers of conversion therapy, downplayed the significance of the abuse and expressed support for Leelah’s parents. (She has not written similar articles concerning other events that do not feature trans people)

More recently, in May 2016 another article appeared in the New Statesman by Ditum (“What is gender, anyway?“) in which she supported clinicians practising conversion therapy on children, including Susan Bradley and Kenneth Zucker. Conversion therapy (sometimes also known as reparative therapy) is now widely abhorred by the medical community as not just ineffective but dangerous and cruel. It is banned in some Canadian provinces and US states and, in the UK, LGB conversion therapy has been condemned by all major counselling and psychotherapy bodies as well as the NHS. Zucker’s clinic in Canada was shut down after Ontario banned the practice of conversion therapy – Susan Bradley also campaigned against the ban. The centre hosting the clinic later issued a public apology for the practice as a result of an external audit, but Ditum dismisses this in her article as being “attacked for not conforming to the current trans political line” and Zucker being “ultimately forced from his job”.

It should not be the case that, in 2016, a children’s charity proposes to host a “debate” in which one of the panellists supports treatment that is now banned in many parts of the world as child abuse. Your supporters would be horrified if you hosted a debate with those advocating other forms of child abuse – please do not let trans kids be the exception.

I urge the NSPCC to reconsider the ethical implications of allowing this debate to proceed.

Kind Regards,

Councillor Zoe O’Connell
Cambridge City Council

Today sees publication of the long-awaited Trans Inquiry report from the Women & Equalities committee, which you can read in full here. Sarah Brown has also written about the report, and you can read her views over on her blog.

The report is one hundred pages long, but for those reading along at home the important areas have generally been printed in bold or bold-and-italic text. If you want to skim the report, concentrating on those areas is helpful. With that said, lets dive in…

First up, this is just a report of a cross-party parliamentary committee of back-bench MPs. It’s not a guarantee anything at all will happen, but it’s certainly a useful stick with which to beat government – at least in the areas where the committee is being progressive.

Generally, the language of the report is good and I did not catch any blatant instances of invalidating trans people’s gender on that score, even in areas where the policy recommendations were not so progressive. The report however does not cover intersex people – although it also states that it does not cover non-binary issues “in depth”. Despite this, there are recommendations in the report that will benefit both non-binary people and those intersex people who transition.

Gender Recognition
There are some welcome suggestions here, such as creation of a “legal category for those people with a Gender Identity outside that which is binary”. The more concrete recommendations are updating Gender Recognition to de-medicalise the whole process and turn it into a simple self-declaration and allowing 16-year-olds to obtain recognition. Oddly, there is only a very passing mention of the current two-year wait to get a Gender Recognition Certificate.

Disappointedly, the report recommends retention of the Spousal Veto, reiterating old and trivially discountable logic about “protecting” the spouse.

There’s a suggestion in the report that there have been no prosecutions for revealing the trans status of someone with a Gender Recognition Certificate. (Section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act) I know this is incorrect and that there has been at least one prosecution, but it appears that the Ministry of Justice is either not tracking this correctly or they’re missing private prosecutions. The recommendation to “investigate” this is the first of the many damp squibs and pulled punches in the report.

Equality Act 2010
The recommendation to reintroduce absolute legal protections in employment and service provision for those holding Gender Recognition Certificates is a really big deal. The effects of a GRC have been watered down over the last few years and such a move would really help those who have them. Unfortunately, it would also increase the perception that those without GRCs are second class citizens which would be a problem if the two year requirement to obtain legal recognition was kept. The report also seems to agree that discrimination against trans people early in transition is OK.

It’s also harsh for those who find themselves caught by the spousal veto: GRCs are suddenly easer to get for single trans people and give more protections, which makes threats to block recognition and delay divorces even more powerful.

There’s also a recommendation about updating the protected characteristic “Gender Reassignment” to be “Gender Identity”. Exactly what force this has in law is unclear, but it’s precisely because of this lack of clarity that the update is suggested: Nobody wants to be the guinea pig who has to spend years fighting a test case to find the limits of the current system.

