Gender recognition under threat in UK universities

I read a very disturbing internal email this afternoon. I’m not going to quote the majority of it in order to preserve anonymity, but the central content is of concern to any current or future trans student in Higher Education.

Earlier this year, HESA [Higher Education Statistics Agency] confirmed a series of changes that they would be making to the HESA Student Record for the 2012/13 academic year, which would have an impact on some of the questions that students are asked during the application and enrolment process. A number of these changes relate to equality issues and the 2010 Equality Act and I thought it would be prudent for us to consult […]

The key changes of relevance are as follows:

(1) There is an existing field Student.GENDER which will from 2012/13 be replaced with Student.SEX. The new Student.SEX field will reflect ‘legal’ biological sex at birth and we have been advised that there will be only two valid entries for this field, either Male or Female.

(2) To complement the new Student.SEX field there will also be an additional field, Student.GENDERID, which is intended to reflect the student’s gender identity based on their own self-assessment. A response to this question, should we choose to ask it, would be optional for students. The ‘suggested question’ from the Equality Challenge Unit for eliciting this information is “Is your gender identity the same as the gender you were originally assigned at birth?” and it would be possible for students to respond with ‘Yes’, ‘No’, or ‘Information Refused’.

At my university, the current student.GENDER field allows students to identify as “female”, “male”, “other” or “prefer not to say” following intervention from trans activists and past Students’ Union welfare officers. This system, and any similarly progressive approach from other institutions, will be overturned by the new HESA guidelines.

My concerns are as follows:

1) What is “legal” sex? Is it:
(a) my birth sex? (in which case I’m male)
(b) what’s on my passport? (in which case I’m female)
(c) whether or not I have a gender recognition certificate? (in
which case I’m male)

[edit: a skim of the HESA guidelines shows that (a) is not the case, with the university apparently using the phrase “sex at birth” in error]

2) If (a) or (c), then the University is going to revert my “sex” on its forms. This will disclose I am trans to anyone using their records.


3) If (b), then anyone wishing to update their gender will have to out themselves by walking into the university administrative building and presenting their passport.
I had to do this in 2005 and it caused all kinds of weird issues with the Students’ Union and my records. We changed the system in two stages (the last one is referred to in the letter) in order to prevent this from happening to anyone else.

4) The new system erases intersex people.

5) The new system erases people with a non-binary identity.

6) This whole approach has an extremely flawed methodology that will only invalidate the desired data!

I suspect my university doesn’t have much of a choice about how this is carried about, and neither will others. We urgently need to lobby HESA to reverse their policy on this.

I’ll aim to write a more coherent analysis of the situation (inc. the complex role of the Gender Recognition Act) when I’m feeling more coherent.

EDIT: HESA notes changes to the student.GENDER field here. Information on the new (binary) gender identity code can be found here.

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.

My Cissexist Summer

Channel 4’s latest trans documentary has certainly achieved an impressive amount of commentary from within trans communities. Like it or loathe it, we all have something to say about My Transsexual Summer. I suppose that’s because this particular programme – running unusually as a series rather than a one-off show – has been really pushed by the broadcaster. You can’t really miss that it’s happening, and as such many people are painfully aware of how likely it is to shape the general public’s perception of trans lives and trans issues.

That level of public consciousness has no doubt shaped the fury emerging from some quarters. I’ve seen outrage at the employment of numerous cissexist tropes (as Paris Lees noted in the Guardian, anyone playing the Trans Documentary Drinking Game whilst watching My Transsexual Summer is guaranteed to get utterly sozzled very quickly), the dodgy narration from a clueless cis woman, and the frequent use of the word “tranny” by documentary participants. The latter issue in particular has predictably reignited debates about whether or not (and how) offensive language can be reclaimed.

Others (including Lees) have welcomed the show as a positive step forward. I agree with those who point out that the show breaks new ground in enabling trans people to speak for themselves in a public/media setting. The best parts of episodes one and two do tend to involve group conversations in which the show’s participants have the rare opportunity to discuss their unique challenges within the safety and comfort of a trans space (other good bits included Dr Bellringer’s justification of genital surgery and the revelation that some trans men keep their clitoris post-phalloplasty…imagine, a functioning penis and a functioning clitoris! Dude!)

