Last Saturday, The Times published an opinion piece by Janice Turner in which she tells a version of events that took place at Speakers’ Corner last week during a protest by trans activists. By the time of publication, Janice’s narrative of an elderly woman being beaten up had already been proven false by video circulating on YouTube. This is my letter to the editor in response to that piece, sent on Saturday afternoon – The Times have chosen not to publish it.

Dear Editor,

I am writing in response to Janice Turner’s article “The battle over gender has turned bloody”.

Janice seems to be unaware that the incident which occurred during a protest last week was videoed and that it was posted on YouTube. The video tells a very different story to the one she presents, in which she claims a trans activist committed an unprovoked assault on a 60 year old woman. Or perhaps she has taken a leaf out of Donald Trump’s campaign playbook, and wants to try to establish her view as the pure and unadulterated truth regardless of the evidence to the contrary.

What the video shows is Janice’s “60-year-old in specs and sensible shoes called Maria”, who she clearly want to portray as someone defenceless, holding a trans activist in a headlock and trying to kick them repeatedly. I understand the police were called, viewed the video and concluded no action was needed because Maria’s injuries had been sustained as a result of her being pulled off by one of the activist’s friends.

Although stills are available, the video has since been taken offline. Presumably because the person who posted it realised that crying foul when you sustain injuries in the process of assaulting someone else is not a good PR tactic.

I condemn all violence. If Janice wants to condemn violence, she too should condemn all violence. Not just those incidents that help prop up her narrative of hate.

Yours,

Councillor Zoe O’Connell

Companies House advice on dead names
A topic that comes up frequently in Trans circles is the problem of “Dead” (I.e. pre-transition) names, something that many trans people are reluctant to make public for a whole variety of reasons. Unfortunately, many forms ask for this information with the assumption that most people who have changed names have only done so because they have married.

I ran into this problem myself just over a year ago, in the context of a charity I became trustee of as a result of my role as a councillor. Neither Companies House nor the Charities Commission actually require this information but that is not made clear, and when holding public office it is often necessary to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on paperwork to avoid unforeseen repercussions later on. I asked both organisations for confirmation, and I reproduce both their responses complete with reference number in the hope that it helps others in future.

Charity Commission advice on Dead Names Click the images for full size versions, and plain text versions of the respones from Charity Commission and Companies House are also available if anyone needs them.

I have not been keeping a particularly close eye on online pharmacy services for a while, but an interesting email from InHouse Pharmacy sent to their customers has come my way – and it suggests that the ongoing pressure on online pharmacies has not let up recently, with international payment provider OrbitRemit now refusing to serve online pharmacies.

I could not find any further information about this change on either InHouse Pharmacy or OrbitRemit’s web sites, although I did run across an FAQ on IHP’s web site that’s now specifically blaming “BigPhama” – something that’s long been assumed to be the root cause of their problems, but had not previously been confirmed: “Unfortunately we no longer accept Visa Debit and Credit Cards or MasterCard due to lobbyist pressure from BigPharma interests.

The good news for IHP and those using their services is that Bitcoin is becoming increasingly mainstream and now list this as their preferred payment option. Although it offers no buyer protection compared to other services, it is hard to see any way that pressure can be brought to bear on IHP via this route.

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