Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Chief Executive of EHRC Replies

Yesterday I blogged about correspondence that I had sent to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, expressing concerns about their approach to addressing the issues of trans people.

This evening I received the following reply from the Chief Executive of the Commission, which I'm reproducing here in full.

29 January 2009

Dear Christine,

Thank you for your personal email of 28 January 2009 where you share your concerns around the Commission's approach to transgender equality.

Equality on the basis of gender identity is a distinct statutory mandate for the Commission, separate from gender equality. I don't often talk about strands, because the Commission's approach is to focus on the whole experience of inequality. But when I do, I always say we are a seven strand, not a six strand, equality body.

We recognise that the Commission did not champion transgender equality as loudly as we could have done in our first year in operation. We have realised the gaps in our work and are taking steps to rectify them, because we know that we need to be a national leader, awareness-raiser and advocate in this field.

We have appointed a policy lead on transgender equality and Patrick Diamond, Group Director Strategy, has been appointed as the champion for trans issues on the senior management team. And we have commissioned a full-scale review of the research that exists on transgender inequalities to map the gaps in our knowledge.

We are advising the government on transgender equality in the new Equality Bill, working for as broad a definition of gender identity as possible to ensure that all trans people enjoy equal protection under the law. We are also producing guidance on how to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender identity in the provision of goods, facilities and services, such as housing services and leisure facilities.

In addition, we have been working closely and robustly with Permanent Secretaries in Whitehall to encourage leadership on promoting equal opportunities for everyone in public services, including transgender people.

We are also working to ensure that transphobic bullying is outlawed in education and in schools.

You raised a particular concern about subscribing to the relevant news feed on our website. Our RSS feeds are linked to the news filters that were created when the site was first commissioned. The filters rely on metadata (the way information the public see is tagged and indexed). When the site was commissioned trans issues were classified under gender in this metadata. The Commission now accepts this was a mistake and is fully committed to rectifying the subsequent impact. We are clearly committed to being a seven strand organisation and this will be reflected in our news feeds. The metadata project that will enable this to occur is underway but requires major re-engineering so is not something we can remedy overnight. We hope to have completed this project by the end of March 2009.

I'm sorry to hear that there has sometimes been a delay in your being reimbursed for travel expenses incurred when contributing to Commission consultations. The Commission strives to provide genuine opportunities for stakeholders to engage with us on our developing strategies and policies. We recognise that many of our stakeholders are not well funded, so we try and balance that with our duty to consult. We are currently developing our policy on paying expenses for attending Commission events, which will be designed to ensure that people aren't excluded from contributing to the Commission's work on the grounds of cost. However, as a publicly funded organisation with limited resources, we unfortunately do not have the scope to offer payments for people's time.

Even though you won't be at the Strategy event next month, I appreciate you taking the opportunity to share your views and priorities with us via email. I have passed them on to our Business Planning team who will certainly be looking the three key strategic aims of the North West LGB&T strategy to develop the final strategic plan.

Best wishes,

Dr Nicola Brewer

Chief Executive


Kate Phizackerley said...


I've tried to take a look at the Commission's website but it seems to be down this evening. However, in principle I see no reason why I can't offer you any filtered feed from their site that you want, based on filtering existing feeds on combination of key words eg items containing transgender, Single Equality Act etc If the news items you want aren't even in a newsfeed, it's tricker, but on most sites it's still possible. If I can set up what you want you can pop it in your reader, on your site here, or do anything else you want do with it.

I'd also take great delight in going back to Nicola and saying "Here is a newsfeed for trans issues from your site. Please advertise it."

I can't see a way of contacting you through this site. I can be contacted via this contact form. There's no need to leave an email address if you don't want to, I can just put a link on my site to the newsfeed when it's done and post you a comment back here to tell you where it is.

'Technical considerations' is about the oldest excuse in the book and it always iritates me because all to often there's an easy workaround.


Anonymous said...

Dear Christine

Thank you for taking the initiative and prompting this long overdue response from Dr Brewer. I think that it is inexcusable that the Commission set up to “champion transgender equality” has eventually realised after its “first year of operation” that it should have done this promptly and loudly. It is not as if during its first year that the Commission lacked any reminders of the importance of its role as champion of this severely marginalised group: at least one example being the case finally concluded and widely reported after June 2007, when the Brighton Employment Tribunal ordered Brighton and Hove City Council to pay compensation of £34,765.18 to a former employee (Natasha I have signed the petition).

The glaring omission of an apology for this from Dr Brewer is intensified by the fact that in the first paragraph of her letter Dr Brewer states that for the Commission ...“Equality of gender identity is a distinct statutory mandate for the Commission, separate from gender equality...” and merits a separate and distinct seventh strand.

My confidence in the outcome of the various projects Dr Brewer states that it is intended the Commission will undertake would be much enhanced by her having addressed more directly the areas of concern that you specifically site in your letter to her. I also feel that the Commission is greatly mistaken in its failure to further encourage and accommodate the greater involvement of specialists in this field such as you.


Kate Phizackerley said...

OK, s promised for anyone who wants it, I believe this newsfeed works.

It takes the basic newsfeed from the Commmission, drops notes at the bottom (which tend to include the phrase gender reassignment as a tag) then filters the feed looking for:

- gender reassignment
- gender recognition
- gender identity
- transgender / transgendered
- transsexual / transsexualism

I can't guarantee it works, but think it does :) It's hard to test and the Commission aren't exactly consistent in how they layout news items. I've subscribed to comments here so if anybody finds a problem, post a new comment and I'll take a look at it for you. I can also add any further key phrases to include if I have missed any - for instance if people would generally like any posts relating to Single Equality Bill included in the feed even if they don't refer to gender reassignment, that would be easy to do.

It's a standard newsfeed so you can subscribe to it in any newsreader, or include it on a blog etc.

There is also no reason why the Commission couldn't make this feed available on their site as a stopgap until they have completed their meta data project. If the Commission wish to tailor it for their own needs, they are welcome to post a comment below this and I'll pop up a link to the source code for the filtering.

As I said before, technical barriers is an easy excuse ... but rarely accurate. There is usually a workround like this. I suspect that Nicola Brewer genuinely thought it wasn't possible to offer a filter - being an IT Diector I've learned not to take "no" at first - it's harder for somebody without an IT background to do that. It is not as neat as the flter on the Commission site, but it is adequate for now.

I might add that this technique could probably be used to completely replace the filter system on the Commission site to allow custom filter to be built up now, but including gender reassignment as an option alongside things like disability that are already there. It would probably only take a decent programmer a day or so. Without knowing the inards of the site, I can't be certain but my guess is that could be achieved without undue trauma.

Oh, and now it will be obvious how much, or how little, the Commission does in relation to gender reassignment or transgender issues over the spring and summer. At present it is matching 3 items.

PS When notes have been removed, I've added "See the Commission page for notes". I'll try to hyperlink that back to the page but clicking on the page title will take you back to the Commission page - this is just an extract from the Commission's feed so all the basic links are still in place within each of the items.