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.

Video: Transgender Moral Panic – A Brief Social History

In February 2018, I was invited to deliver a guest lecture at the University of Warwick as part of the “Hidden Histories” series.

In the last year there has been an enormous upsurge in media commentary that expresses concern about the role of trans people in public life. Gendered changing rooms, non-binary people, trans children and notions of self-definition have all come under intense scrutiny.

In the talk, I explored the background to the recent wave of media coverage. I argued that the transgender moral panic has been shaped by deep-seated cultural anxieties around sex and gender, taking in trans-exclusionary radical feminism, homophobic discourse, scientific racism, Brexit, and proposed changes to gender recognition laws.


Recommended further reading

Meg-John Barker (2017)
2017 Review: The Transgender Moral Panic

Combahee River Collective (1977)
The Combahee River Collective Statement

Emi Koyama (2000)
Whose Feminism Is It Anyway? The Unspoken Racism of the Trans Inclusion Debate

Emi Koyama (2001)
The Transfeminist Manifesto

C. Riley Snorton (2017)
Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity

Christan Williams and Gillian Frank (2016)
The Politics of Transphobia: Bathroom Bills and the Dialectic of Oppression


Corrections

I made two minor errors in unprepared asides during the talk, which I correct here for the sake of transparency.

  • Lily Madigan was elected to the position of Women’s Office in her constitutency Labour party at the age of 19, not 17.
  • David Davis was a co-founder of Radio Warwick (RaW), not David Davies.

 

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.

All change at Press For Change

The long-serving trans campaigning group Press For Change has released a request for new board members and volunteers alongside the announcement of a two-day “organisational development conference” in Manchester at the end of the month.

I’ve been amongst those who have criticised the organisation at one time or another, but it’s undeniable that Press For Change has been a powerful advocate for political change. It played a key role in pushing for the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and trans inclusion in the Equality Act 2010. It has produced huge amounts of guidance and advice for public bodies, private companies and countless individuals (most notably in the groundbreaking Engendered Penalties). At the forefront of much of this has been Professor Stephen Whittle, who is about to step down from his role in managing the organisation.

I’m therefore cross-posting the below message, and urge you to do so also.

Urgently Needed – Board Members and Volunteers

Please re post this request as far and wide as possible

The Future of Press for Change (PFC) has been in the balance for some time, with a lot of uncertainty due to various issues with individual’s health and others been able to commit to the development of the organisation for various reasons.

Press for change are having an organisational development conference in Manchester on the 25th and 26th May to look at how the organisation can be re structured and developed for the benefit of the transgender community.

This is an opportunity for activists to become involved in a well-established organisation with 20 years standing, by helping to develop and run the organisation and get involved with national & local organisations promoting Trans equality.

PFC had intended to look for more board members and volunteers at a conference that will be held at a major health equality & empowerment conference that is in the process of been planned for Feb next year to mark its 21st birthday, once the organisation had been brought up to date and had got some more structure to it, however due to recent circumstances there is a need to get more people involved at an earlier stage if Press for Change is going to continue at all.

Press for Change are looking for individuals to undertake the following:

Management Board
Website development officer
People to attend National and Local meetings and promote trans equality and feedback information/ inelegance to the network on what is going on.
Deliver Trans awareness training
Supporting survivors of Hate Crime and Domestic violence and abuse.
Press and social media officer
Telephone support
Legal case workers

This list is not limited, all ideas welcome and appreciated

If you are interested in getting involved in developing Press for Change and re shaping this organisation to enable it to become fit for purpose and an effective organisation which can advance trans equality, then please e-mail a short statement of how you think you could fit in and what experience and qualifications you have to office@pfc.org.uk and we will get back to you.

Press for change will be able to fund a limited number of individuals to attend the development conference on the 25th and 26th of May.

If you are not invited to the conference it is only due to the lack of funds available to the organisation and should the organisation continue it will be looking for more people to be involved as it moves forward as soon as it is practical as we value any input individuals can give the organisation.

Please re post this request as far and wide as possible

Trans Media Watch at the Leveson Enquiry

Helen Belcher of Trans Media Watch provided an impressive array of evidence in relation to transphobia in the media during the Leveson Enquiry yesterday. Video footage and full transcripts in .pdf and .txt formats can be found here. Trans Media Watch’s full submission to the enquiry can be found here.

Unfortunately – if unsurprisingly – Belcher’s strong performance warranted little comment from the mainstream and “pink” media alike. Notable exceptions included the headline story in Gay Star News (Trans people victims of ‘horrific’ press coverage) and a comment piece in Pink News (Does today mean change for the trans community?). There have been just brief summaries of Belcher’s evidence (with little or nothing in the way of analysis) within articles that tackle Wednesday’s events more widely in The Guardian, The Telegraph and on the BBC website. Even the #Leveson hashtag on Twitter went relatively quiet as the majority of cis commentators lost interest.

Still, this was to be expected, and we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of Trans Media Watch’s role in compiling and presenting evidence to such a major inquiry. Belcher powerfully outlined a number of very important issues:

  • The consequences of negative media coverage can be extremely serious for trans people: examples include loss of work, death threats, and the necessity of relocation in order to avoid prejudice.
  • Dehumanising and Othering language is routinely used within news stories: “The Sun is basically saying trans people elicit horror, trans people are frauds“.
  • Stories (and pictures) are often published without any consultation with the subject, let alone permission.
  • Newspapers often rely upon false information, such as inaccurate figures about the cost of medical transition on the National Health Service.
  • The Press Complaints Commission is considered useless and toothless as complaints are regularly ignored: “The Press Complaints Commission is regarded as a useless joke by trans people”.
  • Victims of negative media coverage tend to let the issue slide: “[…] we find that individuals rarely want to pursue the case because they then become afraid of future
    harassment“.
  • There tends to be no real justification for most articles about trans people on the grounds of “public interest”.
  • The Sun continues to run transphobic pieces (contrary to the claims of Dominic Mohan during his evidence to the Leveson Enquiry on Tuesday).
  • The Daily Mail publishes six times more stories on trans people than any other UK newspaper(!)

Trans Media Watch also identified a number of common themes in confidential complaints they’d received from trans correspondents who had suffered negative media coverage:

“In each case, the subject of the story had their right to privacy grossly breached, often at a very vulnerable time, with no public interest being served whatsoever.

Was put in danger of public abuse and/or violence.

Is left with candid details of their personal affairs, including previous names, pictures, home or work, available on the Internet.

Often these details, including photographs, were acquired without the subject’s permission. Had to fight the press to force them to exercise restraint — often with no effect.”

Finally, Belcher made a number of recommendations:

  • That it should be possible for organisations to issue complaints on the behalf of vulnerable individuals.
  • Anonymity should be granted to all who pursue complaints; we shouldn’t have to rely on the limited protections offered by the likes of the Gender Recognition Act.
  • The complaints process for media malpractice should be free:
    A lot of trans people lose jobs, find it difficult to get jobs. There is evidence that the earnings of a trans person is significantly lower than they could expect if they weren’t trans. That is a further deterrent for them to seek any recompense. It actually pretty much prevents any trans person from pursuing any action against a newspaper in the courts.

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.

Woman remanded in men’s prison

The key to this one is in the title of the post.  Of course, the woman in question happens to be trans, so the whole female/male prison division comes into play differently, because transphobia is endemic within our criminal justice system in the same way that it’s endemic in every other part of public life.

It’s quite normal for trans women to be sent to men’s prisons, despite the massive risks they face when this happens.  Within the UK, this goes to show how little the Gender Recognition Act and Equality Act count for under particular circumstances.  Nina Kanagasingham is being punished heavily before her trial even begins.  Once you also factor in the obscene attitude of the media towards Kanagasingham and her alleged victim it’s easy to see “the ease with which our lives and identities can be stripped from us and used as a public plaything“.

This particular case is complicated by the fact that Kanagasingham has been accessed of the murder of Sonia Burgess, a greatly respected lawyer and human rights activist who also happens to be trans.  I’ve already seen the inevitable nasty comments written by trans people who argue that Kanagasingham deserves every horrible thing that might happen to her because of her alleged deed.  However, there’s an important principle of justice at stake here.  It’s never suddenly become okay to be transphobic, and it’s never suddenly okay to strip someone of their identity and their gender.  It’s also particularly sick that an individual is effectively being punished by the criminal justice and the media before she’s convicted of anything.  She’s not being punished for murder: she’s being punished for being trans.