Transgender action plan: an initial analysis

Advancing transgender equality: a plan for action” was today published on the Home Office website. The document is the latest step in a historic programme of trans engagement undertaken by the current government. So, how does it shape up?

THE GOOD

Regular readers of this blog will be quite aware of how much I distrust and dislike the Conservative-led government. Their work on trans equality (in a purely liberal sense) has, however, been quite impressive on the whole.

Under the leadership of Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone – who has long been a trans ally in Parliament – the Home Office has pursued a programme of engagement and genuine consultation that quite outstrips anything achieved by the previous Labour government (who generally passed trans equality legislation only when ordered to by the European courts).

The action plan promises a robust response to needs expressed by the trans community on a whole variety of fronts. Most of the government’s promises involve the production guidance for various individuals, organisations and/or sectors: this may not sound like much, but the value of this documentation should not be underestimated. Some of the biggest challenges we face arise simply from the fact that doctors, civil servants and others simply don’t know what they’re doing when confronted with trans issues, so it’s good to see this addressed. Of course, we’ll have to see how these promises actually pan out.

So, what do we have?

The Headlines

  • The big news is arguably the
    introduction of trans hate crime legislation
    . The government plans to amend existing laws in order to provide for:

“[…] sentences to be aggravated for any offencemotivated by hostility towards the victim onthe grounds of being transgender, and for a30 year starting point for murders motivated by hostility towards the victim on the groundsof being transgender.”

  • The government has also promised to “review” how gender identity is represented in passport application forms, and in passports. It’s not inconceivable that this may lead to the introduction of gender-neutral passports, particularly as the IPS admitted in September that they are “considering” this option. The explicit recognition of “non-gendered” individuals in the action plan itself is also an interesting move on this front.

The nitty-gritty

Various government departments are assigned responsibility for a whole host of actions, including:

  • the issuing of statuatory guidance to increase head teachers’ power to tackle bullying (inc. transphobic bullying)
  • further emphasis upon “prejudice-based bullying” (inc. transphobic bullying) in Ofsted inspections*
  • working to build trans equality into existing practices within primary, secondary and further education (e.g. in PSHE lessons, teacher skills programmes, FE equalities training)
  • updating “advice for employers on recruiting and employing transgender employees”
  • revising guidance for Job Centre staff
  • additional “pre-employment support” for marginalised groups (inc. trans people)
  • clear guidance on trans pension rights on the DWP website, and better handling of pension claims
  • guidance on holding public sector bodies to account through the Equality Duty (an aspect of the Equality Act 2010)
  • “clear and concise” guidance  on transition treatment pathways for GPs and PCTs
  • information on trans health (including sexual health) on the NHS Choices website
  • ensuring that health consultations are trans-inclusive
  • updating privacy guidance within government departments (inc. provide better guidance on the use of privacy markers to protect privacy for employers and benefit claimants)
  • a guide to equality legislation and policy for trans people
  • community outreach on the democratic system and relevant government programmes
  • working with housing providers to produce best practice guidance on trans accomodation (inc. advice on tackling transphobic anti-social behaviour)
  • “Work[ing] with the transgender community” during the marriage equality consultation
  • continuing to play an active role in condemning transphobic violence and discrimination through the Council of Europe and the United Nations
  • providing better guidance on gender identity and trans individuals within the asylum system

Moreover, there a number of actions the government has already taken:

  • police forces have been required to collect data on transphobic hate incidences since April 2011
  • trans people are included (just about) in the Charter against homophobia and transphobia in sport
  • a module on gender identity has been launched as part ofthe training course for asylum decision-makers
  • transphobic bullying was included in an anti-bullying guidance for headteachers
  • UK diplomats worked to promote a historic United Nations Human Rights Council resolution condemning homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination

THE BAD

My general impression of the document – and planned actions within – is broadly positive. However, there were a few items of concern within the action plan:

As part of the Government’s wider work to
develop a new NHS Commissioning System,
ensure greater consistency in commissioning
gender identity services, increased patient choice
and more cost effective treatment plans for
gender dysphoria.

The term “more cost effective treatment plans” certainly rings alarm bells. How many ways can transition become less expensive to the NHS whilst retaining an appropriate level of care? Moreover, “increased patient choice” definitely sounds like it’s part of the government’s dodgy privatization agenda. On the other hand, this point may simply entail a removal of bureaucratic barriers, and the “greater consistency” should, hopefully, be a positive development overall. Time will tell.

Deliver a framework for evaluating the Equality
Act, including the implementation of the
exceptions on gender reassignment.

Will this work to prevent companies from exploiting loopholes in order to discriminate against trans people, or will it help organisations such as Rape Crisis deny access to vital services?

