Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Statement of Support for the Liverpool Homophobic Hate Crime Vigil

On Monday 26th October this year a large gang of youths surrounded and attacked a 22 year old gay man, James Parkes, as he left a bar in Liverpool City Centre. He was left with serious head injuries.

The attack is being treated by Police as a homophobic hate crime and some arrests have already been made.

This was not the first attack of its' kind. Recently another gay man was beaten to death in Trafalgar Square London. Going back further there have been many other such atrocities, including the murder in Liverpool of Michael Causer last year.

Liverpool's Lesbian and Gay community is holding a vigil in the city on Sunday November 1st as the nation increasingly wakes up to the reality of homophobic violence.

In my official capacity as Chair of the North West Region's Equality and Diversity Group I agreed with my associates that I would make this statement of support to the organisers of the vigil.

A statement of support from the Chair of the North West Equality and Diversity Group, Christine Burns MBE, on the occasion of the vigil against homophobia in Liverpool, Sunday 1st November

The North West Equality and Diversity Group (NWEDG) – a network of more than a hundred public private and third sector organisations from all parts of North West England – deplores the senseless and hate motivated attack on James Parkes last Monday, 26th October.

The North West's public agencies have a strong record of promoting the equality and safety of all our 6.9 million citizens, and recognising the value that their immense diversity brings to the character and success of our region.

That includes the estimated 612,000 people who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Trans.

Regional Equality and Diversity Strategy

As Chair of NWEDG, and as a lesbian woman with an open and proud trans history of my own, I am doubly glad (and conscious) of the commitment I see all the time from my colleagues in the Regional Leaders Board (4NW); the Regional Development Agency (NWDA); Government Office North West (GONW); our strategic health authority NHS North West; and the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

That public commitment is reflected in the Regional Equality and Diversity Strategy, which clearly identifies the goal of reducing all hate crime as one of our three key priorities for strategic action.

No place for hate

Hate crimes – whether against ethnic minorities, disabled people or those who are gay lesbian bisexual or transgender – are the extreme expression of senseless intolerance and discrimination.

These heinous acts can have no place in a modern, plural society – a. society which is fast becoming even more diverse.

There will be more old people, more short term economic migration, more ethnic minorities and mixed marriages, and more openness and confidence about people's sexuality and gender identity.

It's not always that the population itself is changing. It's that people like myself can now be open and honest about who we are and share our experiences of life with our friends, neighbours and colleagues.

We say to those who are uncomfortable with these shifts "get over it!"

In fact I would go further and say that as a region we must embrace and capitalise on our diversity.

There is considerable evidence that if we are positive about diversity and at the same time move towards greater equality, then the North West – its communities and individuals – will be more prosperous and have a better quality of life.

The causes

But we also need to understand why hate crimes still exist.

It's 40 years since homosexuality was decriminalised. Many centuries have passed since England first became a multicultural country – a country of Romans, Angles, Normans, freed slaves and protestant refugees. And all that was even before the industrial revolution!

Hate crime and discrimination begins – like all intolerance – with fear of difference and our own insecurities.

That fear is fanned by ignorance and frequently, but not always, poverty.

It gains strength from a culture where bullying is all too common, and where the majority are sometimes too ready to sit on their hands and stay silent.

Not isolated cases

This week's attack on James Parkes is unfortunately just one of many. I'm conscious that this same weekend there will be another vigil taking place in London because of the recent murder of Ian Baynham. In Liverpool we also remember the murder of Michael Causer. And, later this coming month, there will be vigils all around the country (and the world) marking the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The attacks on James (and Michael) are perhaps most poignant because they happened in our own back yard – in a region where we like to think we have a particular grasp of tolerance and welcoming difference.

The public shock should mark a turning point here in the North West - away from being silent on this issue and towards "equality activism".

Schools have a duty

Schools have a major role in ending the bullying culture and educating children and young people about difference. That must include teaching our children about all types of difference – LGBT included.

The excuse offered by the notorious Section 28 is no longer there. Teachers have a duty to no longer ignore homophobic attitudes, but to deal with them.

Promoting a positive message

The annual celebr8 (don't discrimin8) initiative, which is now in its third year, promotes positive messages about equality and diversity.

Just this week, in fact, we've agreed to support 12 community projects promoting community cohesion, respect and understanding.

That includes one in merseyside. And our second major annual Equality and Diversity conference is to be held this year in Liverpool, on November 11th.

It's not impossible

It's easy, on occasions like this week, to feel helpless and disempowered by the sheer horror of events. The idea that a gang of youths could pour such hate upon a young man like James is beyond comprehension for many of us.

Some might therefore wonder whether the kinds of strategic actions I've talked about can ever bring about the required change of attitudes and behaviour.

As someone who has campaigned in the past for changes that were once considered impossible, I believe that we can change our society to bring an end to senseless hate crime.

But the change starts when we recognise that it's not someone else's job. We all have a part to play. So let's all collectively send a message to the bigots, the bullies, the racists, the homophobes. We say "No to hate crimes in the northwest"

Christine Burns MBE
Chair, North West Equality and Diversity Group
29th October, 2009

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Just a change of name...

For some reason or other the simple act of changing a trans person's name and title on medical records seems to be a subject that puts some GP practices and hospital records clerks into an awful tizzy.

This recent example is typical of the kind of question I'm often asked. In this case a gender clinic was being asked for guidance by the patient's GP practice:

We have a patient who is presently registered and was born as female. They have undergone a legal name change of forename to something more masculine. In the letter that you have sent to the practice you refer to the patient as male. You are assessing the suitability for cross-sex hormone therapy; I assume this indicates the patient has not had surgery.

In order for our practise to have this patient registered as male the Family Health Services Authority re-register the patient with a new NHS number and disregard the previous document as archived.

Could you please tell me at what point this patient should be registered as male?

This kind of question is covered in the Department of Health's guide, "Trans: A Practical Guide for the NHS". A common problem is that officials sometimes assume that they ought not to make any changes until the patient obtains a Gender Recognition Certificate. In a footnote on page 30 it says,

"Note that the purpose of a GRC is merely to facilitate the creation of a new entry in the register of births, from which a new birth certificate can be issued. The GRC as a document has no other legal standing. It is not appropriate to operate a policy of requiring sight of a GRC in order to change an individual's name in patient or employee records. A statutory declaration or deed poll is the most that should be required for changes of name and title, just as for anyone else, and regardless of the individual's state of transition."

In case that's not enough, the guide then touches on the topic again and again. There are passages about medical records on page 43, on record keeping on page 55 and a best practice fact box on page 35.

Yet still these questions are asked. For these reasons I thought it would be worthwhile to feature the rest of my answer to the above query. Essentially it comes in two parts:

Firstly, the appropriate time for changing records is when the patient commences living permanently in the new gender role. It is not appropriate to insist that they have had any particular endocrine or surgical treatment – or to insist they have a GRC.

Changing name and title is no big deal. Tens of thousands of such changes are accommodated every year when women marry, so the mechanisms already exist.

The most important day to day change for a trans person is that the records contain the appropriate form of title (Mr, Miss, Mrs, Ms) and the name they have taken. UK law does not require any specific process for that. You and I can change our names at any time just by telling everyone that henceforth we will be known as 'x'.

It's not technically necessary to have a piece of paper (deep poll, statutory declaration or marriage certificate), but banks and other agencies prefer something to put on file, so trans people are recommended to complete a statutory declaration of their name change. As this is a legal document, NHS Trusts should take account of it. To refuse to change records on this basis would be unlawful discrimination.

The second consideration is how records work for the purposes of sex-specific screening (e.g. inviting women over 50 for breast screening or people with prostate glands for checks). The Trans Guide again explains very clearly (top of p43) that screening should be on the basis of physiological need. Thus, depending on the way their systems work, GP practices and hospitals must make appropriate arrangements.

I'm not familiar with the precise operating details of these systems, but if it's possible to make a distinction between title (Mr / Miss / Mrs etc) and sex, there is a decision to make over whether the sex indicator should be changed or not.

A balance needs to be struck between calling the patient for the right kinds of screening and fulfilling the requirements of the Gender Recognition Act when they have a GRC. (i.e. A flag that says a trans man is female could be visible to people who should not see it and the practice would break the law in terms of unauthorised disclosure of protected information).

