Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Review of the Year - 1996


This is the time of year when the media turn out their drawers and rehash their notes to produce reviews of the year just passed.

Rather than recycle 2011, however, I thought it would be much more interesting to dig deep into the archives and see how I viewed things 15 years ago when, as a campaigner for the organisation Press for Change, my colleagues and I were still a full eight years from achieving our primary goal.

The review below appeared on the Press for Change campaign's groundbreaking campaign web site on the evening of December 30th, 1996.

Review of the year

On Friday 27th December 1996 the BBC did something quite extraordinary. Mind you, you'd be forgiven if you missed it ... for it was the very low key nature of the event which made it the more remarkable.

Never an avid television watcher, I must admit that the event wasn't something I'd anticipated either … It was pure chance that I decided to turn on the television in my kitchen to accompany some rather overdue seasonal washing up at 7.30. It was pure coincidence that the set was tuned to BBC2 ... and it was sheer serendipity that meant I caught the name of the presenter of the programme that was just about to begin. Otherwise I suspect I'd have missed the significance of what I was about to see too.

Along with names like April Ashley and Caroline Cossey, Jan Morris is probably one of the best known transsexual names in the world. Her book, Conundrum, first published in 1974, gave the world an intelligently written, even if annoyingly stereotyped, account of what it was like, for her, to be a transsexual woman in the 1960's. An accomplished travel writer and historian, famous first for bringing an on-the-spot account of Edmund Hilary's historic Mount Everest expedition back to the world in 1953, Ms Morris's chintz style of writing isn't everyone's cup of tea. I suspect that it was Jan who gave the world that annoying expression “trapped in the wrong body” too. Mind you, like many who followed in her footsteps, I owe a great deal to her for that book ... the first I read on the subject, and the first opportunity I had, back in 1974, to really begin to understand my own life.

To give credit where it's due though, Jan Morris's most important contribution to transgendered history will be that she has simply got on with her life and treated her condition with a matter-of-factness which invites others to do likewise. As with so many other successful transsexual people, indeed in common with other successfulwomen, the key to her survival has been her very great skill at what she does. And if it's true that a woman has to be far better than a man to get on in this world then it does not take a great deal of imagination to appreciate what it takes for your skills to eclipse the notoriety of being a transsexual woman.

So the remarkable aspect of BBC2's two part personal travelogue, Escaping from Liberty, was not that a transsexual woman was on television ... we've had rather a lot of that this year ... but that it marked, as far as I'm aware, the very first occasion when a transsexual woman was on television to talk about something other than transsexuality.

For Jan Morris's early evening two-part television programme was very firmly in the mainstream. In it she traced the well worn road of so many other travelled writers before her. She was visiting the places that were important and interesting to her ... ticking off the list of places with important associations. And that list did not includeCasablanca!

It was, for me, the cherry on the cake. The summit of a remarkable year. A reflection that transsexuality is coming to rest in the nation's psyche as something that can now be dismissed in a single sentence explaining, out of necessity, how the programme's presenter came to visit Trieste as a 19 year old “Tommy” during the Second World War. It represents the subtle recognition that maybe, at long last, a change of gender is no more of a liability on one's CV than a tonsillectomy.

.. And it set me thinking how far we've come as a campaign in one astonishing year.

A year to remember

When the history comes to be written then I'm sure that 1969 will undoubtedly be recognised as the year when it all started to go horribly wrong for transsexual people in the United Kingdom. Maybe, however, 1996 will go down as the year when, at last, the tide began to turn the other way too.

Many of the foundations were laid before that, of course. Indeed, Press for Change and its' associates had been preparing the ground actively for four years before 1996 even began, and that was on the foundations laid by brave individuals like Mark Rees and Caroline Cossey who had gone before. The flavour for the campaign in 1996 was set, however, by the European Court of Justice hearing of the P vs S and Cornwall County Council case in the autumn of 1995, the proactive appearance of many activists in public at the Conservative and Labour Party conferences that year, and then ... the jewel in the crown ... the opportunity, just before Christmas, for Alex Carlile MP to present a private members bill to parliament in the new year.

It was like a double Christmas present. In the space of one heady week we heard the preliminary recommendation by Advocate Tesauro ... that `P' had been illegally discriminated against under the Treaty of Rome and then the next day, on December 15th, came the announcement that the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman, Alex Carlile QC MP, was to use his (ninth) place in the ballot for private members' bills to present a piece of legislation to eliminate the problems endured by British transsexuals.

It certainly was an exciting time. In the space of a few months we'd gone from nowhere as a campaign, talking furtively to journalists we barely trusted, to ringing them up and demanding coverage. Chasing ... Cajoling ... Educating. And, less publicly for some of us, sitting down in a corner now and then to cry in sheer relief at the sense that a lifelong burden was at last being shifted ... if only slightly. On December 31st of that year, in fact, I wrote to my colleague, Stephen Whittle :

…But the tide is turning, Stephen, don't you think? Maybe we're in that moment of stillness when the waters have stopped flowing one way, and have not yet begun to rush in the other .. but the boats are ready, and maybe this is our tide. May 1996 bring health, wealth and happiness to you and your family. And may it be OUR year too.

It's hard though, even just twelve months on, to fully take in the sense of excitement that gripped us in January as we started the year. Suddenly we had an enormous task on our hands ... to get our message across to sufficient MPs, in all parties, to put some support behind Alex's bill.

Encouraging people who are accustomed to keeping their heads down to actually go out and see their own MP, or even just write to them, is not an easy task ... and yet in the end hundreds did so. Some even went further… One partner of a transsexual woman personally mailed the entire parliamentary Labour party herself ... signing each letter, and addressing every one of the 300-or-so envelopes by hand. Many others spent late nights on smaller, but no less impressive, personal mailshots too.

It was, in the words of one MP, “the most impressive lobby of its' kind that I've seen in 25 years”. Looking back though, I'm less surprised ... more inclined to visualise the scene when word goes round the prison that there's a crack in the outer wall…

Meanwhile the combined effect of a favourable court recommendation and the kudos of a parliamentary bill (even a bill doomed to failure from the start) was having a long awaited effect on the minds of folk in the media.

Dec 14th 1995 Advocate General Tesauro of the European Court of Justice recommends a favourable outcome in the case of P vs S and Cornwall County Council
Dec 15th 1995 Alex Carlile QC., MP wins ninth place in the ballot for Private Members' Bills and announces that he'll use the opportunity to promote a bill giving full legal rights back to transsexual people.
Jan 1st 1996 A new web site begins, dedicated to supporting the objectives of Press for Change by charting news of the campaign and distributing educational resources to campaigners and journalists alike.
Late Jan Sonia Carmichael, a pre-operative transsexual woman from Manchester, takes her employers to court on her own for wrongful dismissal ... first evidence that transsexual people across the country are suddenly prepared to stand up and be counted.
Late Jan The European Commission on Human Rights decides that there is a case to be heard concerning the claim by a transsexual man to be recognised as father to the children of his partner (conceived by donor insemination). A hearing is promised for the autumn. Broader human rights cases by two transsexual women are admitted too.
Late Jan The Parliamentary Forum on Transsexualism updates and reprints “Transsexualism : The Medical Viewpoint”, incorporating significant new research published in Nature.