Run a workshop for the transgender community
to increase their understanding of the public
sector Equality Duty and how they can hold
public bodies to account

A single workshop for the “transgender community”? I hope we’re all invited!

Finally, there’s a lot of talk about “considering” and things that might be “possible”. I do wonder how many of these points will be translated into firm action.

THE UGLY

Fortunately, there’s not too much of this, but there’s the odd action point that stinks. There have clearly been Tory spin-doctors at work on this document, because at times it’s clearly attempting to push the government’s agenda in a number of areas rather than, y’know, trans equality. Whether or not you agree with this agenda is up to you (personally, I’m against for all sorts of reasons) but surely this kind of action plan shouldn’t really be about pushing the government’s pet projects?

Some choice quotes (emphasis mine):

“Transgender people, from transsexual to nongendered,
want to be able to participate in and make their contribution to society and the economy.

Wait, I thought this was about equality and fairness, rather than corporate drone culture?

Equality of opportunity in employment is
fundamental to building a strong economy and
a fair society. We know that workplaces that are
more inclusive are also more productive.

Glad to see the government has its priorities sorted.

Take active measures to ensure that the views of
transgender users shape the Government’s Care
and Support White Paper and create a care
market that is more responsive to diverse needs.

Because “care” should be bought and sold, and markets are necessarily efficient.

Promote, via government information portals,
relevant funding streams to the transgender
community to ensure they are aware of funding
available to participate in the localism agenda.

That totally makes up for all the national funding that’s been cut, right?

Ensure that National Citizen Service (NCS) for
16 year olds is an inclusive and safe environment
for all participants, including transgender people,
by encouraging NCS providers to build equality
issues into their information and training for staff.

Another pet project! To be fair, at least they’re putting some effort into ensuring its actually accessible and all.

AND FINALLY…

An absolute howler courtesy of the “headline findings” from the community surveys that fed into the action plan:

Nearly two-thirds of respondents (47%) thought that intervention, such as guidance or training, would be best focussed in secondary school

And if that’s not confirmation that the government needs to invest properly in education, I don’t know what is.

Save the NHS: Block the bridge, block the bill

UK Uncut are planning an unprecedented act of civil disobedience at 1pm on Sunday 9th October in protest against the government’s NHS reforms. Over one thousand people have already announced their intention to participate in the action, which aims to demonstrate the level of public opposition to the Bill and put pressure on sympathetic peers in the House of Lords by occupying Westminster Bridge.

The activist group are also encouraging people to contact peers and ask them to block the bill.

Full details of the demonstration can be found on the UK Uncut website.

There is also a Facebook event page.

Save the NHS, part 2: lobby the Lords

The NHS “reform” bill passed the Commons on its third reading yesterday by 316 votes to 251.* It will now go to the Lords for further scrutiny.

It’s not too late to save the NHS. A number of groups are recommending an unprecedented public lobby of the Lords in order to stop (or at least fundamentally alter) the bill.

The TUC have set up a page to help you do this: Adopt a Peer.

There is also a Facebook page with a fair bit of information.

 

“This is really important. I don’t think anyone has ever engaged en masse with members of the upper house on an issue like this before. They don’t have constituencies, and they can’t be voted out at an election. Nevertheless, many peers cherish their role in scrutinising bad legislation. They need to know there is a widespread dislike for these changes.”

– Christine Burns

*A grand total of four Liberal Democrat MPs voted against the bill. I can’t comprehend why anyone who cares about public services would ever want to vote Lib Dem again. May the party crash and burn come the next election.

ACT NOW to save the NHS

MPs are currently debating the controversial NHS reform bill. The £2 billion re-haul of our health system will be voted upon after just two days of debate in Parliament in spite of Conservative promises to oppose any “top-down” reorganisation of the NHS. Lawyers have warned that the changes will fundamentally undermine political accountability and further privatise the health system.

We’ve currently got one of the most economically efficient health systems in the world. It’s hardly perfect – and indeed, I strongly believe that the the NHS benefits from criticism – but we’re incredibly lucky to have it.

This is your chance to tell MPs that we can’t and won’t accept them messing with our health system.

Take action now:

Call your MP (via 38 Degrees)

Email your MP (via 38 Degrees)

Sign the e-petition (HM Government e-petition site)

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…

Protect the NHS

Opposition to the government’s ill-conceived NHS reforms is growing. I wrote an angry post about the issue last year, but the argument against the proposals is perhaps best summed up in this video by MC Nxtgen:

Co-ordinated protests are apparently taking place across the UK today, but I haven’t seen much in the way of media coverage on the issue so far. We need to be raising awareness of the issue ourselves and building opposition as a broad movement.

I’m always in favour of a good demonstration, but armchair activism also has its place. As such, here’s a couple of initiatives from 38 Degrees (who were in part responsible for the government’s U-turn on the sale of state-owned forests).