The best way in my view is to change the flag (as it should be) to reflect the transitioned gender and simply make alternative arrangements to screen the patient. E.g. diary events could be set up on the patient's personal record.

This is preferable in any case as a trans man would need to be seen for gynaecological examinations in a setting which preserves his privacy and dignity. I.e. You wouldn't just let the computer send him along to sit in a clinic full of women.

The same goes for a trans woman needing BOTH prostate exams and breast exams but not gynaecological tests.

Issuing a new NHS number is OK – and some trans people specifically request this. I'm not clear whether there's a gender indicator buried in the number or not. Conflicting answers have been given on this.

However, issuing a new NHS number is separate to the question of whether the patient's medical record should be replaced. Clearly that would not be in the interests of the patient.

The best thing, however, is not to try and make these decisions on a blanket policy basis but to sit down with the patient and discuss the options and the implications so they can decide what's best for them in an imperfect system.

For instance, if one option would mean that doctors couldn't access their previous medical history then patients may well decide that that isn't in their interests.

Remember that all people want is an appropriate sense of privacy, protection from disclosures that could make them vulnerable in their wrong hands, and respect for their dignity.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Dear Sir or Madam – The New Edition

Dear Sir or Madam; ISBN 978-0-9562734-0-6; £13.99; Published by Mark Rees; Order enquiries markrees (at)

Just under eighteen years ago, on Thursday 27th February 1992, the organisation called Press for Change came into existence in a tea shop.

The tea shop is gone now. There is no blue plaque.

Instead, on the site, stands Portcullis House – the imposing steel, concrete and glass building full of committee rooms and the offices for many MPs.

There is no official history of Press for Change (PFC). The tiny organisation was too busy making history to fuss too much about writing it down.

Obscurity to success

In the ten years between 1995 and 2005, in particular, the campaign went from obscurity to a point where its' primary mission had been achieved. It had seen a succession of ground breaking legal cases alter the way in which transsexual people were viewed.

Employment discrimination was outlawed. It became unlawful to operate any kind of systematic bar to NHS treatment for gender Dysphoria. Hundreds of people obtained practical legal advice. A process was created for transsexual people to obtain birth certificates supporting their lived reality. They could marry someone of the opposite gender or have a civil partnership with a same sex partner. Later on, in 2008, discrimination in the provision of goods facilities and services was also outlawed.

It's a remarkable achievement for a few volunteers working in their bedrooms, and of course I'm proud of the small part I played in that, along with others.

Some of the solutions weren't perfect, but that's politics. A job still exists for people to build on those achievements – particularly to rectify the inequities and embed true change in the country's institutions and hearts. I hope another generation will work on that and forgive us for not fixing everything perfectly at the first attempt.

Maybe, one day too, someone will write about the amazing things that went on inside that tiny little organisation with such grand ambitions. In the meantime the organisation's online web archives stand as a record of the events, day by day.

The man who started it

Whatever anyone finally writes about the PFC phenomenon though, we must never forget the story of the man who – more than any other – caused the events which led to it being founded.

Mark Rees is an incredibly polite and self-effacing man considering his achievements. He's really not the kind of character you'd expect to take his country to the European Court of Rights and make the kind of history which would start a movement.

And quiet mens' achievements can so easily be missed and forgotten when history comes to be written. This is why I'm so keen for people to know Mark's story

First edition

Mark published the first edition of his autobiography, "Dear Sir or Madam" in 1996, just as PFC's campaigning in the UK was beginning to pay off.

Sir Alex (now Lord) Carlile QC described it at the time as "A brave and honest plea for justice .. a story of suffering and success". The New Law journal described it as "Not only moving but required reading for anyone legally and medically concerned". It is a remarkable book.

The first edition, promoted by Cassell, told the personal story of Mark's own life from birth in December 1942, through childhood, going to sea, transitioning to male in 1971, taking his case to Europe in the 1980's and making the vital connections that gave birth to a campaign in the early 90's.

All the way through this very personal account, it's clear that Mark was never in doubt about his gender – and neither was anyone who met him.

But the first edition went to press at a time when the legal and social status quo remained implacably unaltered. The book recorded the genesis of Press for Change but, for Mark, the prognosis in late 1995 remained really rather bleak and daunting.

Cassell finally ceased publication of Dear Sir or Madam in 2003 and, oddly, I never got to read it because I was always too busy.

Rewriting the end

Shortly after Cassell deleted Mark's book, Parliament passed the Gender Recognition Act in July 2004. Thousands of people's lives changed as a result.

With bitter irony, however, Mark was in a unique position which meant he couldn't benefit without losing his small state pension.

Eventually, when he was old enough for his pension to be unaffected, Mark thought again about applying for the legal recognition he had sought all along – the quest that laid the historical foundations for eventual success.

Again, with cruel irony, the delay meant that Mark could no longer use the simplified application procedure for legal recognition. He would have to go through the full process. He explains the complexities of all this in an interview I recorded with him back in 2007 and rebroadcast in 2008.

A little administrative matter

Mark describes it as "a little administrative matter" and pays touching credit to the little part I had in finally overcoming the obstacles for him to receive his very own Gender Recognition Certificate and new birth certificate in 2008, thus bringing his story to a new and rather more satisfying place after 66 years.

So it was entirely fitting that Mark should decide to update his autobiography to include the amazing things that had happened in 13 years since the last, and his own altogether happier ending.

Cassell, the original publisher, thought that by now the life story of a trans man wasn't interesting enough to publish themselves. Fortunately, these days, people can publish their own books quite easily though ... which is what Mark has done.

So if you're at all interested in the history of how Press for Change came to be formed, or what it's like to live through nearly seven decades of life as a trans man, this is your book.

Order from the man himself

You'll need to order the book from the man himself. You can email him at markrees (at) At 67 you'll need to be prepared to deal in old technology. Mark relies on a computer at the local library and old style ways of commerce like cheques and snail mail. In return, however, I'm sure he'll agree to inscribe your book personally. It's a delightfully olde-worlde process.

And if you'd like to help him then I'm sure he'd be happy to discuss how you can buy a handful of copies to sell on to friends.

Above all though, do make sure you read it. Mark has a lovely style of telling his personal story. He describes terrible obstacles but is never bitter. For, in truth, he really has always been a gentleman.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Guidance on Gender Identity Treatment from the NHS Chief Executive

As explained in the previous Blog post, the issue of how some NHS Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) address the need for gender identity services has been an issue for many years. In fact, it is ten years ago this month that the Court of Appeal upheld a key case brought by four Lancashire trans women against their local NHS.

The case, "A.D.& G vs North West Lancashire Health Authority" established important case law. The appeal judges agreed with an earlier High Court ruling that

  • Gender Reassignment treatment was an appropriate treatment for clinicians to consider recommending;
  • that therefore the NHS had to fund this like any other legitimate treatment; and that
  • it was unlawful for Health Service managers to operate any kind of policy that amounts to a blanket ban.

Managers have the right to set expenditure priorities, but patient needs must always be considered on their individual merits and the law must be obeyed.

The previous Blog explains how this has still not happened in some cases, and the way that I've pursued this as an issue, in conjunction with Dr Lynne Jones MP (Chair of the Parliamentary Forum on Gender Identity) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Last week the Secretary of State for Health responded to a written Parliamentary Question from Lynne on the continuing post code lottery that patients face, depending on where they live. This was part of an all round strategy to encourage an official line to be taken.

Yesterday, I also received a long and detailed letter from one of the Department of Health's civil servants responsible for Equality matters. I don't propose to reproduce the whole letter, but he says:

...As you know, PCTs are autonomous bodies, responsible for ensuring their own compliance with all relevant legislation, including equality and human rights legislation. They are performance-managed by SHAs, and this performance management role includes PCTs' equality and human rights compliance. It is not therefore the role of DH to intervene in the day to day management of PCTs. DH is fully committed to the equality agenda, however, and takes steps to disseminate knowledge and helpful material to NHS bodies where appropriate, encouraging them to promote equality beyond solely the strict requirements of the law. Our series of equality guides to the NHS are a good example of this, not least "Trans - a practical guide to the NHS" which does, of course, include information and suggestions on commissioning, explaining how the needs of trans people should be taken into account.