With the best will in the world it was hard to get many mainstream journalists to think very far beyond the agenda set by the headline writers little more than a year ago. Brought up on a diet that cast transsexual people as perverts, attention seekers, outlaws of gender discourse (or just plain misguided) it was an uphill struggle to get some writers to think beyond their first stereotyped paragraph, which you could usually write for them in advance…

Strapping worker David stunned colleagues when he sashayed into the office on stilettos and announced: "Don't call me David - call me Jane." The gender bender who deals with [his employer's] most sensitive cases has caused a storm with his sex swop. Six-footer David, who dresses in sharp career woman suits, is already growing breasts, has softened his voice and learned to flutter his eyelashes….

(Sunday People feature, July 1996. Names changed out of respect for the victim)

The idea that there were real people driven to slit real wrists behind this appalling facade was lost on even the more intelligent and thoughtful writers though. And those who did sit still long enough to listen to the catalogue of real issues which we wanted to bring to public attention were just as likely to come back later with their unpublished pride and joy, having been told by their editor or producer that “we did something on transsexuals six months ago ... it's too soon to do another”. Could you imagine that form of self censorship with any other minority issue?

So if the courts and parliamentary legitimisation didn't necessarily achieve direct successes at the start of the year, the one thing they did do was to make transsexual issues a debatable topic all of a sudden.

Jan 31st A PFC activist appears on Channel 4's “The Slot” in a five minute film explaining the true extent to which she is marginalised and discriminated against.
Early Feb Regional television covers the run up to the Carlile bill. A first opportunity for PFC activists to say their piece to an early evening audience. Television journalists admit to being stunned by how wrong their own preconceptions had been. PFC activists appear in print too.
Feb 1st Woman's Hour presents a piece about a teenage transsexual girl and her family.
Feb 2nd The Alex Carlile bill has its' second reading in the House of Commons. It is pointed out that the bill is being read 26 years to the day after the Ormrod summing-up in the April Ashley case. The bill runs out of time, as expected, but it has served its' purpose well.
Feb 6th Channel Four shows the first of a two part documentary about young transsexual boys. (The Decision, by Oliver Morse, has been two years in research and production and is widely acclaimed. The media “discover” transsexual men for the first time and gender dysphoria is seen in a non erotic light because the films are about the feelings of children).
Feb 19th The Kilroy programme revisits transsexual issues.

As the activity began to die down in late February, however, our sights turned once more to applying legal pressure on the establishment and making appointments to speak to groups who had suddenly discovered our existence after all this time.

Mar 6th A Judicial review examines the cases of two transsexual women (P and G) against the registrar general, for the refusal by the (then) Office of Population, Censuses and Surveys to alter their birth certificates. The case is the first of its kind to be awarded legal aid.
March 31st A distinguished surgeon, senior enough to have worked on the Queen Mother's hip replacement, goes public when faced with blackmail threats about his treatment for gender dysphoria. William (now Sarah) Muirhead-Allwood gets a relatively good press in some broadsheets and attention is focused on the behaviour of the Sunday tabloid involved in the story.
Early April Press for Change encourages all transsexual people to apply at once for their birth certificates to be altered in the light of new scientific findings, and reflecting a possible opportunity created by the judgement in the unsuccessful Judicial review. The OPCS ends up dedicating an official, full time, to systematically reject the applications.
April 30th The event of the year. The European Court of Justice confirms the Advocate General's December recommendation, that `P' was discriminated on the grounds of sex when dismissed by her manager `S' and employers Cornwall County Council. Another brief media flutter ensues, although there is little to report ... for `P' remains `P', an anonymous icon immune from caricature.
Early May Even less well publicised, another English employment tribunal considers whether the P vs S ruling applies beyond so-called emanations of the state, to private employers too. The court decides in the case of `N' that the ruling does apply, but the employers vow to appeal.

If P vs S had one lasting effect, apart from the obvious, then it was to further reinforce the message to thousands of hidden transsexuals in the community that it was now possible to go for it. To seek compensation for the crude and extraordinary treatment they'd endured at the hands of employers and the people whom you might have expected to know better ... their doctors and health authorities.

We'd always known that the majority of health authorities had a poor record of care in terms of transsexuals. Research conducted for the Parliamentary Forum on Transsexualism confirmed that impression. What was more astonishing, however, was the lengths that authorities were prepared to go to in order to circumvent actions threatened by people who were denied basic therapeutic assessment, let alone hormonal and surgical treatment. Once informed of their legal obligation to treat transsexual people within the NHS, the trusts then seemingly went out of their way to concoct regimes that could only be designed to inflict as much delay and anguish as possible upon the patients ... and this remains an area to be tackled. New rules have thrown out previous treatment and assessment records and put patients in some authorities to the back of the queue at the one grossly overloaded centre which is entrusted with the work ... at Charing Cross Hospital in London. Those actually reaching the end of the assessment process, too, then find an unwillingness to fund their surgery ... or that surgery is scheduled and then, for no reason, cancelled days beforehand.

As one observer commented..

These are people who, through hormone treatment, have long since stopped looking like a member of their natal sex ... and who have taken work leave and endured the effects of coming off that hormone regime in preparation for surgery. They are, literally, in a state of limbo. Neither able to function as one sex or the other. To cancel their surgery just hours beforehand, when the surgeon is free and beds are free, is hard to credit.

Some of the attitudes which inform this type of behaviour became apparent to us, however, as May and June became the time for leaks and reports…

Early May Press for Change obtains and publishes a health authority report recommending a regime of assessment and treatment. Few transsexuals recognise the creatures which the report describes, but it is progress at least.
- A fitter in the RAF takes the government to court for wrongful dismissal after being diagnosed as transsexual.
- The Gender and Sexuality Alliance (G&SA) submits a report to HM Prison Service for a review on the treatment of transsexual prisoners. The report highlights cruel and exceptional treatment, and a system biased against any attempts to rehabilitate transsexual inmates. Tales of sexual abuse emerge ... and a blackmail case involving Harrods illustrates very clearly that transsexual offenders can expect disproportionately punitive treatment in court.
- The press gets concerned about alleged levels of oestrogen-like chemicals in baby milk formula. The talk is about fertility effects. Nobody wants to discuss the far more serious possibilities on brain development from pre and post natal environmental oestrogens and anti-androgens ... and the world that awaits those we may be poisoning.
- The Daily Mail reports on a leaked document from the Cabinet Office concerning transsexual rights issues, and passes it to press for Change for comment. The Home Secretary angrily refutes any suggestion that a review should be led by his department.
May 22nd Rights of another kind hit the press, and the Gay rights movement in the United States shifts into a new gear ... this time with long overdue recognition of the benefits to be had from uniting with transgendered groups out of common interest. The Romer vs Evans ruling is the first shot of many, striking down Colorado state attempts to reverse anti-discrimination laws. People are talking about same sex marriages so loudly that they fail to realise that transgendered Americans have been enjoying them for years.
June The G & SA reports depressing research that the majority of Rape Crisis Centres have policies excluding transsexual women ... and the attitude of women's groups in general towards transsexuals of both sexes becomes an issue for debate as PFC activists take up invitations to speak at Lesbian, Bisexual and Gay events. The good news is that people prove ready to listen, to learn, and to revise their opinions.
- Press for Change publishes research into the case of Ewan Forbes-Semphill, a story almost completely erased from the public records in 1967, and which was mysteriously passed-over in the Corbett vs Corbett case that followed two years later. Conspiracy theories abound.

