Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Why I am withdrawing from the Parliamentary Forum on Gender Identity

The Parliamentary Forum on Gender Identity has been in existence since 1994 and I have been a member since 1995. The Forum brings together trans stakeholders, parliamentarians, clinical specialists, regulators, departmental officials and other significant contributors to work on influencing policies affecting trans people's lives in Britain. Until 2010 the Forum had been chaired very successfully by the Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, Dr Lynne Jones. You can hear me interview Lynne about her work and the Forum in this Podcast.

Today, however, I have officially withdrawn from the Forum. I set out my reasons in an open letter to the new chair which is reproduced below.

An OPEN LETTER to the Chair and members of the Parliamentary Forum on Gender Identity


To: Baroness Joyce Gould
cc: Revised membership convened for meeting on 26th April 2011

Dear Baroness Gould

First of all may I take the belated opportunity to welcome you to your new position as Chair of the Parliamentary Forum on Gender Identity.

As a member of the forum since shortly after it began (I came on board in 1995) I know very well the important history of this group, and the potential which it has to influence matters concerning the lives of trans people.

I know at first hand what an amazing job your predecessor Lynne Jones achieved. After looking at your public record I was happy to endorse the proposal that you should succeed her.

Sadly, however, it is with immense sadness that I must write to inform you and the membership of my decision to withdraw from the Forum.

I do not take this decision lightly. However, events of the last few days have led me to question the validity of the organisation going forwards, with its' mysteriously altered membership excluding some major stakeholders and the remainder looking oddly unrepresentative.

I value my personal reputation far to highly to allow my name to give implied endorsement to the organisation in the form it appears to be taking.

I wrote to the Forum's new secretary (and cc'd you) last week, to express the concern that the Forum was being reconvened without representation from the Equality and Human Rights Commission or Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic. The only acknowledgement I received was to indicate that my communication was being passed on to another member of the Forum, Zoe-Jane Playdon.

So far I have received no reply to my concern about membership, although I see that the suggestion to include EHRC was subsequently made to the group by Terry Reed and appears as though it will be acted upon after she mentioned it.

Had I thought to expand my letter last week I could have added the concern that the revised membership also appears to omit any representation by the Gender Trust - the country's largest charity supporting trans people. It also seems to omit any representation of trans youth. None of the community stakeholders on this list appears to be much younger than 50. Many are retired.

I could also have added the concern that few if any of the membership (myself included) have any present day connection with real grassroots trans opinion. GIRES could claim that to a limited extent, and I certainly welcome the inclusion of a representative of the Trans Resource and Empowerment Centre, which I strongly support.

However, I am amazed that nobody appears to have thought that it would have been appropriate to refresh the group with present day activists from groups such as Trans Media Watch or an FTM group or Trans London -- people who have an up to date mandate to be able to describe what trans people actually want and need and are out there campaigning actively.

The Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone is currently running a programme to improve trans rights, so why is a representative of the Government Equalities Office not included? EHRC is about to publish the results of an investigation around NHS provision, so why were they omitted from the list until someone thought they might be relevant?

Without meaning any personal offence to any erstwhile colleagues, many of the names I see here look decidedly 'tired' and out of touch. It would seem that the Forum has sought to perpetuate the past glories of people whose membership was once unquestionably valid, but who now look like an exclusive club for a group with a misplaced sense of entitlement.

This is a dangerous state of affairs. The Parliamentary Forum has the potential for immense influence. However that influence can be damaging if half of the committee aren't in regular communication with the present day cohort of trans people; if they only represent one part of the community in particular (transsexual people who transitioned years ago); and when they may be out of touch with the way services have developed or are developing.

I don't say this applies to everyone; however, I would urge members to look at themselves critically from that perspective. In particular, they should ask themselves whether the present generation of active campaigners have clue who they are or whether they would consider you equipped to advise on what they need.

These are matters which I would have been content to bring to the table. After all, I've worked in this field for many years; I've been a forum member for 16 years; I've been heavily involved in the design of NHS Commissioning and Designation Policy; I chaired the working group set up by the Department of Health which commissioned most of the officially branded literature on health-related issues; I wrote the definitive NHS guide; I worked on passage of two of the most significant pieces of legislation; I'm a nationally respected Equality and Diversity specialist; and I work at senior management level on NHS equalities strategy... I might have something to contribute.

The main reason I am withdrawing, however, is the wholly inappropriate way in which members of your committee have, behind the scenes, gone seemingly out of their way to exclude the largest and most expert clinical stakeholder body of all, Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic.