We do not accept that DH is required to take any further action at this stage in order to comply with our statutory obligations. We are however always keen to promote the equality agenda, and take stakeholders' concerns seriously. We note the serious concerns that you, and the Parliamentary Forum have raised about the availability of gender identity services in particular areas. Consequently, David Nicholson, NHS Chief Executive, has agreed that the Department should write out to all NHS Chief Executives and their teams, via the weekly NHS Leadership Team bulletin this week, to reiterate the importance of this issue. It will be issued this Thursday 24 September and will consist of the following:

Gender Identity Services

Concerns have been raised over the difficulty that some people experiencing gender dysphoria are encountering in obtaining gender reassignment treatment, with the allegation that some PCTS are effectively operating "blanket bans" on funding such treatment. Please be aware that any such blanket approach is unlawful. Each case must be considered individually, according to clinical need and local prioritisation. Further guidance is available on the DH website and in the Specialised Service Definition (No. 22 - Mental Health Services).


Action: NHS chief executives should ensure that they are not operating "blanket bans" in relation to gender reassignment treatment.

Personally I am sceptical that this action is all that is required. I don't think it's a magic wand. PCTs who are causing concern have a rather more sophisticated approach than simply saying, "We don't provide this". Therefore some could continue to claim they are complying with the law anyway.

The usual approach by such PCTs is to have a policy that ranks assessment and support for gender identity issues as low priority, funded by exception, and to operate Exceptional Case review procedures in a manner which simply fail to admit any case as being such an exception.

This kind of smoke and mirrors has therefore had to be approached by patients being prepared to take their PCT to court. Such PCTs then settle at the last moment, ensuring that there is no resultant case law which could fetter their approach to the next patient in line. This is why the situation has persisted for a full ten years since it was supposedly outlawed.

For these reasons I've written back to the Department of Health and, whilst welcoming this advance, I've recommended a series of actions that they could and should be taking, through the Strategic Health Authorities, as a way of reinforcing the spirit as well as the letter of David Nicholson's message. SHA's are responsible for performance managing PCTs, as DH themselves point out.

In the first instance, however, we all need to see what happens as a result of David Nicholson's direct policy statement. Chief Executives of NHS Trusts know that he's not a man to trifle with.

And maybe this will be the nudge that was required, prompting a more honest and equitable approach. If it isn't however, then I'm ready for the next step .. and the Equality and Human Rights Commission are watching closely too.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Parliamentary Answer on access to Gender Identity Services

During the summer months there has been quite a lot of behind the scenes activity going on regarding the inconsistent levels of NHS provision for people with gender identity issues.

I had already been working for some time this year with the specialist commissioning group in Yorkshire and Humberside region. That work has led to commissioners for that region developing what we believe to be the best policy and service specification to date.

By coordinating consultation with representatives of the Gender Trust, Press for Change and Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic, and by carefully educating the commissioning team, we've arrived at something that, whilst not perfect, represents a significant advance on any previous policy.

The policy and service specification has now been approved by the full regional Specialist Commissioning Group (SCG) and is expected to be ratified by Yorkshire and Humberside's 14 Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) in October. That will mean that treatment and funding policy in the Yorkshire and Humberside Region will be consistent.

With a best practice approach to refer to, I've also been having a similar kind of discussions with the commissioner responsible for the same policies in the North West – although that work still has some way to go. The goal is to gradually infuse better practice, one region at a time.

Ten Years

Yet this also takes place against a setting where we know that many PCTs are still operating policies that amount to a blanket ban on treatments. This is ten years after the Court of Appeal upheld an earlier high court decision (A.D.&G vs NW Lancs Health Authority) which said such behaviour was unlawful.

The PCTs that do this are never so obvious as to say that they are banning treatment of course. No. What they do is to set policies which say they'll not routinely fund treatments, but that people can apply for special consideration under the Trust's "Exceptional Cases" procedure.

Such PCTs can seldom define what would constitute an exceptional requirement though, and in practice some have never made such an exception. When challenged on this by patients prepared to take legal action, they will deny the intent behind their behaviour all the way to the steps of the court and then miraculously make an exception.

There are several well-documented cases around the country where this kind of thing has been happening and, if anything, it seems to have got worse in some areas over the last year or two. For instance, Nottingham Teaching PCT had a policy of this kind, which I criticised to their faces in a conference in the City last year organised by the Department of Health's Equality and Human Rights Group.

Other parts of the East Midlands region had policies which funded assessment and treatment of gender identity issues to varying degrees. However recent changes, meant to centralise policy making on so-called "Specialist Services" at regional level, led to a consolidation exercise in each of the ten English Strategic Health Authority regions.

And in East Midlands, rather than levelling services up to the best, they decided they would level down "to be fair". The plan was to adopt the restrictive Nottingham policy for the whole of the rest of the region.

The situation became so bad that one Nottingham patient embarked on a hunger strike, vowing that she was prepared to die to draw attention to what was going on. Fortunately, after a week, she called off the action, telling the BBC "I've been assured that they will fund and support me". Health services should not have to work in this way for anyone.

Departmental Blind Spot

I've been associated with the Department of Health's Equality and Human Rights team for several years now (since 2006), and I and my colleagues have never missed any opportunity to draw attention to these problems and urge the Department to deal with them.

In September 2008 I was formally appointed as an Advisor on LGBT health issues and felt, by then, that there was sufficient documented evidence (in press reports alone) to move beyond the need to measure and prove the problem. Instead, I advised the Department's equality team to address clear and unambiguous challenges:

  1. To address the issue of poor commissioning policies in England and promote a best practice approach with adequate funding and choice to address all the documented issues of delays and obstructions
  2. To address the issues of General Practitioner knowledge and behaviours (as highlighted by the "Engendered Penalties" report in 2007)

During the past year I've then pursued these two targets at every available opportunity, being careful to ensure that additional objectives were not allowed to creep in and dilute attention. (Given the opportunity, officials will always put their efforts into the easiest task and use that the deflect attention from harder topics).

However, as the first year of the Department of Health's LGBT Advisory Group drew towards a close, it was apparent that nothing whatsoever had been achieved on either of these objectives. Worse, we seemed to be going backwards, when Ten Downing Street issued a very poorly informed response to a petition about similar problems in Oxfordshire.

Readers of this Blog will know that I wrote immediately to my associates in the Department of Health pointing out the issues with the Number Ten response and demanding action.

Red Card

Shortly after these events I had another meeting of the LGBT Advisory Group, in which my patience and diplomacy simply ran out. Politicians would say that a "full and frank exchange of views" took place.

Following this I also briefed contacts in the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), who are already undertaking a very detailed investigation of other issues, continuing work begun by the former Commission for Racial Equality.

The issue is that whilst PCTs are autonomous and the Department cannot order them how to apportion their budgets, Ministers do have an absolute responsibility to ensure NHS Trusts don't break the law or violate the principles of the NHS. By now, the officials at DH were conceding that they knew this was what was happening in the case of gender identity patients in some parts of the country.

The issue is made worse by the fact that I had also put forward a suggestion that the Department could address the policy issue very easily by offering to publish the "Guidelines for Commissioners" produced by the Parliamentary Forum on Gender Identity.

This was meant to hand the officials a solution on a plate ... a lifeline which the Equality and Human Rights team at DH seemed quite enthusiastic to seize. However, in our frank exchange of views (above) it had emerged that the Mental Health team in DH, who have policy responsibility for Gender Identity services, was only prepared to "welcome" the guidelines. They were categorically opposed to publishing this clear guidance under an NHS or Department of Health logo.

At the same time as briefing EHRC I also agreed the text of a Parliamentary Written Question with Lynne Jones MP, which she agreed to submit. As Parliament was in recess for the summer, this has only just been answered. However, it has also now been the prompt for the Department to assure me in person that a letter will be going to the Chief Executives of all English PCTs later this week, on this very issue.

When the letter has been sent and I have a copy I will Blog it here. I'll also cover the formal response to the issues I've raised personally with the Department. In the meantime, however, here is the Parliamentary Question and its' answer.

Note that these kinds of answers are usually couched in very careful words like this one, so the value isn't in the words but the fact that the issue has been forced up to the most senior levels, involving Ministers and the Chief Executive of the NHS, David Nicholson.