The depressing aspect to July was that even as we finally started to think that we'd actually made headway in eliminating ignorant attitudes from other minorities towards the transgendered, some transsexual people were standing up to prove the depressing fact that small mindedness and fear are universal human traits. In Press for Change we started to get angry and condemnatory letters demanding to know why we were taking part in the Pride 96 march .. and why, indeed, it was now known as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered pride! Some, it seems, thought they'd achieved integration and acceptance in their communities by showing that they were just as capable as them at being bigoted. Mercifully, however, the letters pages in journals on all sides were to show that the bigots are well outnumbered ... and London's Pridewas judged a great success all round.

As summer took us nearer and nearer to the silly season though, and as we anticipated another flurry of legal activity, the more important question was whether we were now building on solid journalistic and legal foundations, or not.

July Radio Four's Today programme displays a sudden penchant for transgendered stories ... first with a feature (completely out of the blue) about Chinese Lesbians and Gays having sex reassignment surgery in desperate attempts to legalise their lifestyles and relationships ... and then with the news that the Japanese government was at last debating whether to legalise surgery. The subtext in the Chinese report is that homosexuality and transsexuality are two very different things and there is some irony in the observation that China regards the latter as a quite legitimate medical necessity and the former as an abhorrence. The conditions aren't exclusively western phenomena ... merely our peculiar regard for them.
July 6th Press for Change leads a contingent of twenty-or-so rather ordinary looking transgendered people near the head of the Pride 96 procession in London.
July 17th A transsexual man appeals against the nullification of his marriage after 17 years, in a case which demonstrates that the judges are now treading far more carefully. There appears to be a desire to embrace what is happening elsewhere in the world (New Zealand in particular), and to reflect the implications of the work published in Nature. Lord Justice Ward, announcing a deferral on the decision, says "We are aware of the growing body of medical and international opinion that this court will ignore at its peril".
August Channel Four screens a series entitled Dark Secrets. Entire half hour programs explore the taboo topics of incomplete or hermaphroditic genital formation and the condition known as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome ... the condition that produces women who are chromosomally male. The last program in the series, dealing with transsexual men, is a huge disappointment though.
- Channel Four also screens the film Thanks a Bunch Mr Ormerod by Pamela Jane Hunt, one of a few television producers who happens to be a transsexual woman. The programme, with its' unusual imagery, has mixed reviews from both the press and the transsexual community.
Aug 27th The XYZ case finally opens in the European Court of Human Rights and provides a new excuse for a round of news pieces and media appearances. The Daily Mail names PFC's Dr Stephen Whittle as the plaintiff, and Stephen shows a lot of style as a personality-in-the-making, with an appearance on Radio Four's Midweek establishing him, above all, as a likeable and essentially rather ordinary Father concerned for the welfare of his children.
Sep 3rd And, not to be outdone, a new producer in the Kilroy camp, decides that it's time for a third look at transsexuality ... in what turns out to be a far-from-civilised debate.

In a far less glamorous vein, September was a busy time for some PFC activists, preparing to take stall space at University Freshers' week events up and down the country. For, all of a sudden, both the academic world and student lesbian and gay groups had noticed a whole new topic for discussion. Over in the United States things seemed to be hotting up too ... and we hoped to follow through on the XYZ case with a compensation hearing for `P'.

Early Sep The United States panics when faced with the back-door legalisation of same sex marriages and rushes in the Defence of Marriage Act (DoMA). It is a long awaited opportunity for US transgender activists to claw their way to the centre of the fight back ... pointing out that the new law threatens, uniquely, to unmarry countless Americans who've had legal gender changes but whose partners stuck faithfully to their marriage vows. It's an opportunity, too, to argue for transgender inclusion in the anti-discrimination legislation, ENDA ... for, whilst UK transsexuals have won employment protection and struggle for legal recognition, Americans face the opposite problem.
- The final chapter of P vs S and Cornwall County Council should have been her return to the Truro employment tribunal, where she had begun, to seek damages for the unlawful termination of her employment. A five figure sum is expected eventually. In the event, the day came and went, as her former manager and employers sought a deferral of the hearing, “to give them more time.” And it now seems that we'll have to wait till later in 1997 for an outcome.

In some ways we can look back now and see that the Conservative and Labour Party conference fringe events, organised by PFC for the first time in October 1995, were something of a watershed. The previous year, at the Liberal Democrat conference, a similar event had been feasted upon greedily by the press. It was treated as a great laugh. In October 1995 the press turned up at the Labour party event expecting something similar ... and left somewhat disappointed. They didn't get what they wanted, and they weren't ready to print what we wanted. By the next week, at the Conservative Party Conference we were relying on favours from broadcasters we knew to even get a presence. The success of those events lay, in fact, not in the coverage ... and certainly not in the paltry turnout of an audience ... but in the message conveyed by the disinterest. Transsexuals were becoming safe for politicians to associate with. We were therefore rather unsure what to expect out of going back to the conference fringe this year and, in the event, decided at the last moment to give the Conservatives up as a lost cause for the moment, and concentrate our efforts on the Labour fringe instead. It was also a month for broadening the range of issues we are fighting. October, in fact, became a month for consolidation.

Oct 3rd Press for Change holds a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference. The press stay away this year, but their places are taken by a much bigger audience of politicians and activists, deeply moved as one of the transsexual speakers dissolves into tears. People confess astonishment : they still weren't aware of the petty and not-so-petty realities endured by transsexual people. Several new speaking invitations are issued ... and delegates go away to tell their colleagues what they missed.
Oct 7th A transsexual woman takes West Midlands Police to court for wrongful dismissal after they had changed their minds about employing her in the middle of her training. They were worried about conflicts between her legal status and the rules governing the sex of officers carrying out body searches on suspects ... and solved the problem by dismissing her.
- Back on the less glamorous side of campaign work, another PFC activist has been taking on a life insurance company ... using the weight of medical and legal opinion built up over the year to make the case that there is no reason why they should not treat her as a woman, and so eliminate the breaches of privacy she would otherwise have to endure when dealing with them in the future. That just leaves health insurance, motor cover and pensions to fight over.
- Other activists reported successes too in getting unions and employers to formulate transgender-inclusive equal opportunities policies ... in an area where it has often been wrongly assumed that a policy covering sexuality is sufficient. (It isn't).
Oct 28th And just to round off the month we are treated to the rather overdue decision that a transsexual woman can at last, in the eyes of the law, be a rape victim. The ruling by Mr Justice Hooper in Reading Crown court is the more remarkable as it has taken over two years since male rape was recognised, for the law to be extended in this way to transsexual women too. The decision was barely reported, and almost twenty seven years of sexual violence and intimidation mandated by another consequence of the Corbett v Corbett decision are now, presumably, to be swept under the carpet and forgotten. In some respects, at least, rapists have always displayed far better manners than lawyers ... ready to treat transsexual women as women regardless.

It wasn't all positive news as the year drew towards a close. In November, the man appealing against the annulment of his marriage lost ... although as his solicitor said afterwards :

“We lost [the case] but on the facts, rather than on the laws. There was clear indication from the judges that they believe that Corbett needs revisiting, and perhaps an analysis of the law should take into account the concept of gender rather than sex. They said that the New Zealand case and the jurisprudence from the US could not lightly be dismissed and in those cases it was said that once a transsexual has undergone treatment, and the other party is aware of their condition, then there is no legal impediment to marriage.”