My own problem with the show is that these moments of brilliance are inevitably compromised by the ciscentric, cissexist editing process. I’ve already mentioned the narrator: the show would be a considerably stronger, warmer portrayal without the presence of her patronising, occasionally transphobic twaddle. Then there’s some of the things the participants are required to do. In the first episode, they’re expected to take pictures of one another (an activity some are clearly uncomfortable with), leading to this gem of a comment:

The photographs are ready. Now they’ll be able to judge themselves, and each other.

Congratulations Channel 4: you’ve managed to touch upon everything that’s wrong with internalised transphobia, judgemental “more stealth-than-thou” attitudes within trans communities and the cissexism within the wider world in one fell swoop!

The worst part of the editing process though is the identity erasure undertaken for the sake of telling a safe, easily digestible story to a cis audience. Maxwell – the jolly Jewish fellow from the show – has written about this process extensively on his blog:

What I see is the inevitable privileging of narratives that do not challenge dominant paradigms of normative gender. What I see is programming that will make you think “oh I feel so sorry for them, maybe I might think about how those people get a tough ride”. What I don’t see is anything that is going to make people think or feel any differently about what gender is or how it limits us all in one way or another.

What we see are lovely endearing transsexuals (who I still consider to be my good friends) struggling though ‘typical’ transitions and don’t get me wrong these stories are hugely important, I do not underestimate how important these stories are but where are all the queers!?

These narratives are totally valid but I believe they need to be seen in context and juxtaposed with a more diverse representation. A representation that was there in the house but somehow didn’t make it to our television screens.

Where is Fox talking about being mixed race, about his art and about how he sees himself as two spirit?

Where is the exploration of Donna’s male and female identities as she navigates the personal relationships that mean so much to her?

Where is the discussion about how I reject gender binary and sexuality and still live an observant Jewish life at the same time?

The film-makers’ approach also ensured that the word “tranny” was employed in a deeply problematic context:

The responsibility was not on us to act or behave in a certain way- our job was to turn up and be ourselves. TwentyTwenty and Channel Four bear the responsibility for broadcasting footage without providing any context whatsoever. Donna ‘I’m pretty manly for a Tranny’ is a superbly articulate young woman who’s reasons for using the T word were not broadcast, instead they used endless footage of her and the other women putting on make up.

Maxwell and the other participants have been attacked extensively for their use of the word, with detractors arguing that they should have been more careful. Maxwell is now wondering if he did the “wrong thing”. Yet I’m inclined to agree with his initial assessment: if the editors had any sense, if they listened to the numerous community members they corresponded with, if they gave a shit, then they would have thought quite seriously about how they used the small amount of footage in which the word is uttered.

I can understand why some feel that My Transsexual Summer represents a step forward, a positive move in spite of its failings. I see hope in the brave, strong participants, and in the few moments when their voices are heard loud and clear. If we’re to have a truly decent, representative mainstream trans documentary though, those voices have to be centred rather than sidelined. We’ll continue to see poor programmes produced as long as cis filmmakers have the power to re-contextualise our stories whilst erasing our gender(s), sexual orientation, and race/ethnicity.

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)

Government considers scrapping the Equality Act

I really, really wish that title was hyperbole. But it ain’t. It’s here, in plain and simple language, as part of the government’s consultation on “red tape“.

Equality regulations are designed to help ensure fairness in the workplace and in wider society. They include regulations and laws on discrimination and harassment.

You can find the Equality Act 2010 here

Tell us what you think should happen to this Act and why, being specific where possible:

  • Should they be scrapped altogether?
  • Can they be merged with existing regulations?
  • Can we simplify them – or reduce the bureaucracy associated with them?
  • Have you got any ideas to make these regulations better?
  • Do you think they should be left as they are?

It’s worth bearing in mind that the Tories weren’t particularly keen on the Equality Act during its passage, and now in power they’re doing their best to water down provisions such as the Public Sector Duties (which require public bodies such as schools and councils to ensure that they’re actively working towards equality bearing minority needs and issues in mind when making decisions). Many businesses and managers will be keen to see the Equality Act gone (or at least weakened), and are likely to say as much in this consultation.