16 Sep 2009 : Column 2238W—continued

Gender Identity Disorder

Lynne Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps he is taking to ensure that all primary care trusts provide accessible, timely and high quality gender identity services. [291225]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: The Department is committed to the delivery of high quality national health service gender identity services. Primary care trust commissioning of gender identity services remains a matter for local prioritisation, with access to services determined by clinical need and local decision-making.

The Department is in the process of writing out to all NHS chief executives and their teams, via the weekly NHS leadership team bulletin the week, to reiterate this commitment to high quality gender identity services and the importance of considering such cases individually, according to clinical need.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Manchester Pride takes a cue from Lily Allen

The final weekend in August saw Manchester, one of Britain’s most LGBT-friendly cities, hosting its annual three day Pride celebration. In this reply to a similar French video, the revellers deliver a one-fingered salute to homophobia based on Lily Allen’s “F**k You!”. Shame the homophobes never seem to have so much fun in their lives.

Congratulations to the crew at LGF and BellyFlop TV on this amazing video.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Multiculturalism and the subversion of Human Rights

Earlier this week I interviewed veteran Human Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell about what makes him tick, his methods and some of his opinions. You can hear that interview below or by picking the episode from the jukebox player in the side bar.

Peter and I were both speaking at the Centre for Local Policy Studies Summer School at Crewe Hall in Cheshire. In his keynote speech he addressed the risk that in being blindly sensitive to “multiculturalism” we might undermine everyone’s human rights - including sections of the cultures we are reticent to challenge. Is female genital mutilation an absolute violation or subject to cultural relativism, for instance?

Here is an excerpt from the opening section of Peter’s overall 30 minute presentation. I may make further segments available if the demand appears to be there.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Gordon Brown writes to UK Gay Community ahead of Pride

A few weeks ago I wrote about the experience of attending the first ever reception for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans people at Ten Downing Street.

The Brown family then, and now, seem to really be prepared to make their support for LGBT causes very visible. Next weekend, for instance, Gordon's wife Sarah will be joining the London Pride March.

In advance of next weekend's London Pride festivities, the Prime Minister has sent a letter to all of us who attended his reception. We are invited to share it widely, so here is the full text:

10 Downing Street, London SW1A 2AA

Pride London is one of the highlights of the London summer and I'm pleased to welcome one million LGBT marchers from across the country and around the world.

I'm very proud of all that this Government has achieved on LGBT rights these last 12 years – often in the face of fierce opposition. From equalising the age of consent, lifting the ban on military service, introducing gay adoption and creating civil partnerships to scrapping section 28, introducing the Gender Recognition Act and banning discrimination at work and in the provision of goods and services, we've taken massive strides towards equality. More recently, we have taken action to tackle homophobic bullying in schools, made incitement to homophobic hate a crime, secured unprecedented lesbian fertility rights and introduced the Equality Bill.

But I also know that we quite simply couldn't have done it without the activism of our out and proud LGBT community, so I hope you're very proud of what your campaigning has achieved: you've changed laws, you've changed lives, you've changed the world.

Together we've done a lot – but we can never be complacent and must always be vigilant to see that progress isn't reversed.

This government is committed to standing at your shoulders in the fight for equality and we are guided by one very simple principle when it comes to LGBT rights: you can't legislate love.

Best wishes and have a great Pride,

Gordon Brown

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

PFC’s Submission to the Joint Committee on Human Rights

The Equality Bill has nearly finished its' committee stage scrutiny in the House of Commons and, after a report debate and third reading, is expected to pass the first stage on the way to becoming law. The second stage will be when the Bill returns to be similarly debated and scrutinised by committee in the House of Lords in the Autumn.

MPs from all sides in committee have attempted to change aspects of the Bill which lobby organisations have misgivings about – mostly without much success.

MPs Lynne Featherstone, Evan Harris and Tim Boswell have presented a number of amendments recommended by the trans rights organisation Press for Change. The Government has not acceded to these.

Unfortunately it has not been possible to publish anything previously about PFC's recommendations, because their briefing paper was ring fenced by warnings about their intellectual property and PFC have not published anything themselves in the public domain. However, the group's submission to the committee is available in this format on the Parliament Web Site.

The fact that the Government has resisted these desired amendments in committee is not the last word on the matter. MPs have the opportunity to raise the issues again at second reading in the Commons (and, if necessary force a division for all MPs to vote). During the summer the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR - a standing committee with members from both Houses of Parliament) will scrutinise the Bill as well – as they do for all legislation impacting Human Rights.

Press for Change has again issued a submission to the JCHR. Again, unfortunately, they've failed to publish it online in a form where people can go and read what they've said. (They merely emailed a blind list of interested parties).

I'm not proposing to comment on that way of working, however I think it is vital that more people should be able to understand the issues which they are raising. Therefore I'm using this Blog to paraphrase their submission, which will eventually be published on the Parliament web site in full in any case.

PFC begin by explaining who they are.

Press for Change (PFC) is the largest representative organisation for trans people in the UK. Formed in 1992 to "seek respect and equality for all trans people in the UK", through case law, legislation, and social change, it reaches around 2,500 transgender and transsexual people in the UK. This response is supported by over 21 other organisations for trans and gender variant people.

Then they summarise their concerns.

  1. The problems and limitations, and legal issues, of using the term of 'Gender reassignment' as the characteristic determining protection in the Bill.
  2. The inappropriateness of the phrase 'Gender Reassignment' to provide protection to children and adolescents who express their gender differently from that expected.
  3. The Bill's apparent allowing of school bodies to harass children and adolescents because they possess the characteristic of 'Gender Reassignment'.
  4. The unlawful misuse of an exemption to the Bill's protection because of the characteristic of 'Gender Reassignment' in the provision of a Single Sex Services.
  5. The unlawful inclusion of a Genuine Occupational Qualification that a Person not be a Transsexual Person.

We are also extremely concerned about the areas where the Bill attempts to undermine EU and ECHR caselaw, legislation and rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

On the topic of whether the legislation should refer to 'Gender Reassignment' (as at present) or 'Gender Identity' (as PFC advocate) they say:

PFC welcomes believes the definition as suggested is unclear and will leave many members of the trans community unprotected.

First , it defines a protected characteristic by reference to a course of medical treatment and includes in that definition persons who do not undergo such treatment. Furthermore, we believe that "gender reassignment" is relevant to a protected characteristic, it is not however a protected characteristic itself.

Secondly, 'gender reassignment' may exclude certain transsexual persons who do not seek treatment. 'Changing sex' is not easy, as acknowledged by the European Court of Human Rights, and gender reassignment is a long and arduous road – which surely is not a pre-requisite to one's human rights.

Thirdly, we believe that it is equally counter-intuitive to define the state of mind of a trans persons in deciding whether they would fall within a protected class of persons (asking questions such as: "is the person "proposing" to undergo gender reassignment) rather than focusing on the basis or motivation for the discriminatory behaviour by those discriminating against the person, namely the person's perceived non-adherence to gender norms.

We believe that the term "gender identity" is more apt to providing protection for the groups of persons envisaged by the drafters as requiring protection including those enumerated in explanatory note 57.

Our position is supported by 98% of respondents to the survey who said they believe that protection should be granted to anyone discriminated against on the basis of their gender identity or expression.

This terminology whilst being more appropriate is also in line with international developments. It is also terminology adopted and used by the United Nations and the Council of Europe. , ,

The Scottish Parliament has also used 'transgender identity for 'the Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Bill 2009 which has a fully inclusive.

We are concerned with the use of the term 'gender reassignment' as the protecting characteristic in relation to young people, in particular in light of the fact that gender variance in children will remit for the majority of children by adolescence (80-95%) .

The term 'gender reassignment' would expect a young person to comment whether they 'intend to undergo gender reassignment' in the future. It is important to note that many pre-pubertal children will not have heard of, or understand, the possibility of gender reassignment. In addition, in the UK, children below the age of 16 cannot meet the UK clinic's gender reassignment criteria for undergoing gender reassignment or even establish that they wish to do so. Yet, young people considered "gender variant" by others need protection against bullying and victimisation.

Consequently, PFC believes the inclusion of "gender identity" as a defining characteristic in Vol 1, Part 2, Equality - key concepts, Chapter 1 - Protected characteristics, S.7 is essential to protect trans people and gender variant children and adolescents.

