The GRA, LGBT Survey, Action Plan and conversion therapy ban – what just happened?

On Tuesday, the UK Government (finally!) launched a long-awaited consultation on reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA). This has been timed to coincide with several other events, including the publication of initial data from the Government Equality Office LGBT Survey, the launch of the Government’s new LGBT “Action Plan”, and the formal launch of the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy.

While it makes sense – politically speaking – for all of these things to happen at once, it can be pretty confusing. The sheer amount of information to process alone is monumental. Part of my job is to engage with these events, and since yesterday morning my head has been spinning! So in this post I aim to briefly summarise what has happened, why it happened, and what this might mean for the future – especially with regards to trans rights.


GRA Consultation

Planned reforms to the GRA was announced in the wake of the 2017. The Government promised a consultation, which has taken a year to materialise.

Nevertheless, it’s now open and anyone can respond to it. The consultation outlines a number of issues that civil servants have identified with the GRA as it stands, and asks for your views on these.

You can read about and respond to the GRA consultation here.

There are a couple of issues with the GRA which trans rights advocates have highlighted as notably absent from the consulation, which you may wish to invite the Government to also address. These are:

  • The lack of provision for gender recognition for trans people under the age of 18.
  • No mention of the Gender Recognition Register, which currently lists all people who have successfully applied for gender recognition. This may prove a danger to trans people if a more authoritarian government were to come to power, as in the US.

In the past year there has been a moral panic in the UK media in response to proposals for GRA reform. You can find out more about this (and my thoughts on why the consultation is happening now) in my earlier post on the topic.


LGBT Survey

In 2017 the Government Equality Office launched the National LGBT Survey. This was the largest survey of LGBT (in)equalities ever conducted – not just in the UK, but the world. A total of 108,100 valid responses were recieved, of whom approximately 14,000 were trans (which also makes it the largest ever survey of trans people in the UK by an astonishing margin). Credit for this is due to the civil servants who quietly pushed through its implementation at a time of political turmoil and reshuffles in the wake of the general election, as well as the LGBTQIA+ organisations who promoted it extensively.

An initial research summary report was published on Tuesday. This provides a basic account of the research findings. The full research report was released late on Wednesday. This huge document provides a far deeper and more extensive look at the survey results. However, there is such an enormous amount of data available that researchers will probably be analysing the findings for years to come.

The timing of these publications is not a coincidence. The research included questions about gender recognition; the findings demonstrated a strong demand for reform from the trans population, with negligible opposition to proposals from cis respondents. The Government will therefore use this to back their attempt to reform the GRA.

You can read the reports of the LGBT Survey here (along with various data annexes).

You can read my initial reflections on the summary report in this Twitter thread.


LGBT Action Plan

In response to the findings of the LGBT Survey, the UK Government has produced a 75-point Action Plan. This describes the actions they propose to take to promote LGBT equality, which include drafting new laws, producing new policy and guidance, and ringfencing money from the Government Equality Office budget for carrying out equalities work.

It’s very easy to be cynical about “action plans” such as these, but they can actually have a real impact. For example, the Coalition Government’s 2011 Transgender Action Plan was widely regarded as useless by trans activists in following years, but (as I show in my research) its requirement for the implementation of new gender identity service protocols by April 2013 helped bring about important improvements in NHS England gender clinics. This included an end to the requirement for a local mental health assessment prior to a gender clinic referral, which reduced the number of waiting lists that transitioning patients have to endure.

The legislative centrepieces of the Action Plan are the proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act, and a proposed ban on conversion therapy. Both potentially represent important steps forward for the law, but would also require relatively minimal action from the Government to tackle pressing issues highlighted elsewhere in the survey data (such as the enormous economic inequality experienced by LGBTQIA+ people). There are, of course, matters which weren’t asked about in the survey either, such as the UK’s treatment of LGBTQIA+ migrants and asylum seekers.

Therefore, in addition to holding the Government to account for implementing the LGBT Action Plan, we need to continue campaigning on matters such as austerity, immigration rights and the provision of public services.

You can read the LGBT Action Plan here.


Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy

On Wednesday afternoon I attended the formal launch of an effective ban on conversion or reparative therapy that has been agreed upon by the UK’s major professional bodies for therapists, counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists. This is a really big deal because it represents an attempt to stamp out practices that aim to “cure” or “convert” a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation.

The Memorandum of Understanding was originally agreed upon in 2016. This document only addressed LGB conversion therapy. but (following a series of careful meetings and difficult negotiations) an updated version was published in 2017, which explicitly addressed conversion therapy targeting people on the grounds of gender identity. This was effectively a “soft launch”, ensuring that the document was made available to those who needed it.

Today “officially” launched the document in the House of Commons, with numerous MPs and representatives of religious and therapeutic organisations present. The idea was to promote the Memorandum of Understanding more actively, and draw attention to the issue of conversion therapy among all of these groups.

I was not very much involved in the drafting of the Memorandum of Understanding, but did attend one of the early meetings that discussed how it might be extended to ensure asexual and trans inclusion. At this meeting we struggled with the lack of formal evidence that trans people in particular were undergoing conversion therapy, although I supported others in arguing that the prevalence of deeply concerning anecdotal accounts alone necessitated action.

By coincidence(?) today’s formal launch event coincided with yesterday’s publication of the first ever statistics on LGBTQIA+ conversion therapy in the UK, as part of the LGBT Survey summary report. These figures are stark: 5% of respondents reported being offered conversion therapy, and 2% underwent it. That might sound like a small figure, but given the enormous response to the survey, what it means is that thousands of vulnerable LGBTQIA+ people have experienced these damaging practices in the UK. Worryingly, the survey also shows that young people continue to experience conversion therapy, and that the situation is more severe for trans people. Around 10% of trans respondents reported having been offered conversion therapy, and 4% stated that the had been subject to it.

Dr Igi/Lyndsey Moon from the Coalition Against Conversion Therapy, who played a key role in ensuring that the document was updated to include trans people, spoke passionately at the event. In addition to talking through some of the above figures, they also argued that simply attempting to “ban” conversion therapy may not result in the change we need to see. What needs to happen now is the long, hard work of cultural change – both within religious organisations, and within healthcare services.

You can read the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy here.
Edit: I updated this post on the morning of Thursday 5th July to include a link to the full research report, which is now also available.

Gender recognition: where next?

I recently co-wrote a short report for UK Trans Info with CN Lester. Entitled ‘Gender recognition: where next?’, it reports upon the findings of a short survey about possible replacements for the Gender Recognition Act. The survey was created in response to calls for reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, in the wake of a Transgender Equality Inquiry conducted by the UK Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee.

The headlines are as follows:

  • There is strong support for some form of legal gender recognition grounded in self-declaration – comparable perhaps to creating a statutory declaration or deed poll – as opposed to the current system of applying to a ‘Gender Recognition Panel’ with huge amounts of evidence and hoping for the best.
  • We asked what respondents were not prepared to compromise on in any change of law; a considerable majority stated that they regarded non-binary recognition as a red line in any negotiation. This will no doubt be very difficult to achieve due to the lack of any precedent in law for the recognition of non-binary gender identities, but it’s vital that trans advocates make the effort to push for this over coming months, for the sake of solidarity and inclusion.

You can read the report here.

Royal wedding arrests: Judicial Review update

The Pageantry & Precrime site has been updated with details of Judicial Reviews awarded to a number of people arrested during last year’s royal wedding. A four-day hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice encompassed four separate reviews:

  • one Judicial Review into the pre-emptive arrests  for ‘breach of the peace’ on the day of the royal wedding
  • one Judicial Review into the pre-emptive arrest of a minor for ‘criminal damage’ the police believed he would cause (evidence: two pens)
  • one Judicial Review into the raid on the Grow Heathrow squat the day before the royal wedding – for which a supposed link to republican extremism was the excuse
  • one Judicial Review into another raid on a squat in Camberwell for which – again – a supposed link to left wing extremism was the excuse given.

The first two reviews addressed the arrest of “zombie flashmob” members, including Queer Resistance activists. Two trans attendees alleged that they were sexually assaulted by police officers following their arrest.

The hearing aims to address broad police tactics and behaviour rather than individual acts of intimidation or violence. As such, the relevant Judicial Review will not (for instance) lead to any action against the officers accused of committing sexual assault. However, I have been informed that one of the trans arrestees is pursuing a separate legal case against the officer(s) concerned.