We started November with a very tangible piece of recognition though ... as Press for Change found itself shortlisted in the nominations for Campaign of the Year in the British Social Services Media Awards, run by Jewish Care. We didn't win, but the breakfast reception in London's Berkeley Square were an opportunity for networking, and for reflecting that a few years ago we wouldn't have even been considered.

In December too we learned that Channel Four Television are now planning an entire season of programmes about transsexuality for the Spring of 1997 ... an opportunity to rerun programmes made in the past and, perhaps, add something new to gradually developing public sophistication and awareness too.

So, as I witnessed last week, maybe we'll see more transsexual people taking a part in television programmes about something other than their transsexuality. Or ... perhaps more accurately ... those of us in the know will see them and it won't be the tabloids' public duty to warn the rest. A well known Liberal Democrat councillor from Tonbridge may be able to advance his political career further. A talented magician may advance her broadcasting career. A surgeon may go on doing what she has been trained to do ... and airline pilots, solicitors, lawyers and the rest may just get on and do the jobs they're good at. It would be nice to think that 1997 might be the year, too, when 5,000 Britons recover the right to marry and participate in family life like anyone else ... but then perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself. After all, it's taken 27 years to reach this point. It would be a major advance just to enable transsexual people to die with dignity .. with a death certificate which records their death, rather than the death of a person who never was. The idea that we might officially recognise the birth ritual of the real person might take a bit longer.

What cannot be denied, however, is that we approach 1997 in a very different position to the one we were in just one year ago ... and light years from the status we endured just five years before that.

It's not time yet to congratulate ourselves. Being transsexual is still a serious issue. The fear and ignorance cultivated by almost seventy years of institutional misrepresentation cannot be erased from society's programming overnight. That will take decades, although official recognition can accelerate the process. By gradually taking the fear and stigma out of transsexuality, however, we pave the way towards that future and ensure that the eventual establishment of a mechanism to recognise the correction of an individual's status is a courtesy, rather than a concession.

And a world that's capable of respecting an individual's right to accept and accommodate such a fundamental aspect of the way in which they relate to others, might just be a better world for everyone else too.

Happy new year. May it be a liberating one for you too.

Christine Burns
December 30th, 1996


Thursday, September 08, 2011

Ten things you'll miss when the NHS has been eviscerated

Conservative Logo

Last night the Health and Social Care bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons owing to the natural majority of the coalition government. It passed by a majority of 65 votes (316 to 251) after four Lib Dems voted against it and ten abstained.

The report stage debate, which preceded the final vote, epitomised all that is now worst about our democratic system.

Over 1,000 amendments were added at the eleventh hour, in ways that couldn't possibly be challenged. Ninety minutes of the precious debating time was given over to consideration of an abortion provision tabled by Nadine Dorries. And, if you watched it on TV, you would have seen very few MPs in the chamber, as legislation to radically alter a precious 63 year old institution was waved through in what had become a formality.

Still time

The bill is not law yet ... it still has to pass through the House of Lords ... although many changes had already taken place in the NHS structure before a word of the bill had been scrutinised by the Commons. Such is the contempt which the present administration has for due process.

There is a campaign to persuade members of the Lords to challenge and scrutinise the legislation. This website will give you the name of a Peer to 'adopt', and you're then encouraged to write to them.

Peers don't have constituencies and are not elected, so they don't have to fear the ballot box. This is why people don't often lobby them direct. Conversely, it's hoped that the novelty of a mass campaign appealing to the Peers' sense of independence and traditional constitutional role, will embolden their lordships to give the government a bloody nose.

Any popular campaign relies on people understanding why it is important to act. In this case the cause has not been helped by certain of the mass media (the BBC in particular) failing to challenge the issues effectively.

I have asked people to reach beyond social media networks and talk to their families, friends and coworkers about the issues, and to get them involved in lobbying the Lords. However, people have rightly pointed out that that is difficult to do if people can't readily understand what the changes will mean in personal terms if they go through.

So here are some consequences to discuss with your friends.

Ten things you'll miss

  1. When you go to see your GP and they say you don't need to see a consultant or should take such and such a drug you will no longer be sure whether that decision is because it is best for you or because the GP has their eyes on a new Mercedes. Giving groups of GPs (now called Clinical Commissioning Groups) control of £80,000,000,000 of the NHS budget means just that.
  2. When it takes longer to get an appointment with the GP it is likely to be because they are spending less time doing medicine and more time in meetings with staff from companies like KPMG who are making their commissioning plans for the board to rubber stamp. Commissioning is a complex process. Don't imagine it can be achieved in a few minutes round a desk by a bunch of GPs in their coffee break. The health consulting industry is poised to move in. And how many GPs will know enough to challenge the advice of the experts, with all those impressive charts they'll have?
  3. If you want to challenge those plans then you'll find that the Clinical Commissioning Group that your practice is part of has decided that the meetings about such important things must happen in private. You'll find local politicians hamstrung because of the complexity of the system and the relationships between bodies.Even the experts haven't figured out yet how it will all work.
  4. If your GP does say you need to see a consultant then you'll find that there's an awfully long waiting list because your local hospital will be selling as much as 50% of its capacity to private patients. This is something that existing NHS hospitals will need to do just to balance the books, especially as the government starts rationing public money for the system, year on year.
  5. If your care requires collaboration then you'll find it can't happen because parts of the care path are being run by private companies who use different systems and, besides, planning services in that way could be seen as anti-competitive. The experts are still arguing whether the system known as 'Any Qualified Provider' means decisions about working together can be challenged using European Competition Law. What is certain is that GPs won't know, and that the big money private providers lining up to exploit the uncertainty have pockets deep enough to afford the very best lawyers to challenge every commissioning decision they don't like.
  6. If you have a specialist need then you'll find you can no longer use your local hospital because your doctor's commissioning group has contracted each condition to different private services which, for efficiency, serve large areas and are located 50 miles away. Note that some of the first services to be contracted out in this way will be things like maternity services, because the cost profile of these is very attractive to private providers. Your local NHS hospital will be left with the complex, chronic, expensive cases. It will have to take on private cases itself in order to make ends meet.
  7. In the longer term you'll find a system in which doctors and nurses become increasingly scarce and are not keeping their skills up to date, because the system of teaching hospitals has broken down and the private providers don't want to spend profits on training junior doctors. The Strategic Health Authorities who currently manage the commissioning and provision of training and ongoing development will be abolished in a couple of years and the health bill currently has no plan in it to replace that function. Health Education England (as mentioned by one of those White Papers that came out like confetti last autumn) is still no more than just a name.
  8. The question of which practice you register with will suddenly be a lot more crucial, as this will determine which Clinical Commissioning Group will be paying for any care you need. Health will no longer be planned on the basis of the needs of a locality, but on the basis of the business plan for that collection of practices. Two adjacent surgeries may have very different budgetary priorities and it is quite possible this may actually be used in a deliberate way. For instance, a Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) whose patients are all young middle class earning professionals without long term illnesses will have a much different cost base than one dealing with patients with chronic illnesses. PCTs currently balance that up by something called 'risk pooling'. Most PCTs serve populations of 150-300,000 people. Within that there will be an average mix of all needs .. so the budget can withstand patients who suddenly need £70,000 on a heart transplant or long term kidney dialysis. If the balance is disturbed then the services with young and fit patients will pocket their profits whilst those serving less well patients will have to ration or go bust. Commissioning Groups WILL be able to go bust, like hospitals. So, if your GP says their list is full but the waiting room looks empty you'll just have to wonder...
  9. We don't know how the system will stand up when there is an epidemic or other health crisis because the whole system of public health is about to be reorganised on new lines and the SHAs and PCTs who formerly planned for and coordinated the system's response to crises are already being taken apart and disbanded.
  10. And when all of this goes wrong, you are also likely to find that the Secretary of State for Health will step back and claim that his hands are tied and that it's all now out of his control, because the traditional accountability vested in him for the last 63 years has been turned into something that armies of lawyers and politicians are still arguing over. Yesterday, in Parliament, the government and opposition had two diametrically opposed legal opinions on this point, which is the first clause in the legislation.