I won't rehearse the reasons why that is so spectacularly wrongheaded. The fact that Charing Cross treats 85% of NHS referrals every year, however, would give a clue. The fact that they have significantly modernised their approach and have been very impressively engaging with their patient base is another.

I won't seek to apportion motives. However, I have seen enough of the correspondence that has been bouncing back and forth behind the scenes to feel that the Parliamentary Forum is not an organisation I wish to be associated with.

I do hope you sort it out. However, that will have to be without me.

Yours sincerely

Christine Burns MBE
Equality and Diversity Specialist



Martha Allan-Hand said...


This was always going to be on the cards, especially since the current government came to power, and is as you have pointed out in your other blog another erosion of equality duties, .

It is sad also that GIC has been left out of this, and I for one having been a recent patient know of the good work being done. I am astounded that such a major stakeholder can be left out, ignored, and I will continue to put pressure on my own MP to ask why this has been case.

Christine Burns MBE said...

Baroness Gould has responded to me very promptly, indicating how disturbed she is by the issues raised. She says she was not directly involved in the determination of the membership but will aim to clarify all this at her first meeting.

Helen Wilson said...

Why do I get this feeling we are about to head back to the 1980's!

Thank you for what you have done for us Christine, lets hope this is the kick they need (although I doubt it)

I'm not sure they are even capable of realising the next generation of trans people are ready to take on the mantle and take up the challenges of securing equality. I think some people would rather take us backwards to the compulsory flowery M&S dresses and pearls of the 1980's and a more tame controllable trans community willing to feed off the scraps they throw out.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry o read of your decision, Christine but fully appreciate how you feel. This is, indeed, an appalling situation and I hope the new incumbent takes our concerns on board.
Take care and thank you for letting us know the state of play and your decision.
Felix Garnet-Simister.

Dru Marland said...

Well done. I hope this provokes a rethink and a shake-up on the part of the Forum.

zoebuggy said...

As always, an extremely well composed statement. Thank you for all your hard work Christine...both past and present.

Zoe Blackmore

delia johnston said...

Just a quick note to firstly thank you for all of the hard work you have and still are doing for the Trans community.
I hope this letter with generate some re-thinking, as I know from personal experiences that it often takes a courageous stand by one or two individuals to achieve some changes – I was involved at Ministerial level in my old form on the issue of yes or no to Digital TV switchover, not just in the UK but elsewhere in the world. However frustrating the UK can be Brussels is worst, by a long way.
AS also pointed out there are a number of fresh new blood coming through who are either just starting their journeys or those who, have just completed their journeys and are very willing to be pro-active in a constructive way.
I for one be it personally or professionally, would love to be back involved again, as before it was about my job, now it is very personal, and very relevant for me and so many others.
So will done again

Anonymous said...

As I have said elsewhere, Christine, I admire the principled stand you have taken on this even as I feel truly apprehensive at the notion of a Parliamentary Forum (PF) without the unprejudiced engagement, effectiveness and clear-eyed common sense you bring to the table.

You have summarised the situation very well. It would seem to amount to opportunistic, unilateral gerrymandering of the membership list by a single individual, without involving the Chair or undergoing any sort of minuted discussion within the group. The individual in question has justified this by saying:

"We badly needed a first meeting of the new Forum and it needed to reflect wide changes in community, NHS and human rights agendas – I don’t think anyone has argued with that. It was obviously unfair to expect the new secretariat to take the initiative but someone had to."

In other words, a single member of the PF decided off their own bat that "wide changes" amounted to dropping from Agenda meetings any representatives of the NHS mainstream gender service provider. They alone decided this was a necessity. This is their initiative, their agenda and no-one else's.

This is neither particularly transparent (I had to ask half a dozen times to get even this much) nor democratic in any sense.

Of the remaining four clinicians on the membership list, only one appears still to be working within an NHS service (one which is perhaps a tenth of the size of my own in terms of patient numbers). One works solely in the private sector; two are retired. All are, I believe, trustees of GIRES.

I find it bizarre that, at a time when our government is supposedly "listening to the NHS" that a single member of the Parliamentary Forum should, in such a nakedly undemocratic manner, opt to exclude any input from the largest, most engaged NHS gender service provider. This becomes more ironic still when one realises that the Agenda for the first meeting (to which I am not invited, and which I would not have known about were it not for other PF members, surprised at my non-inclusion) includes three out of six items relating specifically to NHS services. At least one of these recognisably references Charing Cross GIC.