On the issue of harassment of children and adolescents they say:

The apparent permission in Vol 1 pt.6, Chapter 1, Section 80, ss.10 for a responsible body of a school to lawfully harass young people, allowing them to be subject to discriminatory behaviour that would violate their dignity, creating a hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment, because they possess the characteristic of 'Gender idendtity' (or sexual orientation or religion or belief).

This is at odds with the provision in Vol 1 Pt. 2, Chapter 2 , S. 24 Harassment.

Press for Change therefore recommends that the clause Vol 1, Part 6 – Education, Chapter 1 – Schools, S.80, s10 be struck from the face of the bill.

Finally, PFC also assert that the Government is proposing to flout European Union and European Court of Human Rights law in relation to single sex services and employment. They say:

Press for Change is very concerned by the exemption to protection for trans people in Vol II, Sch. 3 Part 6, Gender S. 25 (1) and in Vol. II ,Sch.9, pt. 1 General , ss. 3

Both of these sections fail to acknowledge that where a person has successfully applied for and been awarded a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) their gender becomes for all purposes the acquired gender."

And as there have been no problems of trans people applying for single sex jobs or using single sex services inappropriately since the introduction of the Employment Regulations (1999) and Sex Discrimination (Amendment of Legislation) Regulations (2009), it is clear the vast majority of businesses have adapted well to the use of their services by trans people. The provision is also, legally unsound.

PFC believes that the provisions contained in ss. 25 contravene articles 8 and 14 ECHR of those trans persons following the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, in the cases of Goodwin, and I v United Kingdom (2002), as confirmed by Grant (2006) Furthermore in Bilka-Kaufhaus GmbH v Weber von Hartz (1987) ICR 110 the Court held that for any such justification in anti-discrimination law

"the objective of the (providers) measure must correspond to a real need."

There are also very good reasons for believing that the House of Lords and ECJ will continue to uphold in the question of access to goods and services or employment, the principles contained in the Equal Treatment Directive 2004/113 (ETD 113) will follow the principles of the ETD 76/207. i.e. that a person is recognised as a member of their new gender from the day they transition.

We believe that this has been reflected in practice. In practice, none of the GOQs introduced by the Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations (1999) have proven to be relevant. There is little case law, and that which there is upheld the rights of the trans person to work in the employment. In A v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police [2004] HL. 21, E.W.C.A. Civ 1584, Baroness Hale held that following the decision of the ECJ in the case of KB v NHS Pensions Agency it is clear that

"for the purposes of discrimination (Equal Treatment Directive 1976/2007/EEC) , a trans person is to be regarded as having the sexual identity of the gender to which he or she has been reassigned".

This was later confirmed by the ECJ in the case of Sarah Margaret Richards v Secretary of State Pensions and the ECHR in the case of Grant v. United Kingdom [2007] 44 EHRR 1.

Furthermore barring a transsexual person from employment who is in possession of a Gender Recognition Certificate would be unlawful as persons with a GRC have to be treated "for all legal purposes" as a person of that sex. The Gender Recognition Act 2004 amended the SDA 1975 and removed GOQs from applying to persons who held a GRC.

We further believe that the principle can be extended to those trans people who are not living permanently in their preferred gender role.

Press for Change believes that these sections should be rewritten, to make it quite clear that protection already obtained is not to be removed. We would suggest that the protection is extended to :

(3) A person who has the characteristic and a Gender Recognition Certificate is exempt from the provisions contained in ...

(4) A person who has the characteristic and who is living permanently in their preferred gender role, whether or not they are intending to undergo, are undergoing, or have undergone gender reassignment is exempt from the provisions contained in ...

(5) a person who has the characteristic but where the related gender expression does not take place within the (single sex setting)/(workplace) is exempt from the provisions contained in ss.(1)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Letter to Department of Health regarding Number Ten Petition Response

Earlier this year, a petition on the Number Ten Downing Street web site drew many hundreds of signatures protesting the existing policy on gender Dysphoria treatment by Oxfordshire PCT.

The policy agreed to refer patients for assessment of their gender Dysphoria – a process that would involve social transition and hormone treatment (some of which is irreversible) but which then refused to fund any surgeries which clinicians indicated to be necessary to complete a patient's treatment.

Today Number Ten has responded. You can read their response here.

Apart from the fact that the response really says nothing useful in policy terms (other than the fact that the policy is being reviewed), I was disturbed by the poor description of the patient pathway, and what it could imply to those who are not completely familiar with best practice, and the areas where treatment protocols are in active dispute.

I have written immediately to the senior civil servant who would most likely have been involved in drafting the Number Ten response. And if he wasn't involved in the response then that would raise another question.

Here is an extract from what I have said:

Dear 'B'

I have just been notified by the No.10 epetition system about the Government's response to the issues surrounding the current commissioning policy of Oxfordshire PCT concerning gender reassignment treatment. As you know, the present policy – by amounting to a blanket ban in all but name – is unlawful.

I am writing to you personally as I expect that you should have had some input into the text of the response.

What troubles me is that the reply is factually incorrect in the way that it describes the standard patient pathway.

Firstly, the description blurs the distinction between a referral to a CMHT psychiatrist (to rule out psychiatric illness) and the tertiary referral which normally takes place from there to a gender identity specialist service (which need not necessarily be psychiatrist or psychologist led). In doing this the reply over-emphasises the prominence of psychiatry in treatment and implies that gender identity patients have a mental illness. As you know, the direct reverse is true. The point of the two stage referral is to ensure that people who are mentally ill are treated locally for that mental illness. Gender clinics deal with people who are not mentally ill (or in whom the mental illness is unrelated to gender Dysphoria or simply a result of non-treatment of gender Dysphoria).

Secondly, and far more seriously, the No.10 statement implies compulsion in the organisation of the Real Life Experience (RLE) and that endocrine treatment may not be offered until late in an 18 month process. In the worst of the policies I have come across this is never the intention. There is controversy over whether endocrine treatment should start before or in the first three months of RLE – the Parliamentary Forum regards the latter as unethical and cruel (a potential human rights abuse) – but I have never come across anyone proposing that patients should effectively live in drag for extended periods without endocrine treatment to support the other changes they need to make (such as facial hair removal, which is impossible otherwise).

In a sense this emphasis on the non-surgical aspect of the patient pathway is an irrelevance in any case, however, as the petition was about the cruel and unethical policy of embarking patients on a programme like this and then refusing to fund clinically indicated surgery to complete it. The No.10 makes no reference to the place of surgeries in the patient pathway and therefore fails to answer the very essence of the petition.

'B', I've now been working with you for the better part of four years and so I now expect better from the Department, which I'm sure will have been involved in drafting and agreeing this statement.

Please confirm what you are going to do about this.

Yours etc...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Times updated style guide

From the newly-updated Times style guide:

Sex change. Avoid this inaccurate and potentially offensive shorthand for the process of gender reassignment by surgical and other medical procedures. Note that from a legal perspective, people in the process of gender reassignment should be called by whatever name and honorific they prefer, and that the appropriate personal pronouns reflecting that change should also be used. The Gender Recognition Act 2004 makes it an offence to identify a person who has been granted a gender recognition certificate by their previous name or gender. Note that transgender and transgendered (adjectives, never nouns) are terms used by people with this condition and by the medical profession in preference to the older term transsexual.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A New Way of NHS Commissioning

On 22nd April I was invited to attend an event in Manchester, jointly organised by NHS North West (the North West region's Strategic Health Authority) and Voluntary Sector North West (VSNW).

The packed audience at one of Manchester City Stadium's conference suites was made up largely of Voluntary (so-called "Third Sector") organisations, who were there to learn about what a change in NHS organisation could mean as an opportunity for them. Over 100 delegates attended.

Transforming Community Services

The Transforming Community Services programme is the latest in a series of fundamental changes to the way that health and social care is conceived, procured and delivered in England.

The process began more than a decade ago, with the devolution of responsibility for health provision to Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), which are responsible for determining how best to serve the needs of their area.

Simply put, PCTs are allocated money from Central Government through their regional Strategic Health Authorities (SHA's) to assure the health and wellbeing of the populations they serve. Crucially, however, nobody from outside tells them how to prioritise what's needed or how to address those needs (other than to meet certain quality standards).

World Class Commissioning

These shifts were also accompanied by a broader understanding of what NHS care is about. The focus has steadily moved from a medically-driven model of curing people who are sick, to a more preventative and socially informed approach, increasingly focussed on developing health and well-being – preventing people from getting ill in the first place.

This kind of change in emphasis was initially slow to take root – mainly because health service professionals who had been brought up on the old way of seeing health provision were slow to break out of the mould of letting service provision be determined by what clinicians thought they should be treating. A new approach was needed – an approach that would encourage thinking about the services that communities actually need, and delivering those services in ways that those members of the public would prefer to see.

Eighteen months ago the Department of Health launched a programme dubbed "World Class Commissioning" (WCC). The aim of WCC is to break that old style model of thinking. It is framed around a whole new set of so-called "competencies" for a new breed of NHS commissioners. Commissioners are the health service managers who are charged with determining service needs, designing how to meet them, looking for suitable providers, legally contracting them and then monitoring to ensure delivery is successful. (In the longer term they also determine whether priorities have changed, or whether different kinds of delivery approach are needed and evolve the services they design and procure to match that.

Involving Communities

A central competency in World Class Commissioning is the ability to engage with service stakeholders in order to really get to the bottom of the evidence for need, an understanding of what people want, and how they want it to be provided.

Good WCC work requires an understanding of local diversity, along with an eye for how to engineer equal outcomes from services, in order to ensure that the NHS meets the needs of everyone, and not just part of the community.

Now, in the latest part of the change process, there is also an emphasis on becoming more innovative regarding service provision.

Resolving a Conflict of Interest

Primary Care Trusts commission services, as described above. Many of those are procured from local Hospitals (Acute Trusts) or specialist services such as Community Mental Health Trusts (CMHTs) or Ambulance Trusts. General Practitioners are also contracted by PCTs.

Yet traditionally PCTs have also been the providers of some of the most important services too, such as local clinics. This then creates potential conflict of interest when it comes to monitoring those services.

Also, PCTs and Local authorities need to be able to work together at local level, especially in services where the division between health and social care is blurred. This becomes more complex when a PCT is both involved in commissioning and delivery.

The aim of TCS

On one level, the Transforming Community Services programme is about removing that conflict of interest and making possible a wider diversity of service provision in areas where PCTs would previously have dominated.

By October 2009, all PCTs are expected to have drawn up plans for how to split the commissioning and provision aspects of what they do. So, in each existing PCT patch there will be an organisation whose sole purpose is to apply the disciplines and competencies of World Class Commissioning to work with communities to design and procure services that are fit for the purposes of their local population. They are expected to develop the means to consult and include real patient stakeholders, and to be prepared to redesign the specifications of services they require on the basis of the feedback they receive.

In some cases very little might change. The kinds of medical services provided by existing local hospitals will still be needed; yet providers might be asked to change finer details of how services look and feel to the public they serve.

In other cases the change process may be far more radical as contracts come up for renewal.

Different approaches are already emerging. Some hospital trusts are already gearing to bid for providing community services to several PCTs at once. In other cases the staff who run existing local clinic services have the opportunity to perform the health service equivalent of a management buyout and bid to become an independent provider. In other areas we are bound to see some services being commissioned out to private sector providers too. Traditional private hospital operators are in a strong position to bid to replace some GP clinics or community hospitals.

Some of these changes are bound to be controversial, and there are still many unknowns. For instance, will staff in provider organisations continue to be employed under NHS terms? (A question with significant implications for pensions, for instance).

However, the aim of this article is to discuss the opportunity opened up to third sector organisations who already provide services which are important at the social care end of the health and wellbeing equation.

What TCS means for charities and social enterprises

The opening up of the market for provision of local services to PCT commissioning arms is new and hugely significant for the future capacity and sustainability of the third sector. In short, it provides the opportunity for those organisations (singly or in consortia) to bid on an equal basis to receive health service funding to provide services to the community on a long term basis.

The opportunity raises many questions on both sides of the equation. Commissioners have a great deal to learn about how to engage with third sector candidates for service provision. Equally, voluntary and community organisations have much to learn (and some challenges to overcome) in order to be in a position to bid effectively to provide top quality services in a sustainable fashion.

The event in Manchester on 22nd April was designed to introduce the opportunity and discuss the challenges. Following on from this, a series of roadshow events will be staged around the region to bring commissioners and prospective suppliers together. These will be particularly valuable for specialist services such as Rape and Domestic Violence Centres.

Monday, April 20, 2009

EHRC Responds on the ‘Moving Wallpaper’ Affair


On 20th March Britain's ITV television channel broadcast an episode of the programme "Moving Wallpaper" which depicted various forms of abuse and harassment of a fictional transsexual character.

A 454 member Facebook protest group explains how the programme was viewed by trans people:

"This programme made gratuitous use of a transsexual character as an object of derision. 'Georgina' joins a team of script-writers and is made to feel unwelcome as the butt of their 'jokes'".

The group lists the catalogue of issues which upset them:

Referring to her as "George" and using male pronouns in reference to her; calling her forthcoming gender reassignment surgery a "knock-through"; threatening to grab her by the Adam's apple, "if she/he still has one"; staff going on strike when Georgina receives a higher rate of pay due to her excellent work; saying she has stubble; calling her "it"; claiming to be scared by her "man hands"; saying she is a man in a frock; writing "vaginoplasty" on her calendar; consistently undermining her right to be part of the writing team and, finally, forcing her to leave by omitting to sign her contract.

According to Pink News [April 1st], over 50 people made formal complaints to the broadcasting regulator OFCOM. [By the time of writing this is reported to be over 85 people]

The Pink News article quotes Professor Stephen Whittle writing to OFCOM on behalf of Press for Change:

"This programme set out to belittle abuse and insult a transsexual woman, in ways that were completely unacceptable and inciting public derision and hatred of transsexual people."

The same article quotes an ITV spokesperson:

"Moving Wallpaper is a well established satirical comedy now in its second series. All material broadcast was in the context of the nature of the programme and there was absolutely no intention to offend. ITV has a strong record in the positive portrayal of lesbian, gay and transgender characters."

The Press Association reported the star of the show, Ben Miller, offering a defence:

"I find Songs of Praise quite offensive, but I don't want Songs of Praise not to be broadcast on television because I think other people who like Songs of Praise have a right to watch it and simply because I find it incredibly irritating and patronising I think that's my problem. It's not Songs of Praise's problem.

"So I think... the fact that people have been offended, people in the transgender community have been offended, by that episode of Moving Wallpaper I think is a great shame. We want to make people laugh; we don't want to upset people."

Seeking leadership from EHRC

When the events were first drawn to my attention I raised the issue with the local management of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, with whom I work at a regional level. This was within the context of an earlier complaint of mine concerning the commission's lack of visible action on any issue relating to trans people's discrimination and rights – an area which they have a statutory obligation to address.

Since then I have reminded EHRC about the programme on regular occasions, to ensure that the topic did not slip off anyone's desk. Today, being a calendar month since the original broadcast, I reminded them again, via the North West Regional Manager, Catherine May.

This is the full text of Catherine's response:

Dear Christine

Many thanks for raising the issue of the recent broadcast of Moving Wallpaper and the portrayal of the experience of a trans member of staff. As agreed, this was taken up with internal decision-makers at the EHRC who have decided not to follow this up with Ofcom or ITV.

Sadly, the media (both print and broadcast) often produce and say things that individuals find offensive. We frequently get requests both externally and internally asking us to intervene in such matters, often by issuing a statement to the media or by taking some sort of formal action as part of our role as a regulator. However we take the view that standards in broadcasting are not part of our remit (that falls to Ofcom), and if we make exceptions and officially intervene then it's very difficult for us to further manage expectations of other stakeholder groups who have also been negatively affected by offensive or discriminatory programming (which is unfortunately all too common).

I am sure you will understand that these are difficult decisions to make, and we have had similar situations with a few different areas of our work – for example we were criticised for not taking part in the discussions around Carol Thatcher's alleged racist language at the BBC.

We are keen to ensure that we take forward other areas of work that we have discussed that are in the remit of our work, and I will contact you about those separately.

Best wishes

Catherine May
Regional Manager, North West
Equality and Human Rights Commission

What I think

Personally, and in spite of my professional relationship with EHRC, I find this response disappointing.