Judgement on the case has been deferred until July. A claimant explained that: “judgement is deferred because between 20-odd claimants over four JRs the evidence and other submitted papers amount to several thousand pages that the judges must read.”

A full account of the hearing can be found at the following links:

Day 1:
May Karon Monaghan QC, representing individuals who were pre-emptively arrested, set out her arguments

Day 2:
Barristers representing the plaintiffs provided evidence for each Judicial Review.

Day 3:
Final evidence for the fourth Judicial Review. Response to all evidence from barrister representing the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Day 4:
Further evidence from police barrister Sam Grodzinski. Concluding remarks from claimants’ barristers in response to police evidence.

“The hearing has encompassed everything from the absurd to the Orwellian,” said Hannah Eiseman-Renyard, one of the claimants who was arrested for zombie fancy dress. “In the past four days the court has seen the police use an article from the Sunas evidence and heard how a raid on a squat ostensibly for stolen goods saw the police take all the toothbrushes for DNA.”

“The Met argues that every breach of the peace arrest was done for our own good before we provoked an inevitable violent reaction from royalists. Personally, I wasn’t even protesting anything. I went along for the zombie flashmob and I wound up in a police cell. It would be laughable if it weren’t so scary.”

Sam Grodzinski, the police’s barrister, said less intrusive policing, such as confiscating the flyer from one claimant wasn’t an option as “handing it over would not cleanse her of those intentions”. In the case of a minor arrested pre-emptively for ‘criminal damage’ because of two marker pens in his backpack, Mr Grodzkinski said confiscating the pens was not an option as “he could have bought more.”

Is our government fundamentally opposed to political freedoms?

When the current coalition came to power, we were promised a “liberal” government by David Cameron as well as Nick Clegg. The Liberal Democrats and Tory “left” seemed to be offering an almost classical liberal approach entailing individual autonomy in the realms of public, private and economic life.

This philosophy is being used to defend the privatisation of public services, massive public sector cuts and the scrapping of regulations originally designed to protect workers and service users alike. Still, at least this is a government prepared back individual freedoms and roll back the authoritarianism* of the Labour years…right…?

If we look at the recent actions of police forces around the country – and the Metropolitan Police in particular – it appears that our current political climate is at least as authoritarian as it was under Labour. Most of the oppressive “anti-terror” legislation passed by the previous government is still in place in spite of Lib Dem promises, and the police are shamelessly using it to crack down upon political dissent.

Most recently, the Met issued a pamphlet that called upon individuals and businesses to “report” anyone who happens to subscribe to a particular political ideology.

“Any information relating to anarchists should be reported to your local police.”

The justification for this?

“Anarchism is a political philosophy which considers the state undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, and instead promotes a stateless society, or anarchy.”

Well, yes…but that doesn’t mean that every anarchist is about to run around breaking the law nilly-willy. In fact, this is probably a good moment to come out as an anarchist sympathiser. I feel that anarchism – whilst imperfect – offers some great ideas about freedom, equality and consensual decision-making. I have good anarchist friends, who sometimes hang around with other anarchists and talk about anarchism. If I lived in London, would you report me? I’m pretty dangerous after all. I write about my political beliefs on the internet, and occasionally I turn up at street protests and wave a placard around.

Whilst we’re on the subject of street protests, it’s worth noting that this is the same police force that “pre-emptively” arrested individuals on suspicion of potential street theatre, allegedly enabled the sexual assault of two trans people and may have worked with Facebook to remove over 50 “extremist” pages (most of which belonged to anti-cuts groups, UK Uncut chapters and small socialist parties)…all on the day of the Royal Wedding.

You may also recall that the Met deliberately misled protesters involved in the peaceful occupation of Fortnum & Mason during mass demonstrations on 26 March, and appears to be working with the Crown Prosecution Service to crack down upon non-violent direct action. Meanwhile, children and adults alike were unnecessarily kettled for hours in the freezing cold during last year’s student protests.

These are, of course, the actions of one police force, and it can be politically difficult for MPs to criticise police practice. You do have to wonder why our supposedly “liberal” government appears to have nothing to say about the gradual erosion of personal freedoms however, particularly as a number of Labour MPs and and parliament’s one Green MP have been quite willing to condemn police malpractice.

