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.

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

We must unite behind the student movement

You may have noticed that UK students are pretty damn angry right now.  Protests over rising tuition fees and massive cuts to education budgets for both further and higher education have taken place across the country during the past few weeks.  Thousands of school children, college students, university students, teachers and lecturers are taking to the streets.

The student protests demonstrate the vast power held by ordinary people.  It shows that we have the power to set a media agenda, to shut down the streets of a major city, to pressure our elected representatives, to outwit brutal police set on violence, and to cancel a conference before it even takes place.  The education cuts are just the tip of the iceberg, but the student protests show that we can fight back against ideologically-driven attacks upon our public services.

As trans people, we are very much at risk from the cuts.  We cannot possibly organise on a scale comparable to the student movement: we are too few, too scattered, too divided.  But what we can do is unite with the student movement and other anti-cut alliances.  We can call upon our elected representatives on a local level and our trade unions to take action.  We can petition, we can write letters, we can attend meetings and protests.

Mostly importantly, we can be a part of the student movement.  I’m involved as a student myself, but I’d contribute even if I wasn’t currently studying.  The movement welcomes all support from those who wish to protest in solidarity; in return, it offers the possibility of defeating the government itself.  This is an unlikely outcome, but one which is becoming increasingly possible as the Liberal Democrats buckle under pressure.

If you want to safeguard treatment for transsexed people on the NHS, defend police attempts to actually enagage minority groups rather than treat us like dirt and beat us up, support public sector measures to ensure equality and express solidarity with other minority groups who will be disproportionately impacted by the cuts, support the student movement.  A victory for the students is a victory for us all.