Now, I hardly think the Equality Act is perfect. However, we’re definitely better with it than without: it has replaced numerous items of previous legislation and therefore contains a vast number of important protections on the grounds of disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, “gender reassignment” (that’s us!…sort of), sexual orientation, age and pregnancy.

On a trans-specific front, the Equality Act makes it illegal to discriminate against (most) trans people in education, the workplace and in goods and services (that’s stuff you buy and do, like going to a shop, staying in a hotel, or asking the police for help).

These gains, for trans people and everyone else, have been hard won. They could do with improvement (and why not suggest that “gender reassignment” is extended to “gender identity”, for instance?) but that hardly seems to be what this consultation is about.

Still, we can do our bit. Join with those who have left shocked comments on the page, take part in the consultation and tell the government how you feel about, y’know, having rights. Pass the link on to others, and help make sure that our voices are overwhelming. We need to tell the government that people come before profit!

Psychiatrists plan transphobic conference

The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Gay and Lesbian Special Interest Group (an organisation clearly well-qualified to meddle in trans affairs) are planning a delightful meeting in London next month.

Described as an “extremely stimulating meeting exploring the most recent academic, clinical and contemporary thinking on transgender issues, for all people interested in this field, Transgender: Time to Change will include contributions from a number of disturbingly transphobic speakers.

Let’s have a look at the programme for the day, shall we?

A meeting organised by the
Royal College of Psychiatrists’
Gay and Lesbian Special Interest Group
Friday 20th May, 2011
15 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8PG

9.30am Registration

10.00am Morning session: Chair: Professor Michael King

10.10am Dr Domenico Di Ceglie: From Disorder to Diversity: Current views and controversies in the management of Gender Identity Disorder in Young People

10.45am Ms Julie Bindel There is no such a thing as a real woman (or a real man, for what matters). A feminist perspective on Gender Identity Disorder

11.20am Ms Christina Richards: Trans: What the empirical literature tells us

11.55am Discussion

12.30pm Lunch

13.15pm Afternoon session: Chair: Shawn Mitchell

13.20pm Dr James Barrett: Disorders of Gender Identity – what works

14.00pm Dr Az Hakeem: Deconstructing Gender and Parallel Processes: Features specific to a Specialist Transgender Psychotherapy Service

14.40pm Panel discussion – all speakers

15.15pm Finish

15.30 – 16.15pm GLBSIG AGM – all welcome

My, what a line-up. Where to begin?

The most obviously questionable speaker is Julie Bindel, a woman with a long history of transphobia. Bindel makes it her mission to subject trans people in general – and trans women in particular – to the very same treatment that she (rightly) decries as sexism when it is aimed at cis women. She has consistently argued against the provision of medical treatment for transsexed individuals. She has threatened to sue trans individuals and feminist organisations that dare condemn her damaging actions. What the hell gives her the right to comment on the psychiatric treatment of trans people?

However, Natacha Kennedy rightly points out that Dr Az Hakeem is considerably more dangerous. He runs a “specialist psychotherapy service for patients with transgender and other gender identity disorders” (source) at the Portman Clinic, meaning that he has a great deal of power over trans patients. Let’s have a look at what he has to say about us:

“The experience of many psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and psychotherapists working with transsexual patients is that they are individuals who, for complex reasons, need to escape from an intolerable psychological reality into a more comfortable fantasy. By attempting to live as a member of the opposite sex, they try to avoid internal conflict, which may otherwise prove to be too distressing.”

Regarding Hakeem’s approach to trans research, Kennedy points out:

There is so much wrong with Hakeem’s 2010 paper in which he claims to be able to ‘cure’ trans people it is hard to know where to begin. These kind of claims have been repeated throughout the chequered history of psychiatric engagement with trans people. His kind of treatment “talking therapies” as Julie Bindel calls them, “reparative therapy” being one of the many euphemisms employed by the “treatment has also been tried on gays and lesbians and been shown to fail, causing only feelings of trauma, guilt and suicidal tendencies.

His paper makes assertions for which he provides no evidence and his methods, selection of research participants and the nature of their participation in the study appear to be opaque in extreme. In addition there is no mention of research ethics which are particularly important when one is publishing research about individuals with whom one has a professional-client relationship.