And just a reminder

The NHS wasn't broken in the first place. In fact, various studies indicate that the present system has been on an all time high in terms of public approval, and that Britain's health service delivers top class results for less percentage of national GDP than other systems.

The case for change was not backed by any evidence. Although a system this large and complex (employing 1.4 million staff) could always be improved around the edges, it was fundamentally healthy.

There is now only one chance left to prevent the government's wrecking bill from becoming law, and that is to persuade the House of Lords to show its teeth. The degree to which they do that will depend on how much you can persuade your friends and family to pester them about it.

When the NHS is gone, it's gone. These changes will not be able to be reversed.

The majority of Britons have been born and grew up under a health service that was run for the public good rather than for profit, and which was strategically managed in all our interests. Mostly we take it for granted that it is there when we need it. The rest of the time people probably don't think about it that much.

One day, when you need it, you may discover (too late) that these changes really were as serious as I've said.

In the meantime, have you noticed the sudden glut of advertisements for private health insurance?

Friday, July 15, 2011

In Memoriam: Jodie - Crumpsall's Popular "It" Girl


This piece was written by me in 2006. Until now I had forgotten about it.

Today I needed to explain Jodie's case to someone and I was suddenly reminded.

I thought it deserved the bigger readership which I can nowadays give it.

And there's always a little thought in the back of my mind about whether I should have been more nosy ... more of an advocate.

Born 20-Aug-72 Died 2006

If you had happened to be around North Manchester's Crumpsall district at any time in the last few years then chances are you might have encountered Jodie.

If you had met her you'd know it. She might very probably have told you to "F" Off. She might have hit you with an (invariably) empty spirit bottle. Or, now and then, she could have given you a cuddle.

When friends gathered at the nearby crematorium to say a last goodbye, the consensus was that Jodie was often given to bursts of anger - and that she was nothing if not unpredictable.

A private matter

Mind you, Jodie could easily be forgiven her violet outbursts and acid tongue; by all accounts she had had a pretty sorrowful past.

In my "day job" I used to be involved in the business management of a company that runs care homes for people with learning disabilities or long term mental health problems.

As I was focussed on the efficient running of the organisation and I wasn't a care worker myself, I always used to take a very strict line over the private and confidential backgrounds of our residents.

Unless I had a need to know then it was simply not my business to ask. And if people gossip, as they unfortunately do, then I generally did my best to tune out.

Nevertheless, there was a kind of inevitability about the fact I would end up learning more than usual about Jodie.


Details were sketchy, but (reading between the lines) it became apparent that this 34 year old woman who once lived with us had some kind of physical intersex condition when she was born. It was enough of an ambiguity for local Police to have once posed the question, "Is 'IT' a man or a woman".

As I gleaned eventually, on the way to her funeral, this had also been the key to how she came to be in care.

I learned that Jodie had had a horribly abused childhood.

Many of our service users sadly had nobody in the world listed as their next of kin. That's how long term mentally ill people are often treated by their families. But I was surprised to learn that Jodie wasn't born with her paranoid schizophrenia; she acquired it from a childhood filled with alcohol and drug abuse and more.

So it was that, when she turned 18 years of age, she was quickly taken into adult care.

For those of us who've been well versed in the stories of children assigned one sex or the other without consent as babies, Jodie's "medical" treatment might seem a little odd.

Again I learned on the way to her funeral that although she clearly and unequivocally came across to everyone as a young woman, and although the discrimination she found was linked with her physical ambiguity, the psychiatrists treating adult Jodie were reluctant to operate through fears related to her questionnable capacity to give legal consent.

They were afraid she might get better, think differently, and sue them.

From pillar to post

She went through a variety of institutions and care homes in her short life, ending up at one of ours for a few precious years before being taken away from that too in February 2004.

When she left I clearly remember some staff commenting, off the record, that they expected she would probably end up dead before too long. Two years later they were unfortunately proved right.

A problem nobody wanted

For social workers Jodie was a problem.

She had only to have a cuddle with a man for folks to start looking worried and consulting their guidelines on "same sex" intimacies.

Maybe that was also the reason why the system didn't seem able to find another stable residential home for her to go to when she moved on.

Instead she found her way to the hostels for homeless people in the City where, predictably perhaps, they didn't seem to know what to do with her either.

Could that have been connected with a physically ambiguous woman trying to find accommodation in a single sex hostel? I honestly don't know, but speculation of that kind is inevitable.

Homeless, but not friendless

Before too long Jodie was therefore literally living on the streets, or crashing with local friends with alcohol and drug problems of their own. How she died is unclear even now. All we know is that it was seven or eight weeks before her body could finally be released for a state-funded cremation.

I couldn't describe myself as really knowing Jodie .. other than to pass and say hello now and then when she lived in our largest home. When I learned of her funeral I wanted to go though. Part of me was awfully afraid of her leaving this world with nobody there.

I needn't have concerned myself on that front.

To my delight the little Crematorium Chapel was in fact packed. Male friends of hers, clearly with mental disabilities of their own, took instruction on how to carry her coffin into the Chapel before us. Female friends wept for a departed friend.

The speakers played Roy Orbison as we followed her casket :

Pretty woman, walkin' down the street,
Pretty woman The kind I like to meet
Pretty woman I don't believe you, You're not the truth
No one could look as good as you.
Pretty woman, won't you pardon me?
Pretty woman, I couldn't help but see,
Pretty woman, that you look lovely as can be.
Are you lonely just like me?

Fondly remembered

Her community psychiatric nurse, a caring sort of man, delivered a eulogy that was honest rather than false.

He described their first meeting -- with Jodie unconscious in his doorway, her body for some reason covered in potato crisps. He spoke ruefully of her attacking him with a high heeled shoe -- of her hitting him with an empty spirit bottle.

The minister spoke likewise about being told to "F" Off one day on the street, yet finding her in prayer the next.

There was no point in covering for the reality of Jodie's mental condition and yet it struck me that these people had seen past that and found someone to love, for ALL her shortcomings and flaws.

And nobody was in any doubt as to Jodie's gender. It wasn't even an appropriate question.

As we said goodbye to her and left the chapel it was snowing hard.

"Jodie loved the snow" said our area manager, who had known Jodie for years too.

It seemed in the biting cold that she had a way of still making her presence felt.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

30 Years On - The Bradford Twelve


July 16th 2011 will mark the thirtieth anniversary of a campaign supporting what became known as the 'Bradford Twelve'.

On that day in 1981 a dozen young Asian men from the United Black Youth League were arrested in dawn raids across the city and charged with conspiracy to make explosives and to cause explosions.

The case was set against a backdrop of racist attacks on black and asian communities in Britain, which the Police had done little to address.

The defendants asserted that "Self defence is NO offence" and the hearing of their case lifted the lid on racism in Britain at that time.

Shahnaz Ali (pictured centre) was a teenage girl at the time and was very much involved in the United Black Youth League in Bradford. She was taken for questioning and came close to being charged with conspiracy herself.

Now a senior public sector official, Shahnaz looks back on those events with me in this Podcast interview, and describes what it was like to almost become the thirteenth defendant.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Showing off our wares


Regular followers of this blog will know that my main work these days is as the E&D Programme Manager at NHS North West.

NHS North West is one of England's ten regional Strategic Health Authorities.

An SHA is a kind of regional extension of the Department of Health, channelling funding from the centre to a network of Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) who, in turn, decide how to spend that money on local services to meet the needs of their populations.

The SHA is then responsible for setting strategic direction and monitoring the performance of the whole 'system'.

It's a huge undertaking. In the North West, the SHA has a budget of £12,000,000,000, oversees a system of 63 organisations employing 220,000 staff, and ultimately addresses the needs of almost 6.9 million people living in a geographically massive region.

A story to tell

Earlier this year I published a series of blogs describing our team's philosophy where Equality and Diversity is concerned. The seventh article in that series provides a handy index into most of these articles.

Since then I've also published a few additional pieces about recent advances, such as the launch of our LGB&T History timeline and a unique practical guide to monitoring sexual orientation.

And if you're wondering why all of this matters then here's a reminder.

Credit where it's due

We are very proud of our achievements as a team.

Our work is led by Shahnaz Ali (pictured right), who is simply one of the most effective innovators I've ever met in this field. I don't think her mind ever stops, and she is a brilliant networker. It is her energy that gets so much out of all of us, as a small but very productive team.

My job, as programme manager, is to catch all the balls she throws and ensure everything gets delivered. Along the way I bring in my various creative and project management talents to flesh things out.

Then there is our communications and engagement lead, Loren Grant, who is simply brilliant at coordinating the talents of our creative contractors, organising the nitty gritty details of events, writing publicity and newsletter materials, running up Powerpoints, and generally producing stuff.

Telling the world

The NHS is a huge place. Overall it employs 1.4 million people. The only larger single organisation is the Chinese Army.

It is never therefore enough to just create good strategies and solutions. You have to work very hard to tell people what you are doing and where to go for expertise. Even in our own region it is a significant task to communicate regularly with 63 NHS organisations.

That's why this week we are off to staff our own exhibition stand at the NHS Confederation Conference in Manchester.

If you happen to be an NHS type and are visiting the conference do drop by to say hello. You'll find us on stand B27.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Trans Tapes


I was discussing today with globe trotting blogger Cheryl Morgan the value for young trans people in being able to hear and see older (long settled) trans role models ... a need which mainstream Film, TV and radio are still (as yet) tending to neglect.

Historically, where trans people have been featured on Film, TV or the radio it has tended to be as curiosities, gimmick plot devices, villains or as figures of amusement.

Juliet Jacques discusses the latter in a recent article for the New Statesman. She and I also talked about the broader issues when I interviewed her for my Podcast a few months ago.

Wikipedia provides a long list of films from which you can draw your own conclusions. The topic has also been analysed at length by several other commentators, such as this example from 2007. Others you can find easily via Google.

All this is then reflected in how trans people say they experience the media, as in this report recently published by Trans Media Watch.

A changing landscape

There is no doubt that things are gradually changing. Channel 4, ITV and the BBC have all developed trans characters through their prime time serial dramas, such as Hollyoaks, Coronation Street and Waterloo Road. This is at least a start.

Such stories have been far better researched and characterised than in the past. Nevertheless, the parts are always still played by non-trans performers, and the story lines are almost always around the travails of transition, having surgery, being outed, or otherwise having problems directly related to a trans background.

There is obviously still a long way to go .. though I could entirely sympathise with those trans actors who wouldn't want to become pigeonholed forever by playing trans roles.

Something has to happen before it's possible for trans performers (and they are out there playing non-trans parts) to out themselves and play a mix of roles (in the way that lesbian and gay actors can still get straight parts).

I discussed this dilemma in interviews with both Calpernia Addams and Adele Anderson.

Role Model lives

In my previous blog (and the comments that followed) it was clear that there are many potential role models in real life, happily getting on with valued work, supporting themselves, having fantastic social lives and settled with lovers or long term partners. They're just not being seen outside of their own circle of influence.

These people's lives are far beyond the stories that the media are fixated upon. They have things to say, and except for those few who write for mainstream publications, they are not being heard.

World wide there are even more names to choose from. This site by Lynn Conway, for instance, documents hundreds of examples of trans women ... although it has been criticised for appearing to privilege looks and passability. There is also an equivalent section about trans men.

The Trans Tapes

Although the Just Plain Sense Podcast is about diversity as a whole, I have tried to feature trans people and trans topics as much as I can within reason.

I thought it would therefore be a useful contribution to bring all those programmes together in one place which is easy to bookmark, share and return to.

If you think that's useful why not mention it to your friends. And if you think more voices should be heard this way, why not pick up a microphone or video camera and start featuring more yourself.

The Performers

Calpernia Addams - on the murder of her boyfriend, the aftermath, and making a career in the media

Adele Anderson - on being one third of the group 'Fascinating Aida'

... and on being a trans performer and entertainer

Nadia Almada - on growing up, coming to Britain, transition, winning Big Brother, and her life after


The Activists, Writers  and Academics

Professor Stephen Whittle OBE - on growing up, transitioning, and developing into a law professor

Mark Rees - on growing up, transitioning, taking the UK to court, and retirement

Professor Lynn Conway - on transitioning, rebuilding a career, and being a microchip industry pioneer

Professor Joan Roughgarden - on transitioning mid career, support from Condoleezza Rice, and challenging Darwin

Juliet Jacques - on writing her groundbreaking blog in the Guardian and about trans people in the media


Trans Kids and their parents

A mother's tale - on coping when a small child says they have a girl brain in a boy body

The adolescent hormone blocking debate

Mother and trans daughter update the hormone debate


Events and Issues discussed

Adopting children

Hate crime - The International Transgender Day of Remembrance

Charing Cross - Clinician Dr Stuart Lorimer talks about the service

Media Portrayals - The launch of a Memorandum of Understanding

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Thank you, but...


We can all do with a little recognition now and then, can't we?

But when recognition is awarded in a clumsy and cack-handed fashion the result can be the very opposite to what was intended.

I learned this week that I've been placed as number 96 in a 100-strong 'Power List' dreamed up by a London listings magazine - one behind singer George Michael, but one ahead of a "talented pantomime dame".

First I was cautiously bemused. Then I was annoyed. Finally I was embarrassed.

Let me tell you why...

A game everyone can play

Like I say, everyone likes recognition.

Do mothers protest against Mother's Day? Hardly. As children we are all raised to take part in the ritual. We buy into the symbolism so much that it's unlikely you'd find many new Mums to argue against being on the receiving end when their turn comes.

The same goes for the other half of the population. Last Sunday it was Father's Day. Even men whose sole contribution has been no more than a proverbial "cock-up" expect to be recognised by some little token of pampering when the day comes round each year.

If we are to discuss systems of recognition, therefore, we have to enter with our eyes open.


We ALL take part, with duties and expectations. If Sandra next door gets chocolates for being a mum, the chances are you may feel aggrieved if you don't get the same.

Recognition is hugely divisive that way.

Being awarded the prestige of an MBE a few years ago I know how destructive that divisiveness can be.

However much my colleagues and I may have deserved national recognition for the voluntary work we put in over decades, the fact remains that our awards left other colleagues, who had also worked hard, feeling overlooked.

It is one thing to all work hard for no return. It becomes something else when some are recognised and some are not.

In our own case national awards worked like ice forming in the cracks between paving stones. Fantastically effective partnerships that were key to our successes in the first place were put under strain and fractured.

In fact I have a theory. If a government really wants to screw up a political movement then all they have to do is lavish favours on some parts of a coalition and ignore the others. A strong overnight frost then does the rest.

So that's my declaration of interest in this matter. However, I digress.

Without warning

I learned about my new 'recognition' quite by accident earlier this week. The Pride Power List had apparently just been published by the London listings magazine Time Out.

An erstwhile colleague challenged one of the compilers, the gay author Paul Burston, on why there didn't seem to be any trans people on a list of the great and good in LGBT society. He tagged me in the facebook thread where Burston replied.

And that is how I was informed that I had been put on this list, tucked away near the end where my friend hadn't first noticed.

Not another list

Time Out's compilation of LGBT glitterati is not the first attempt to list and rank queer people for some kind of recognition.

The Independent on Sunday's annual Pink List is perhaps the most established compilation in the UK.

Each year's selection is bound to attract controversy. In fact I suspect they are designed to. It's both a publicist's and a blogger's wet dream.

(Hey, and what am I doing? Aw shucks, sorry  ... I know)

Objective? Well...

It's hard to know where to start picking fault with lists like these. The flaws are so obvious.

Quite apart from the divisiveness which I've already mentioned, what's the basis for picking names for a list of 100 'top' LGBT people?

A list of the top 100 ranked by personal wealth or Body Mass Index I could perhaps understand. These are measures which could be indisputably objective. Maybe even health-promoting.

I could even understand a list based on public votes .. although those are susceptible to distortion. I could ask my 1500 Twitter followers to vote for me and my associates, for instance. (Actually, that would be one measure of "power and influence" of sorts).

But how are these lists compiled?

Well, in the case of the Time Out list, Pride London publisher Linda Riley explains,

'We have tried to make it more public-oriented [than the IoS Pink List] by asking the advice of a wider selection of people and organisations. The original top 300 were sourced by various people, who were given the chance to submit their favourites. This means there are entries who aren’t necessarily known to the wider public and not necessarily famous, such as business professionals. The list celebrates those who have contributed through their work to the LGBT community and/or have influence on the LGBT community by being inspirational role models.’

The magazine continues,

The final list of 100 was decided by judges Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall; Angela Eagle, MP for Wallasey and one of only two out lesbian MPs; and Linda Riley, managing director of Square Peg Media (publisher of Pride London).

So, you could say that the compilers have tried to cover both bases. They've tried to acknowledge public opinion, and then narrowed that down by committee.


But this is where all the usual issues of subjectivity arise.

Already this week I've seen some folks say how they feel that the committee's makeup automatically lends a kind of institutional bias to the process.

To quote some of the comments that you can see below the list,

What about the THREE openly-gay Government Ministers? What about the Deputy Mayor of London and the Prime Minister's Political Head of Media, just to mention a few?

And this...

...there are countless numbers of gay men and women across the country doing sterling work in their own community. An example is Paul Martin CEO of the LG Foundation in Manchester who was recently award an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours last week. His work in the north west has an impact in London to. Other people to be considered are Derek Bodell and Deborah Jack who steered and continue to steer policy and campaign on HIV and AIDS booth here in the UK and internationally. As does the work of Lance Corporal James Wharton, Household Division who visits schools to combat homophobia in an attempt to serve Queens and Country. Fantastic that Time Out is doing this and to see my old mates Paul Burston and Stella Duffy high up in the list!

And this...

...Lynette Nusbacher, former lecturer at Sandhurst and counter-terrorism advisor to the PM's department. Kate Craig-Wood, Entrepreneur and founder of one of the UK's largest IT groups... But that would be 3 Transsexual women on the list, well above quota.

The names you leave off a list like this assume much more importance than the names you include.

What counts?

Then, of course, there is a well exercised debate about the relative merits of sportspeople and celebrities versus activists, politicians and entrepreneurs.

There are many ways of wielding influence. They're not all obvious. Indeed, some of my own most influential work happens in ways that are not public. You only tease out that kind of influence by engaging genuine peers who understand that in the shortlisting process.

What kind of influence are we counting? People who are role models to the public? Role models for other (especially young) LGBT people? Or people who open doors in business and the corridors of power by leaving an indelible memory that LGBT people can be exceptional contributors, managers and leaders?

Time served?

A vast proportion of the celebrities and politicians on both the Time Out and the Independent on Sunday's lists are people who acquired their power and influence whilst in the closet.

Much of the controversy about last summer's Pink List was about awarding top ten ranking to people who had only recently revealed their sexuality. Last year's Number One was the Rugby Player Gareth Thomas, who had only come out eight months previously.

The IoS explained:

The revelation of Thomas's homosexuality in an interview with the Daily Mail last December confirmed what had been an open secret in rugby union for years after his separation from his wife, but it highlighted the taboo over gay people in professional sport. [..] From living a lie, he has taken on the role of campaigner, working with Childline to reach out to young people facing the dilemma with which he struggled from the age of 17.

Significantly, Thomas tops the Time Out list too.

Unfair advantage?

Trading off the benefits of building a career in the closet is bound to be controversial for some.

For instance, whereas it may be a choice for lesbian, gay and bisexual people it is less of an option for trans people. Given the paucity of trans people on lists like this (I'm the only one so far) this ability to judge when to come out without harming your career is bound to be a bone of contention.

Journalist and Blogger Patrick Strudwick (No. 87 on the Time Out list) has argued in Gay Times that closeted gay people in the media are shirking their responsibilities when they fail to come out. He says,

While pampered public figures indulge their closeted concerns about the effect that being open and honest might have on their career – and, to be fair, on their personal life – thousands of gay kids, every day, face taunts, abuse and violence.

With sentiments and views like this it is inevitable that people might even think it's rather unsportsmanlike to gain advantage from letting others take the public flak and then be whisked to the front of lists like these when they finally deign to announce what people were probably speculating already.

This week, for instance, I've read speculation about the sexuality of a well known TV personality. If they are ultimately forced into coming out would it be right to pour recognition their way for being a powerful or influential gay figure? Should power and influence only be counted when it has been wielded for a few years whilst out? Or is the example set by coping with coming out something to recognise in itself?

Balancing the diversity

Then there are all the issues about balance among the selection. I've already touched on the issue of choosing people for different kinds of influence. But there are other factors too.

Thirty of the top 50 in the Time Out selection are gay or bisexual men. Only twenty are lesbian or bisexual women. Whilst power differences pervade men's and women's lives, you'd expect that the compilers of lists like these could do better, given an overwhelming amount of talented and influential lesbian and trans women to choose from.

I've not done a detailed analysis but my guess is that most of the list would turn out to be white British.

Black african and asian men and women have more obstacles than their sexual orientation or gender identity on the route to power and influence. Yet their presence on lists like this has an immense influence on Black and Minority Ethnic youngsters.

Similar questions need to be asked about the representation of gay and lesbian disabled people. Over 20% of the wider population has some form of disability. Surveys on the LGBT population seem to suggest that this community is no different. Again, depending on what the criterion is for judging power and influence, you might expect a very much more diverse list.

None of this is about being tokenistic. It goes to the heart of questionning the legitimate purpose of such lists.

Who are they for? What is the intended benefit? If Gareth Thomas is a number one on both the Time Out and Pink List because of the inspiration he is supposed to offer, why is it not equally important to ensure that such lists offer inspirational role models to black, ethnic and disabled readers?

Which brings us to the elephant in the room

It is ironic that I only found out about the Time Out list because a gay friend spotted immediately the dearth of trans people. And then he discovered that my name at number 96 had increased the representation by 100 percent.

What does that say? Is there an implication that, among all the gays and lesbians, I am the only trans person with enough power or influence to count?

Flattering that may be, but remember what I said at the outset about divisiveness.

And, frankly, it's a ridiculous assertion. Quite apart from the fact that people can obviously get onto such a list for very different kinds of talents, I'm vividly aware of how many phenomenally talented peers of mine are already in the public eye.

Thrilled and flattered

I'll be clear, of course. Yes, I do deserve to be on such a list as well as some of my peers.

So, thank you Time Out. In critiquing your approach I have no desire to appear churlish.

Trans people haven't generally been popular awards fodder until now. This could be a first. And, apart from the MBE, the Burns trophy cabinet is a bit empty.

But looking at the reasons apparently cited for my being on the list wouldn't really tell a reader why I deserve to be there for something other than pure tokenism.

It says,

Christine Burns - trans activist - MBE and former Tory branch secretary and who helped pass the 2004 Gender Recognition Act

Faint praise

There's no mention of truly influential and groundbreaking work of mine chairing committees that have commissioned and developed work with important impacts for LGBT people in health and elsewhere (I am a true pioneer in that field for trans people).

There's no mention of my major leadership role in Press for Change, creating a new model for online activism that nobody had tried before, handling thousands of contacts, guiding hundreds of people to be effective activists through my prolific writing.

There's not even a mention of being a patron of LGBT History Month, a form of LGBT community recognition that I am very proud about. I could go on...

And then ... I left the Tory party famously over 14 years ago, so that's hardly a reason to be listed. And to say I helped pass the 2004 Gender Recognition Act is to reduce almost two decades of activism to a bit part. It's rather like the distinction that a hen may be involved in making breakfast but the pig is committed.

Indeed, if I only helped pass an Act of Parliament in the teeth of 35 years of establishment opposition, why are my colleagues who played crucial roles not also mentioned? How many such acts of parliament has George Michael (No. 95) forced through?

Reasons to be cynical

This is why I say that initial bemusement gave way to annoyance. An ill-researched biography like this, seen by strangers, would strongly suggest that I didn't really belong on the list for legitimate achievements, but was there purely out of someone's desperation to tick a box.

I am sure this wasn't the intention of the compilers. However a clumsy and cack-handed approach leaves the door open to such speculation. A failure to convince people that the selection committee has really thought objectively about its' selection and rankings reduces what should be an honour to something far more dubious.

I want to be on such list for sure. But I only want to be there with serious and accurately researched reasons for why I deserve to be.

Only then might any of us start to figure out why I'm supposedly more 'powerful' than "talented pantomime dame" Christopher Biggins and only marginally less influential than George Michael. (C'mon now, you're having a larf)

I suppose, in short, that like many people with a string of serious professional qualifications and genuine marks of recognition, I'd like to think that I'm on a list for some kind of objective reason. Otherwise others might construe it as insulting.

And what about the rest?

As I said in my introduction, however, annoyance ultimately gave way to embarrassment.

There are a great many talented trans people. For me to be the only person to make it onto a list like this when I am in such awe of some of those other people leaves me feeling the need to apologise to them all.

I've described the selection process for this list as appearing clumsy and cack-handed because that is the only way to read such poor research.

You don't have to look far to find long lists of influential trans people who would be candidates to give many of the Time Out list a run for their money.

Wikipedia (where I suspect the compilers got my own details) has a long and useful list of notable trans people. A further page even helpfully breaks down lists of transsexual and transgender people in areas such as law, science, entertainment, sports and the armed forces.

It's also not hard to ask around.

Spoiled for Choice

I conducted a short and unscientific survey for just half an hour on Twitter and I was amazed by the number of times the same names kept being mentioned as people whom trans people rated as having power and influence.

Often mentioned were the new breed of trans writers and mainstream journalists. People like Jane Fae (Pink Paper and various), Roz Kaveney (Guardian and others), Juliet Jacques (Guardian and New Statesman and an Orwell Prize nominee) and Jennie Kermode.

These are people who already have a significant reach in terms of mainstream readers, and they are talents that will hopefully be allowed to flourish. Looking further back for influence and inspiration there is the famous writer Jan Morris CBE.

Also mentioned were the leading lights in a new generation of activists who have increasingly come to the fore since I and my generation of campaigners moved aside for them.

These are names like Christina Alley, Louis Bailey, Jason Barker, Sarah Brown (who is also a Lib Dem councillor), veteran activist Roz Kaveney (again), writer / academic Natacha Kennedy, James Morton, and Jay Stewart.

In entertainment there are well-known figures like reality star Nadia Almada and genius singer/songwriter Adele Anderson of Fascinating Aida. There's also comedienne Bethany Black plus (very popular with the Royal Family) the brilliant magician Fay Presto .. not to mention singer and musician CN Lester.

In business there is the computer entrepreneur Kate Craig-Wood, who has been featured many times in the broadsheets as an inspiring example. Then, in public service there are people such as Lynette Nusbacher, a prime ministerial advisor on counter terrorism.

Summing up

Having already written about the dangers of divisiveness it's difficult to edit a list like this. Overall, more than 30 names were suggested to me and I've tried to be fair by picking the ones who came up most often and putting them in alphabetical order of family name.

Any of the others should certainly be on a list of people to watch out for though. That would include people such as a the founders of the influential Trans Media Watch group, including young talent Paris Lees, who I will stake money on being well known and successful before too long.

OK, so a list of 100 LGBT people that includes major media stars, politicians, sportspeople and entrepreneurs might not have room for all the people I've mentioned. Not yet, at least. And some will have to thrash it out competitively, just as the unlisted LGB hopefuls must do too. But if I qualify for a list like this then I'm damned sure there are at least half a dozen in the list above who qualify as well ... in some cases more so.

The fact that we are talking about one trans woman being alone on such a list points to problem in the LGBT community which isn't new. It just highlights it.

I know some wonderful gay, lesbian and bisexual people who would have had no problem correctly describing my own achievements or of naming most of the names above. However, maybe this experience and knowledge doesn't extend to the people who appoint each other to make lists.

Until they remedy that lack of knowledge and experience, however, they are going to continue producing lists which I, for one, feel embarrassed to be seen on.