Healthcare
The really big statement here is that the NHS is in “clear breach of the legal obligations” surrounding waiting lists and breaches of the Equality Act, and that’s something the news media is already leading on. This is a lengthy section and goes much further than a political committee usually would, even making detailed recommendations about treatment regimes and professional development for doctors. Some of this is a welcome intervention, such as the recommendation to move gender identity services out of mental health services altogether. On the flip side, the rejection of an informed consent model of treatment is certainly not something many trans people will be cheering, nor the very timid suggestions about trans healthcare for children and adolescents. It’s unclear why the committee thought it was competent to discuss such matters.

There is some more disappointingly weak language here, such as the suggestion that NHS Networking Groups are a good way of making progress. Although some progress does get made eventually, the pace is glacial and many activists including myself have given up on the meetings due to consultation fatigue.

Everyday transphobia
A mixed bag here, containing some weak statements, such as the suggestion that the Ministry of Justice should “consult fully” on the development of hate crime legislation and police should be “better trained” although extending existing hate crime legislation (The detail is lacking) can only help.

The suggestion that IPSO and Ofcom should encourage more trans people to come forward with complaints is so weak that it crosses into victim-blaming territory: People don’t complain because it costs time and energy for little or no gain.

The recommendations about prisons are not very detailed, but given the impending (and now overdue) publication of a new Prison Service Instruction on the topic this isn’t surprising. The “clear risk of harm” to trans prisoners is noted, as is the inappropriateness of anything that amounts to solitary confinement.

On the plus side, an option for X Gender Markers on passports is enthusiastically endorsed by the report, along with the removal of the requirement for a doctors letter to update passports. I know many long-term campaigners in this area will be happy, although the Passport Office has been very reluctant to work on this in the past though, and it may remain a tough nut to crack.

And, of course, the much-trailed suggestion that official documents and records should be non-gendered as far as possible is here too.

The final sections feel rushed: vague assertions that online harassment is bad, and suggestions that teachers, children and social workers should receive more training. The report does not mention which subjects should be dropped from the syllabus to make space for these topics, nor is there any suggestion that additional support or improved policies should be put in place.

The report is fairly comprehensive, and so far the only items missing that I have noticed are discussions about conversion therapy and the other spousal veto. (Section 12(h) of the Matrimonial Causes Act, allowing a spouse to void a marriage if they marry someone who already has a GRC)

The latest batch of written responses to the Commons Transgender Equality Inquiry have been released, and there is some interesting data hidden in them, particularly relating to TransDocFail and the Equality Act.

From the General Medical Council:

Of those 98 [TransDocFail cases] we identified 42 cases in which the allegation appeared potentially serious enough and recent enough to engage our processes… Any complaints made as a result of this will have been passed direct to our triage department and so we are unable to track all complaints from this group in isolation from any others we receive. We have however identified three complaints that were submitted to us as a direct result of the survey because the complainants specifically referred to the survey within their complaint. Of these three cases:

  • one was closed as we were not able to identify the doctor involved.
  • one was closed as the allegations related to incidents which had occurred more than five years prior to receipt of the complaint…
  • one was investigated and at the end of that process, two senior GMC staff (one medical and one non-medical) made a decision that the complaint should be closed with no further action because it did not meet our thresholds.

In summary, the GMC are not aware of having taken any action despite nearly 100 complaints of often serious discrimination and maltreatment being bought to their attention.

On the positive side, the response from a Barrister who had been invited to give legal advice to the committee is indicative of where the Inquiry might be headed. Asked about the effects of the Equality Act 2010, it appears that despite a clear intent to strip some rights from trans people it may have been deficiently drafted to our benefit:

The exemption from gender reassignment discrimination in respect of single-sex / separate services in section 35 of Sex Discrimination Act 1975 was not amended by the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to make clear that such an exemption would not be available where the person being discriminated against in respect of single-sex / separate services provision held a GRC.

In conclusion, on this question, whilst decision-making is on a case-by-case basis, if a service-provider sought to rely on the exemption from gender reassignment discrimination in respect of single-sex / separate services in cases where the person holds a GRC, it is likely to be extremely difficult for that service-provider to show that the discrimination is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim

There are some caveats:

Nevertheless, in my view, the gender reassignment exemption in relation to the provision of single-sex / separate services will most likely be upheld by a court in a case of services such as women’s refuges, rape crisis services and other similar services providing facilities or services to victims of violent and/or sexual assault. It is these type of services where the aims of the service might most rationally be connected with the exclusion of trans individuals and so such an exclusion will be most likely to be viewed as proportionate.

The Inquiry asked the effects of amending various laws to reintroduce the “for all purposes” clause in the Gender Recognition Act, which would restore much of the power of a Gender Recognition Certificate if enacted, a very welcome move and hopefully reflective of the mood of the committee as a whole.

There is also a lengthy section on how existing legislation and amendments might help non-binary and intersex people.

Yesterday afternoon, Baroness Liz Barker lead further calls for action on trans prisoners in the House of Lords. For those not following the story, this follows a public outcry over Tara Hudson being placed in a male prison and then, last week, the death of Vicky Thompson in Leeds who had also been placed in a male facility. This is far from a new issue, being one I wrote about back in 2010 and that stretches back to at least 1996, when Press For Change were campaigning about it.

Having had longer to get briefed on the issue, the House of Lords gave the government a much tougher time than in the Commons, although the government still failed to give any substantive answers.

Suggesting that it would be “inappropriate” to place pressure on people to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate when the current policy does exactly that is also a very odd response, and we know that trans communities were not consulted in the creation of the current policy, based on an old Freedom of Information request.

Stripping the extensive parliamentary niceties and paraphrasing heavily, the exchange went much as follows with commentary in italics: (The formal transcript is also available on Parliament’s web site)

  • Liz Barker: (LibDem) In light of the death of Vicky Thompson, will the Government review the Prison Services’ treatment of trans prisoners?
  • Edward Faulks: (Conservative Minister) We can’t comment on Miss Thompson’s death while investigations are ongoing, and the policy is currently under review.
  • Liz Barker: (LibDem) Recent events have shown that placing trans women in male estates is dangerous. Does the Minister agree that trans prisoners should be housed in the estate of their acquired gender in the first instance and moved to another estate only following a thorough investigation that rules out all other safe alternatives?
  • Minister: The National Offender Management Service policy suggests people are housed according to their legal gender under the Gender Recognition Act, but a degree of discretion is allowed to the Prison Service.
  • Michael Cashman: (Labour) What urgent steps will the Minister take to review the location of all trans people in prison and to move them to appropriate prisons according to their acquired gender, to avoid a repeat of the tragedy that befell Vicky Thompson?
  • Minister: The important thing is that there is no generalisation here. Individual assessment is carried out by the Prison Service. It is after that assessment that they should be assigned an appropriate part of a prison.
  • James Hope: (Crossbench) Does this policy also apply in Young Offender Institutions?
  • Minister: The policy applies throughout the prison estate, including the youth estate.
  • Paul Scriven: (LibDem) There has been an eight-month gap when the current guidelines are no longer applicable because they are past their expiry date. If those guidelines are being updated, what open invitation has been given to trans support groups to help the Government update the guidelines?
  • Minister: The noble Lord makes what he may think is a clever point, but the policy remains current until cancelled. We take account of trans communities view when drafting policy. (The accusation from the minister that Lord Scriven’s point is “clever” is rather ill-judged, given that the question follows a death and that evidence to the commons Trans Equality Inquiry includes a submission from someone in prison specifically stating that the expiry of the old policy has caused problems. We also know that trans communities were not widely consulted in the creation of the current policy, based on an a parliamentary question from Caroline Lucas and a Freedom of Information request.)
  • Jeremy Beecham: (Labour) will the Government’s review extend to the size of the prison population, and will the training of prison staff be extended in time and depth?
  • Minister: Prison officer training has been extended to include equalities provisions, including trans issues. The original prison service policy is an impressive document, but there is room for continual improvement.
  • Jonathan Marks: (LibDem) One difficulty under the existing system, with giving priority to legal gender, is that trans people who turn out to be offenders may be the least likely to apply for gender recognition certificates (GRCs) under the 2004 Act. Will the government review take that into account?
  • Minister: The decision to apply for a GRC is an intensely personal one. It would be entirely inappropriate to in any way place pressure on somebody to go through that process. (Suggesting that it would be “inappropriate” to place pressure on people to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate when the current policy does exactly that is a very odd response)

Liz Barker has also written about the issue for the Huffington Post.

The full exchange is worth watching and is below and also on the Parliament Live web site.