To defend a decision to step back from intervening in this case with the observation that they don't intervene in others paints a picture of a toothless guardian – a fairweather friend, who can't be relied upon to defend anyone's rights when the chips are down.

It also sends a signal to broadcasters and journalists that it's still open season on Britain's tiniest, most vulnerable and most wickedly caricatured and maligned minority. "Go ahead. EHRC aren't vexed".

That makes me, as a transsexual woman working very much in the public eye, an easy target.

I had made the point to EHRC that this was such a straightforward open and shut case. The discriminatory content was evident to all – except perhaps Ben Miller and ITV's official spokespeople.

It was an opportunity for the Commission, which has so often sent mixed messages about its' support for the rights of trans people, to draw a very clear line in the sand and state clearly that out and out bullying (which often takes place in the pursuit of laughs) is not acceptable. And this, no mistake, was an act of bullying by TV – exploiting its' position of power to lampoon – and clearly liable to incite copycat behaviour in viewers.

The excuse that EHRC should not intervene on OFCOM's territory is not convincing to me. There is absolutely no reason why two regulators cannot work together on a case like this – the one commenting on the illegality of the scene portrayed, the other on the conduct of programme makers. In fact EHRC has, by inaction, robbed OFCOM of a point of reference when they adjudicate the complaint.

And the future?

I'm promised that EHRC are still diligently working on the broader issues that I raised three months ago in January. Having hung up my campaigner hat to be more "corporate" (as they call it) I'm in the difficult position that I have to award the professional benefit of the doubt to the commission and hope that, at some point in time, they will speak up publicly on behalf of trans people and manage to acquit themselves.

And I do repeatedly stress to the commission that they really need to achieve something concrete to acquire any vestige of credibility in the eyes of a community of people who have so far seen no positive outcomes on which to judge them.

In the meantime, I can only hope that EHRC seriously don't expect me to go out on a limb and try to convince any more vulnerable, frightened, angry people that they should put their trust in them sorting anything out for trans people in distress. At the moment I would find that unconscionable.

I'm your critical friend guys, but you surely don't expect me to offer your excuses as well?

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Lovelace Colloquium Videos

The second annual BCS Lovelace Colloquium took place at the Electrical Engineering Department in Leeds University on 16th April 2009.

The aim of what is now an annual national event is to reach out to young women undergraduates and inspire them about the opportunities for them to pursue both academic and business careers in technology areas such as Information Technology.

A "Just Plain Sense" Podcast about the event contains interviews with the organisers, some of the speakers and the delegates too. Below you can also see a selection of videos showing parts of some of the actual presentations.

Introduction by Alan Pollard FBCS CITP – President of the British Computer Society

Alan Pollard explains why he thinks that women have special qualities to bring to IT

Keynote speech by Gillian Arnold of IBM

Gillian talks about the fun beginnings of her career and then points to the research that underpins why many companies are now seriously keen to employ more women in technology management and leadership roles

"Are we having fun yet?" - Dr Julie Greensmith

Julie Greensmith bubbles over with infectious enthusiasm for her work within the "Thrill Laboratory" at Nottingham University, where she and colleagues do serious research about measuring human reactions, and use rollercoasters as their laboratory tools.

"Unify your communications" by Eileen Brown - Microsoft

Eileen is a technology evangelist at Microsoft. She is one of the few women among 300 or so similar evangelists and her particular speciality involves developments which bring together different communication technologies in one joined-up whole: Email, Phones, Voicemail, Video, Text, and Instant Messaging all working as one

"Software Engineering Meets Social Networking" by Professor Cornelia Bolyreff - University of Lincoln

Professor Cornelia Boldyreff shows off a "One Laptop Per Child" (OLPC) XO device and talks about the collaborative approach used by developers building software tools and applications for the device.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Updated position on Equality Bill provisions for discrimination based on “Perception”

The Leader of the House of Commons, Ms Harriet Harman, yesterday made an important announcement in Parliament concerning the Government's planned approach towards protections relating to discrimination that is related to either perception or association. That is, it deals with cases where people are motivated to discriminate against someone either because they associate with a member of a particular equality target group, or because they perceive someone (rightly or wrongly) to belong to that group.

Her statement is reproduced in full from Hansard below.

Cabinet Office

Equality Bill

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): In Great Britain, we already provide protection against direct discrimination and harassment that arises because the victim is wrongly perceived to belong or subscribe to a particular race, religion or belief, or to have a particular sexual orientation. Direct discrimination and harassment arising from association with a person of a particular race, religion or belief or with a particular sexuality are also prohibited.

The Government's response to the consultation on reform of discrimination law(1), published on 21 July 2008, set out how we proposed to deal with direct discrimination and harassment based on perception and association in the Equality Bill. But we also made it clear that we would need to consider carefully the terms of the judgment of the European Court of Justice in the Coleman case(2), published on 17 July 2008, before determining the final approach for the Equality Bill.

I am today announcing that we have decided to extend the prohibition against associative and perceptive direct discrimination and harassment to other strands and areas where this does not currently apply. The Equality Bill will therefore prohibit direct discrimination and harassment based on association and perception in respect of race, sex, gender reassignment, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief and age and in relation to both employment and areas beyond this, such as goods, facilities and services.

This extension will implement the Coleman judgment in Great Britain and the extension to other protected characteristics is in keeping with the aims of the Equality Bill to simplify and strengthen the law.

(1)Cm 7454

(2)Coleman v Attridge Law and another (Case C-303/06).

Thursday, April 02, 2009

European Parliament approves new anti-discrimination legislation

The following press release has been issued today by Emine Bozkurt MEP concerning the vote to approve new EU non discrimination legislation

Press release:

European Parliament approves new anti-discrimination legislation

European Christian-Democrats vote against

"A wonderful victory for equal rights in Europe", says Dutch Member of European Parliament Emine Bozkurt who led the negotiations on the issue for the European Social-Democrats. She feels however very disappointed by the no-vote of the European Christian-Democrats. During the votes it became clear the overall majority of them voted against the new directive. The proposal for legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, religion, age and disability throughout the European Union was approved despite this opposition by the largest political group in the EU Parliament.

The European Parliament proved to be extremely divided about the new legislation. The European Social-Democrats stressed from the start the need for the new directive which eliminates the hierarchy between different grounds of discrimination. Bozkurt: "It is so important that all people in Europe are protected against discrimination. It is absolutely unbelievable that so many MEPs still voted against. It is just impossible to explain why still not everybody is protected against unequal treatment. Discrimination harms our entire society and we need to tackle this in all possible ways."

The newly proposed rules will ban discrimination on the basis of age, handicap, sexual orientation, belief and religion. They are meant as an addition to existing rules which currently only protects certain groups from discrimination or only in certain situations. The new anti-discrimination directive should guarantee that European citizens can move freely in each EU Member State without facing discrimination. Bozkurt: "Throughout the EU people are still discriminated, they are denied insurance, education or a home just because of their age, religion or sexual orientation. Furthermore, at the moment only three countries in Europe have legislation against multiple-discrimination. This means for example that a gay woman in a wheelchair who is discriminated will usually be forced to choose on what ground she suspects the discrimination took place when she files a formal complaint. Thanks to Social-Democrat proposals people will no longer be forced to make such an absurd choice."

The impact of the new rules will be different in each EU country. Bozkurt: "In some East European countries the LGBT-community now hardly has any legal protection but it is wrong to generalise and there is no real East-West divide. Also, legislation to enable handicapped people to fully participate in society is far behind in many European countries, including my own. This directive is ambitious to change this but also reasonable and realistic. It gives countries and businesses plenty of time to make the necessarily adjustments."


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

GEO assurances on Equality Bill provisions for trans people

During the recent reception at 10 Downing Street in celebration of LGBT History Month I fell into conversation with a senior official from the Government Equalities Office (GEO) and used the opportunity to relay the concerns being expressed by some transsexual people about the Bill's expected provisions. I followed this up by email as well.

Recently the senior civil servant responsible for this aspect of the Bill wrote to me with some specific assurances and, with permission, I've placed his comments below.

The Equality Bill is expected to be tabled in Parliament very soon now so everyone will then be able to see exactly what it does and doesn't say.

Extract from GEO official's letter:-

Last year we published a comprehensive document on the content of the Equality Bill which also summarises the responses we received to the Discrimination Law Review consultation held in 2007. A copy of the response can be found at

In summary the main proposals which relate to gender reassignment are that we will in the Bill:

  • provide protection against direct discrimination for people who associate with others who are planning to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone gender reassignment;
  • provide protection against indirect discrimination for people who are planning to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone gender reassignment;
  • provide protection against discrimination because of gender reassignment in the exercise of public functions; and
  • change the definition of gender reassignment to make it clear that protection against discrimination on this ground is not dependant upon a person being under medical supervision.

Since the consultation response was launched, DCSF have subsequently announced they propose to use the Bill to extend gender reassignment protection to schools.

With regards to the use of perception we are aware of the difficulties of the practical application of the law with regard to discrimination on the ground of gender reassignment outside the workplace, which is not just for the Equality Bill but became an issue as soon as we introduced the Regulations that amended the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (SDA) in April 2008. We believe that education and practical guidance will have an important role to pay in this. Nevertheless, in drafting the Bill, we will be exploring to see if there is any way of increasing the clarity on the face of the legislation.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day - Admirable Jane

For almost three months there has been a badge at the top corner of this Blog. It proclaims,

"I will publish a blog post on Tuesday 24th March about a woman in technology whom I admire but only if 1,000 other people will do the same."

Ada Lovelace Day

The "Ada Lovelace Day" campaign pledge was the brainchild of social networking specialist Suw Charman-Anderson, whom I interviewed for the Just Plain Sense Podcast about six weeks ago.

Suw's target of 1,000 pledges was achieved within a week of the launch at the beginning of January. Since then the number has continued to grow and now stands at over 1,500.

The purpose of the campaign has been to help highlight the existence of women having successful careers in all forms of technology, and to laud the kind of work they do. By this means it is hoped that more women and girls will be inspired through the role models they see to aspire to being technologists too.

Two bites of the cherry

As I produce both a Podcast and a Blog I realised that I had two opportunities to get my teeth into this initiative.

Over on the Just Plain Sense Podcast you will be able to hear me interviewing a woman who, 30 years ago, made such a big impact in her field that the world would probably not have been the same today without her.

In the 1970's Lynn Conway created a methodology to unlock the potential of very large scale computer chip design and then taught a generation of electronics engineers how to do it. Those engineers then went off and created the kinds of small, light, inexpensive electronic gadgets that we take for granted today.

She literally changed the world – which certainly qualifies her for the label of a woman to admire. You can hear the two of us talking about that work here.

Few of us will be presented with the chance to change the world in such a profound way as Lynn. But you don't have to be a technological megastar to inspire. And that brings me to the subject of another friend.

Admirable Jane

Jane's job has decidedly unglamorous aspects, as you'll read in a moment. It's pretty specialist. There are few experts like her of either sex in the world. You might not even have thought about it as a technology in the same way as more obvious fields like electronics or pharmaceuticals, for instance. Her work involves being often the only woman in male environments. It's dirty at times. Even mildly dangerous.

Yet you can see from the way that Jane approaches her work – the discomforts she'll cheerily endure – that Jane loves her job. It's enthused her for over thirty years.

And, if most of us are born into this world to toil then wouldn't we all wish to be enthused in that way by what we do?

But let me explain...

The corrosion specialist

Jane Allen is a much sought-after expert in the science of things that corrode. Her business is rust. More to the point, her speciality is the way that metals rust in extreme environments, such as the hulls of merchant ships, or the airframes of jet planes. She knows about the ways that surface treatments such as painting or galvanising can impede corrosion, and the ways those forms of protection can be compromised over time.

Owners of merchant ships and airliners, plus the makers of marine and aviation paints, are equally interested in her ability to inspect and diagnose the condition of structures to see how well they are faring.

Getting down and dirty

Jane's tales of her work almost always seem to involve a phone call asking her to be somewhere else on the planet at a day's notice.

The most vulnerable parts of ocean going ships are the areas of the hull below the water line, both inside and out. Areas like the keel of a ship can only be inspected with instruments when the vessel is in dry dock. These occasions are generally brief and expensive for the owners. A chance may arise at short notice to get a ship into dry dock.

The fees for using the facility are very high, and the cost of having a large oil tanker or freighter out of service for a day more than necessary are astronomical. Owners don't want to wait a day more than necessary.

So Jane is used to throwing clothes into a bag, grabbing her passport and running for the airport to get to the place in the world where her skills are needed.

When she gets there, the working environment is not the most hospitable. She'll be crawling under the keel of a ship that weighs thousands of tons in dead weight. The surface will be covered with barnacles. Nearby, workers will be sandblasting the encrustation away. She needs to work quickly to inspect the unmodified surface to determine how well the paint has adhered, and how much metal has been corroded away.

No picnic inside

If the world underneath a large ship sounds pretty uninviting then the insides are pretty tough-sounding too.

The most vivid (and inspiring) of Jane's business travel tales concerned an occasion when she was commissioned to inspect the inside of a supertanker whilst it was crossing the Atlantic to collect its next load.

The holds of a supertanker obviously can't be inspected whilst there is oil in them. For this inspection the crew had done their best to rinse the hold with seawater. Nevertheless, when they opened an inspection hatch on deck for Jane to enter, the only way down was a single steel ladder, descending almost 200 feet from deck level to the inner hull.

Jane recounts that, in spite of the cleaning, the rungs of the ladder were still quite greasy. The massive hold was pitch dark. To enter she had to climb first over the metre-high lip of the hatch. The air was pungent. There was a risk of gas pockets. To add to the discomfort the tropical sun on the tanker's hull made it oppressively hot inside the hold for someone wearing the full hazardous environment outfit.

No Amazon

By now you're probably imagining Jane to be a tough, burly kind of woman, but you couldn't be farther from the truth.

She's about 5ft 2ins. She's very slim. Most of the time I've known her, since University days, she has sported gorgeous blond hair that falls straight almost to her waist.

When she is not crawling around hellish environments with a torch and her measuring instruments she's everything the stereotypes say a woman should be. She cooks impressively. She brings her engineering eye to dressmaking or running up curtains. She loves long hot baths with scented candles. Her taste in decoration has changed like it does for us all for the years, but it's always decidedly girly.

The point I'm labouring to make is that Jane has always inspired me by the way that she shows that a woman can have a job like this without sacrificing one iota of her natural femininity. And nobody thinks her anything less of a woman because of the things she does.

Working among men

Jane and I have also often talked about the way that her work dictates that she is almost always the only woman in an environment full of men.

To go back to the supertanker story, I was fascinated to know how she got on for several days being a woman on a ship full of the kind of men you'd expect on oil tankers.

The answer, short and simple, is that she handled it. The crew quickly got used to her being there. They knew she was there because she is very professional at what she does. And, since she didn't expect any special treatment or emphasise her sex whilst she was on board, it wasn't a problem.

A great role model

Personally I found these aspects of Jane's "get on and do it" approach, coupled with her passion for her subject, utterly inspiring.

As a role model, and totally unaware she was doing it, her matter of fact stories altered my own philosophy about what I could or could not do.

Just by living her life the way she does, Jane unwittingly became one of my most influential role models. She removed the barriers that social conditioning creates in us all until someone points the way.

Two admirable people, one lesson

Lynn and Jane are both women friends of mine with a great passion for their subjects. Some would measure them by their academic qualifications, their inventions, or the money they've made from their cleverness. Yet that would be to miss the point.

Knowing both women it's clear that a big part of the way they would define their happiness and fulfilment would be through the fun and inspiration they get out of their work.

Neither has ever set out to be successful; a star; or a role model. They're not trying to score any points for feminism. They've simply found their passion in life from the pleasure of working in the fields that they do.

And neither of them would have been able to taste the thrill in their work if they had paused for more than a second to consider whether their pursuits were proper or feasible things for a woman to do.

They're both women I admire. Superficially the admiration is for how good they are in their fields. Yet on a deeper level the admiration stems from the effects which their disregard for barriers has had for me personally.

My deep admiration comes from the fundamental effects which both women have had on my own concept of what is possible. And I hope that by doing my best to tell Lynn and Jane's stories this week, for Ada Lovelace Day, they may help inspire other women or girls to aspire to have fun with whatever area of technology catches your imagination.