My response to this situation would be that the government is primarily interested in defending personal liberty for the wealthy and powerful. This is why members of the Conservative party are pushing for the removal of the 50p tax rate at a time of supposed austerity. It’s why the government is holding a consultation on squatting that pre-supposes squatters are necessarily a “problem” even as thousands of homes lie empty in spite of growing homelessness. It’s also the reason why NewsCorp and News International executives were frequently wined and dined prior to the recent explosion of media interest in the phone-hacking case(s).

Of course, we can as always work to reclaim our freedoms. Write a letter to your MP, sign (or even better, launch) a petition, take part in demonstrations, join a group involved in non-violent direct action against state oppression; do whatever you think works for you.

And failing that, you could always report ANY information relating to anarchism to the police.

EDIT: the “anti-terror” pamphlets were apparently issued by the Met under the auspices of Project Griffin. Why not see if your friendly local force is also a participant? If so, you could always give them a call and ask for their position on anarchism.

 

*with Labour we are, of course, talking about the party that ended the freedom to protest within Westminster, enabled the “extraordinary rendition” and torture of suspected terrorists, backed police crackdowns on activism, attempted to institute a national DNA database and compulsory ID cards and firmly established the UK as the site of one-fifth of the world’s CCTV cameras…

Government Equality Office to consult trans youth: Thursday 28 July

Boosting the signal on this one. It’d be great to see a load of outspoken young trans people at this event – if you don’t represent an organisation, it’s probably worth giving it a shot anyway!

Dear friends and colleagues,

The Government Equalities Office would like to invite you to a trans youth workshop we are holding on Thursday 28 July at the Home Office, 17.30-19.30.

The Government published Working for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality: Moving Forward on 14 March 2011.  This document included a commitment to publish the first ever Government transgender equality action plan by the end of 2011. The action plan will outline commitments that the Government will deliver within specific timescales, to improve equality for trans people, including young trans people.

To shape the development of this action plan we will continue to talk to the widest range of people, including groups or individuals we have not spoken to substantially in the past.  This includes young trans people.  The workshop will be a fantastic opportunity for trans people aged 14-30 to tell us directly what has gone well, what are the specific challenges they face and how we may be able to address them, whether it’s at college, university or when starting a career.

The meeting will be held at the Home Office, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF.  A map can be found here.  A detailed agenda will be sent closer to the workshop.

Reasonable travel costs (standard rail fares) will be reimbursed. This is train fare only – other expenses or non-standard rail fare must be agreed in advance.

Can you please confirm to me by Friday 15 July whether you or, if applicable, another representative of your organisation will be able to attend? Please note places are limited so we are accepting responses on a first come, first serve basis.  Because of security reasons, you will not be able to attend unless you have confirmed attendance with us first.  

Please note that the usual procedure to enter Home Office buildings is to bring photo ID.  If you have photo ID we would be grateful if you could bring it with you.  However if you are unable to produce photo ID please let us know in advance and we will make sure you can enter the building.  Please let us know if you have any disability needs.

I look forward to seeing you at the workshop.

Regards

Anne-Yael Halevi

Government Equalities Office

Anne-Yael.Halevi@geo.gsi.gov.uk

Want to get involved?  Please check our second transgender e-bulletin here.

NUS Women’s Campaign condemns transphobia in the Equality Act

Student representatives at the annual NUS Women’s Campaign Conference voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion that condemns transphobia in the Equality Act and within the women’s movement yesterday.

The motion in question – entitled “Transmisogyny in the Equality Act” – addressed the horrific exemption which ensures that:

“A counsellor working with victims of rape might have to be a woman and not a transsexual person, even if she has a gender recognition certificate, in order to avoid causing them further distress.”

The trans community has blogged about this exemption at length, exploring how it could result in trans people being denied access to numerous public services, and how it massively undermines the Gender Recognition Act. We’ve also discovered that the clause in question was pushed by certain individuals representing Rape Crisis Centres.

It’s really positive that a feminist organisation is keen to unite behind trans rights. It should, of course, be a given that this is the case since we fight the same fight against patriarchy and gender essentialism, but the attitude of those women’s groups who pushed the offensive clause in the Equality Act shows that we cannot take trans-positive feminism for granted. I was therefore really pleased that NUS Women’s Campaign policy now includes a commitment to lobby the government on changing this unfair law alongside the aforementioned condemnation.