In essence, one member of the PF has opted, autocratically, to talk about us without us. In the context of wider attempts to radically restructure the NHS, I find this worrying.

Dr Stuart Lorimer

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, I have been assured that the matter will be aired at the first meeting of the reconstituted Parliamentary Forum, on April 26th - a meeting whose Agenda has already been worded by and attendees hand-selected by the individual who excluded me.

That would be the point of gerrymandering, then.

Dr Stuart Lorimer

Synaptic Refuge said...

Thank you for your intervention in this situation of the Forum. Your suggestion of the inclusion of current day support groups and activists such as FTM London, Trans London and TMW is to be applauded. I would add the group Spectrum London (of whom I am a founder member) to this list. Also seeking to include members of other groups in the regions around the UK to ensure that a balance of representation is made geographically should be prioritised. It is often the local regional groups who can provide valuable and informed input in a way that the nationally orientated organisations often cannot. FTM London, Trans London and Spectrum London have all got that grass roots contact and experience that would be a valuable asset to the forum. This current 're-organisation' of the forum could almost be regarded as attempting to pull its teeth and tame its behaviour. Rather foreboding in the current political climate. The exclusion of the Charing Cross GIC team is of course, ridiculous considering the wealth of experience and knowledge they can bring to the table.

Lets hope the forum heeds your words.

many thanks...

Michael Gardiner

Denise Anderson said...

I just really want to echo what everyone else has said Christine and that is to thank you for all of the hard work you have done and still do for the community, having your input and sharing knowledge is invaluable to us all.

In terms of the Parliamentary forum i have sat back in a frustrated stance for a couple of years, asking one of the members of the forum what was happening in the meetings and getting very little feedback, indeed i was involved in an issue that i had believed had been taken to the forum to discuss to hear a very lame answer back which gave me suspicion it never got a decent hearing at the forum, if at all.

There are members of the forum in the latest list that need to be there of course, and then there are others that i feel have no real idea of what is happening on the ground, have no real idea of the emotion, the passion and the day to day problems that are facing trans people across all of the usual areas of distress.

I echo michael in saying there should be more inclusion of other groups who have people such as myself that are seeing these trans people almost on a daily basis with a variety of issues, i understand that it would make the committee larger and so that gives possibilities of longer meetings but times have moved on, and an accurate representation needs to happen to allow the true level of feedback and understanding to be fed up the chain.

During the equality bill i was involved in lobbying and some campaigning for the inclusion of amendments... it was a steep learning curve for me and i understand the trials and stresses you went through Christine, we managed to get trans people and their allies to lobby 250 MPs using nothing more then a facebook group and letter templates, and a hell of a lot of empowering and enthusiasm, and those people took to it, they shone and i really feel there are people on the forum committee that won't have a clue that even happened.

To exclude a representative from the Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic from the committee is utter lunacy and you can quote me on that one. Even though the levels of referral are increasing across the country at other GICs Charing cross is still the largest, the longest serving and has a wealth of information to contribute, there is no-one else to match them at that...

I hope they have sense to realise the mistake they are making, and i hope others reading this may also make their concerns known to the new chair of the committee, she needs to know what people think outside the four walls of that meeting room from the people it directly concerns...

Denise Anderson

Anonymous said...

I admire and respect your principled stand.

Can we not - have we not got the imagination and resolve - to build an alternative forum, with a membership determined by the user group itself, inviting allies, drawing on proven specialists, and creating a 'voice' in the nation that is far more authentic?


MishMich said...

How sad.

Denise Anderson said...


I hear there has been a change in the members of forum since the first meeting, and that there are new members on the panel now?

Christine Burns MBE said...

Denise, unfortunately I'm not really sure of what the current position is because, of course, I'm well and truly out of the loop.

As far as I've been able to discern, however, I believe that a number of new representatives are now in the frame, including someone from Liberty and more people from representative trans organisations.

Oh .. and I think I saw too that there was a whisper of Charing Cross being involved.

Of course, it would be encouraging if the forum could establish a bit of transparency and then none of us would need to rely on the bush telegraph.

Anonymous said...

We should remember that we have a Government that would dearly like to withdraw from Human Rights Legislation. Many in the Cabinet see Equality as a waster of time.

Perhaps we in the Trans community should join forces with other campaigners on Freedom and Justice. We are short of both these days.

Steffi E