Gosh. I’m sure glad this man is going to be sharing a platform with Bindel.

Who else do we have? Ah yes, Dr Domenico Di Ceglie. The conference blurb points out that he works for the Tavistock Clinic, a service that offers approximately sod all a very limited “service” for trans children and adolescents. Contacts of mine who have attended this clinic explain that therapists have patronised them, steered the conversation away from any real discussion of gender, and refused to offer treatment. Realistically, hormones are banned until you’re 18 for the vast majority of trans teens in the UK. Looks like you’re doing a sterling job, doctor!

James Barrett is a controversial fellow, to say the least. He’s deeply unpopular with some of his patients at Charing Cross, whilst others like him. He’s provided a great deal of help to many, but is a bit obsessed with the idea that people need to be in employment or education in order to earn treatment. He has been known to block treatment for individuals who have disabilities that prevent them from working.

Finally, we have Christina Richards, another Charing Cross psych. Shockingly, Christina brings the number of trans people speaking at this conference up to a grand total of one.

As a community, we shouldn’t simply let this pass. Most of these speakers aren’t just dodgy, they’re downright dangerous. We need to be asking the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Gay and Lesbian Special Interest Group what the heck they think they’re doing, raising awareness of this travesty in the LGBT media, and if necessary picketing the meeting. If we let this go without a fuss then the vile propaganda of individuals such as Hakeem and Bindel will only spread unchecked.

“Fit” comes under further criticism

Events have moved pretty rapidly since I wrote my previous entry about an inappropriate scene within a DVD produced and distributed by Stonewall.

Natacha Kennedy wrote an article on the Guardian website for Comment is Free, in which she addresses many of the recent missteps from Stonewall.

Interestingly, a user under the name of “Stonewall UK” responded to her article in the comment section, stating the following:

Just to clear up a few inaccuracies in this article:

1) Stonewall categorically does not oppose same-sex marriage. We’re currently analysing the results of a consultation with thousands of our supporters on our priorities, which we’ll be reporting back on. These include tackling homophobic bullying in schools, ensuring gay asylum seekers get fair case hearings, and whether the term ‘civil partnership’ should be changed to the word ‘marriage.’ Civil partnerships offer exactly the same rights and responsibilities as marriage – including the right to have a ceremony in a place of worship (Stonewall lobbied for this in the Equality Act 2010). We recognise there are a range of issues on this subject and we’ll be reporting back on our supporter survey soon.

2) It is untrue to say Stonewall does not allow trans people to join. JessicaReed is right to ask – trans people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual are – of course – represented by Stonewall. Anyone can join Stonewall. As a charity it is our objective to represent lesbian, gay and bisexual people. When we were set up in 1989, there were discussions around whether Stonewall should also represent trans people, and it was decided that, for lobbying purposes, the two issues were separate. In England and Wales, there are very effective trans lobbying and campaigning organisations – including Press for Change and The Gender Trust to name but two – who represent trans people and who Stonewall keeps dialogue open with.
In Scotland, Stonewall represents LGBT people because historically there were gaps in provision for trans people when it was set up. There are of course now several organisations campaigning on these issues in Scotland, which we feel is important in progress towards full equality.

3) FIT, Stonewall’s anti-homophobia film for schools, has in fact already been sent to every school in Britain (in February this year). This is public knowledge. It’s also public knowledge that this is an anti-homophobic bullying resource, fitting in with Stonewall’s charitable objectives to tackle homophobia and campaign towards equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. We, of course, support equality for trans people and we beleive the trans campaigning organisations are doing very effective work on this, which we fully endorse.

A pretty damn good response to this can be found here on the Why The Silence blog.

I find it pretty telling that in point three, Stonewall don’t even really address the criticisms made by Natacha.  Yes, the DVD has been out for some time (given the issues with it, that’s not necessarily a good thing), and yes, it’s focused on homophobia.  So why have a trans bit at all?  Why “support” our equality and undermine it by being stupid and Othering when talking about our issues?  Why state that trans organisations are doing very good work in the area when – if you had a clue – you’d realise that they have barely any funding at all?  We’re weakened, not strengthened by being divided in this way.

To be perfectly honest, I feel the inappropriate part of the DVD speaks for itself: