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Today, however, I have officially withdrawn from the Forum.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.
Christine Burns MBE
Equality and Diversity Specialist