“Save The NHS”: petition

Email your MP

The Lib Dems: A Cautionary Tale

“This is supposed to be the discrimination bill to end all discrimination bills, and yet it will contain quite blatant prejudice. Only protecting people who are considering or have undergone gender reassignment surgery will leave huge swathes of the transgender population vulnerable to what, in effect, will be legalised discrimination. I will do my best to make sure the final legislation offers real protection for people who define their gender differently.”

– Lynne Featherstone (Lib Dem) criticises the Equality Bill in 2008

I feel that I’ve learned a lot from the Liberal Democrats.

In many ways, I’ve always been a natural Liberal Democrat voter. Labour were running the country during my teenage years, and I grew increasingly disgusted with them during their time in power. The UK became increasingly authoritarian as the government made clear that civil rights were not a priority. We became involved in a number of utterly pointless, wasteful wars. Granted, the situation for LGBT people improved immeasurably, but this was down more to shifting social attitudes and a number of important victories in the European courts than anything else.

I understood the way that Labour regarded people like me. I was a socialist but accepted social democracy as a necessary reality, I was a trans person with an increasing number of equal rights. I imagine that, to them, I was a natural Labour voter. I wasn’t, and I’m still not. I won’t forget the ID card proposals, the introduction of tuition fees,  the wars and the arrogance. I won’t forget the way in which Labour representatives claimed time and time again that they’d done all these things for trans rights when pretty much every piece of trans-positive legislation they passed happened because the European courts told them to do it.

In opposition, we had the Conservative party (booo! hiss, etc.) and the Liberal Democrats. Oh, and the Greens, but they never stood the chance of getting anywhere, and I certainly wasn’t interested in the far-fight fringe parties.

The Liberal Democrats appealed to me. I lived in a constituency with a Lib Dem MP who’d done a lot of good, hard work for the area. The Liberal Democrats believed in greater social freedoms and less legal restrictions. The Liberal Democrats opposed war, and spending on weapons. The Liberal Democrats (supposedly) believed in social justice, and stood up for the poor. On that front they were a little too…y’know, liberal, but they seemed to have their hearts in the right place, and it had to be better than the situation under the hypocritical Labour party, right?

The Liberal Democrats not only spoke about LGBT rights, but seemed to know what they were talking about. Labour talked about civil partnership, and the Lib Dems talked about equal marriage. They actually got the issues, and they understood that bi people exist, and they understood that trans people exist, and – shockingly – they even understood that the trans spectrum encompasses more than just recreational cross-dressers and “primary” transsexuals.

I was a natural Liberal Democrat voter. I voted for them in two general elections and one local election. I voted Green once in a European election, but I was feeling terribly radical that day.

I now, of course, realise that my trust was utterly misplaced. The Lib Dem betrayal has been almost absolute.

I mean, they – like Labour before them – are still talking the talk. The Government Equality Office is pushing some kind of trans action plan that probably will actually make a difference in some areas, and hence genuinely help people (you can contribute to it here, if you manage to get your head around the bizarre contribution process). But, on the whole, the Lib Dems are obeying their senior coalition partners in a way that’s going to cause a lot of people a whole lot of harm.

The tuition fees sell-out was arguably the most high-profile instance of Lib Dem duplicity, but you just need to look at, well, everything that’s wrong with the current government attitude to see where the party is letting down the minority groups that they claim to speak for.

The cuts are hitting the poor, the young, the elderly and the disabled hardest. A disproportionate amount of trans people tend to be poor and disabled (funny how massive amounts of discrimination can do that, huh?)  Support services are failing left, right and centre as funding dries up. Trans charities such as Gender Matters, which struggled to find funding at the best of times, are going under. The restructuring of the NHS is already hurting trans people in areas that are withdrawing funding for treatment: I suspect this will only get worse if the proposed new system is implemented.

There’s no point in having all these wonderful new proposed laws in place to help trans people if there are no real support structures in place any more because the government has destroyed them all. The Liberal Democrats are totally complicit in this disaster, and it’s only going to get worse.

This is why I have absolutely no sympathy for the Lib Dems’ plight in the wake of yesterday’s dramatic Barnsley by-election result. The party’s candidate came sixth in the polls, behind UKIP, the BNP and an independent as well as the Labour and Conservative candidates. Quite frankly, it serves them right. I genuinely hope that this the beginning of a process in which the party will destroy itself, or at least totally undergo a thorough re-invention process. I’m not sure what will have to happen before I can trust them again though.

I used to think that the old adage, “never trust a politician”, was an unhelpful cliché. I now feel that to make any kind of meaningful change, we need to take power into our own hands. We can’t rely on some well-spoken, well-meaning, well-groomed young thing with a brightly coloured rosette to do the work for us.