For those who might be interested, the new policy is as follows:

1. To condemn the offensive clause within the Equality Act 2010 in the strongest possible terms.
2. To lobby the government for an amendment to the Equality Act 2010 that ensures that trans women have fair and equal access to women’s shelters and rape crisis centres.
3. To support campaigns which seek to persuade transphobic women’s shelters and rape crisis centres to revise their approach.
4. To oppose any campaigns that seek to shut down transphobic shelters and rape crisis centres.

Full details of the motion can be found here.

I take this commitment entirely seriously because the NUS Women’s Campaign has demonstrated many times that it is fully behind trans rights during the last two or three years. This is a feminist campaign that refuses to share a platform with Julie Bindel (and was prepared to face legal action from her after doing so), supported a trans block at Reclaim The Night London, and ensured that trans individuals were included in groundbreaking research on women students’ experiences of harassment and violence. It’s a women’s organisation that broadly “gets” non-binary gender identities, and has a permanent trans representative on its elected committee (two people are holding this position as a jobshare this year).

I also noticed at this year’s conference that a number of cis women were keen to mention trans issues in relevant speeches. Meanwhile, prominent trans activist Roz Kaveney was invited to participate in a panel on intersectionality.

This post has turned into a bit of a positive gush but I honestly only have good things to say about how this liberation campaign has dealt with trans issues, and that’s a rarity that deserves celebration. I can only hope that the campaign sustains this momentum in future years, and wish its members the absolute best for this future.

What’s in a consultation?

The media is currently getting itself into a massive tizzy over government proposals to allow gay couples to have civil partnerships in religious buildings. The predictable right-wing wonks are being wheeled out to moan about it being a slippery slope that will end up with any given Christian priest (no-one cares about what Jews, Muslims or (God forbid) Pagans might think, it seems) being forced to marry a couple of scary gay men with Nazi tattoos.

Meanwhile, left-leaning and right-leaning papers are falling over themselves to predict that full gay marriage (and, weirdly, heterosexual civil partnership) will be next, despite the fact that there has been no confirmation of this from anyone in government. I mean, let’s take a look at the actual statement from the equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone:

“Over the past few months I’ve spoken to a lot of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and campaign groups, and it quickly became clear that there is a real desire to address the differences between civil marriage and civil partnerships. I’m delighted to announce that we are going to be the first British government to formally look at what steps can be taken to address this.”

Yep, there’s certainly a lot in there confirming that gay marriage is around the corner. I’m hoping that it will be (hell, we could immediately take the next logical step and start pushing for legal recognition of polyamory or something!) but have my doubts. After all, the Tories aren’t really that keen on gay marriage. The Liberal Democrats have policy on it and Nick Clegg says that he’s in support, but if you can’t trust the Lib Dems on student fees, trident, detention policies, supporting the poor, the disabled, women or just about anyone else really, then I’m not convinced that you can trust them on equal marriage either.

Moreover, there’s that little issue of the consultation. Government consultations can take forever! I first started campaigning on amendments to the proposed Single Equality Bill (as it was then) back in 2007, and the first consultation was held well before then. The Equality Act eventually emerged in 2010 after being rushed through at the last minute by a desperate Labour party. Ben Summerskill of Stonewall has (for a change) made a pertinent point relating to this:

“If there’s a genuine commitment to making progress in this area, it is painfully slow. Equalities minister Lynne Featherstone has explicitly said she would consult on proposals the government intends to implement in the lifetime of this parliament. If that is to happen by 2015, then consultation should begin now.”

I’d take his word for it: Summerskill knows a thing or two about just how “painfully slow” progress on equal marriage can be.

So this will probably take some time. But it’s interesting that whilst this particular consultation is likely to take ages as civil servants painstakingly gather the views of any given bigot at hand, another important consultation is little more than a formality.

The government is still planning to radically reinvent the NHS despite massive opposition from those who actually understand our health service and care about the welfare state. The “consultation” on this has been minimal to say the least, and health services have already had to start preparing for changes that may have a huge negative impact upon service provision for some of the most vulnerable people.

Funny that the government is so keen to hold a consultation on religious civil partnerships when the relevant law is already there (as part of the Equality Act), but is happy to push ahead with its NHS clusterfuck with as little input from others as possible. Draw your own conclusions.