Monday, December 31, 2012

An Optimistic View of 2013


Well, here we go again.

One year ends. Another begins.

We've had the media retrospectives. Different views on what were the highs and lows of 2012.

Next come the media predictions. Different columnists compete with one another to pass their opinions off as something more.

Part of all our lives becomes labelled 'history'. A new range of possibilities opens ahead.


People working in Equality and Diversity could be forgiven for regarding the year ahead with concerns.

Every act, every announcement, by this coalition government suggests a desire to roll back progress for protected groups … to shut down the routes for people to pursue their own rights … to nullify the protections provided by the law … to portray good practice as "red tape".

Cause for optimism

Instead of focussing on those negatives, however, I wanted to offer some positive thoughts...

In my lifetime some young girls who became pregnant were pushed out of sight into mental hospitals. Fortunately that no longer happens.

In my lifetime some orphaned children were shipped off to Australia to get them off the state's hands. Fortunately that no longer happens.

In my lifetime it used to be an absolute social taboo for people to live together outside of wedlock ("in sin" as they used to say). Fortunately that no longer happens.

In my lifetime, casual racism was accepted and was a staple of some kinds of humour. Fortunately, although we have not eliminated this, we have made major progress towards making it unacceptable.

In my lifetime societal racism held sway in South Africa and the Southern states of the United states. Both have been swept away.

In my lifetime, casual sexism was the norm and a staple of some kinds of humour. Fortunately, although we have not eliminated this, we have made major progress towards equality and respect.

In my lifetime homosexuality was a criminal offence. Fortunately that ended and, in the subsequent 45 years, we have made substantial progress towards LGBT equality. Same sex relationships have moved from being illegal to being invisible to being scorned and derided. Now they are increasingly accepted as a reality, though not yet a fully equal one.

In my lifetime trans people have advanced from an invisibly small minority, completely defined by medicine, to a proud, visible and vocal equality movement making almost daily progress towards equality and respect.

In my lifetime women have been excluded from senior positions in the Church of England. That remains the fact but it is beginning to look as though the days of the Church itself may be numbered.

In my lifetime sexual predation was something children and adolescents had to often bear in silence, especially where the Catholic priesthood was concerned. Progressively, the extent of that dreadful abuse of power has been exposed. It isn't over, but now it can be reported and there is a clear message to abusers.

In hope

I mention these things not to suggest that we are running out of things to do. Far from it.

I mention them on the brink of a new year to remind people of the changes that can happen in one lifetime, which is the only interval most folks can meaningfully comprehend.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Shahnaz Ali Receives an OBE

Shahnaz Ali

My colleague Shahnaz Ali, the Director of Equality, Inclusion and Human Rights at NHS North West, has been awarded a much-deserved OBE in this year's Queen's New Years Honours list … for services to Equality and Diversity.

Shahnaz, who came to NHS North West in December 2007, has a long history of change leadership in Local Government and Health.

The full list of honours is available here [PDF].

Local Government and Health

Before coming to the North West Shahnaz was Senior Director of Local Authority and Wider Partnerships for South Yorkshire Strategic Health Authority and, before that, both Director of Education and Workforce Expansion and Director of Workforce Diversity for the South Yorkshire Workforce Development Confederation.

Previously, she was Director of HR Development for Community Health Sheffield NHS Trust and a Principal Health Officer for the London Borough of Newham.

Overall, she has had more than 25 years' experience of working in both statutory and voluntary sectors at local, regional and national levels.

Voluntary Sector

Shahnaz has also held many related voluntary sector board positions … becoming most recently a member of the board of the Lesbian and Gay Foundation in Manchester.

Her previous appointments include:

  • Regional Advisory Board member -Council for Ethnic Minority Voluntary Organisations (CEMVO)
  • Non-exec Director - Sheffield Futures
  • Founder member of the Black Community AIDS Team ( BCAT)
  • Chair and Founder of the Federation of Black Housing Organisations
  • Member of the Executive Committee for Newham Asian Womens Refuge
  • Management Committee member Leeds Federated Housing Association
  • Management Committee member Leeds Black Womens Refuge NCAB Executive Committee
  • Representative for BME staff NALGO. National Executive Committee

Strategic Leadership

On coming to NHS North West Shahnaz put into effect a strategic approach for driving up equality which I've written about previously.

I've had the great pleasure of working in partnership with Shahnaz, putting the ideas into effect as her programme manager. The outcomes include many 'firsts', including the creation of the most effective performance measurement approach for equality outcomes (EPIT); the development of the first national competency framework for professionalising equality leadership; the largest open access evidence database for informed policy making (HELP); a groundbreaking sustainable approach to professional stakeholder engagement; tools for developing GP care quality (Pride in Practice); and (most recently) a national framework for ensuring that the process of Medical Revalidation is operated fairly ('A Fair Route to Revalidation').

I recently made a film summarising these achievements and many more.

Brave activism

Shahnaz also has a notable history as an Asian rights activist when young … an involvement which I documented in this in-depth interview last year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

And Then It Was Gone


Earlier this year I wrote about the plan by the BBC to axe their only specialist LGBT programme on the entire network.

LGBT Citizen Manchester represented the end of a more-or-less-continuous line of 17 years of LGBT-oriented programmes on BBC Manchester. Not the biggest show, by any means, but fulfilling an important niche.

Anyway, the show ended with immense dignity on Monday 17th December.

I was honoured to be the show's last live studio guest.

And I was able to have virtually the last word, as the clock ticked towards the 10pm junction.

An awful mistake

I said that the BBC was making an awful mistake… that controllers would wake up sometime soon and realise the void they had created.

The BBC's acting Director General, Tim Davie, sent the show a message, congratulating the presenters Ashley Byrne, Claire Mooney and Andrew Edwards on a superb run.

Afterwards, we drank wine from a plastic cup and headed out into the cold night air at Media City.

RIP LGBT Citizen Manchester


Paris Lees on Health Equalities


On 3rd December 2012 we invited journalist and magazine editor Paris Lees to deliver a speech at an event we were staging in Manchester.

The theme of the conference was about how to take equalities work forwards in the newly restructured NHS after March 2013.

When I briefed our speakers before the event I gave them a very liberal brief about how to approach the topic. I explained to them the purpose of the conference, the existing knowledge of the audience, and the contextual issues they might wish to take into account. Beyond that I gave them carte blanche to approach the topic in the way they felt most comfortable.

From the heart

Often, when you put activists and campaigners on a stage, you get a political speech … and that would have been fine, as we wanted our speakers to challenge the audience to think about stakeholders needs and viewpoints and how to address them in the future.

Paris took a different line though. She made it a personal address to the audience. She told NHS managers about the experiences of her family and her own personal fears about an NHS which might treat her badly when she was at her most vulnerable.

It was a most effective speech. And you can hear it in full here.

Peter Tatchell on Health Equalities


On 3rd December 2012 we invited Human Rights Campaigner Peter Tatchell to deliver a keynote speech at an event we were staging in Manchester.

The theme of the conference was about how to take equalities work forwards in the newly restructured NHS after March 2013.

Peter went straight to the heart of the issue, identifying equal access to health … and the equality of outcomes in healthcare … as fundamentals. This is what we've been preaching for years … and the concern is about progress on these issues stalling or rolling backwards with a completely new management of priorities.

Having talked about that as an issue affecting all protected groups, Peter went on to focus on health inequalities for LGBT people.

Negotiating safer sex

Perhaps the most challenging part of his speech concerned how we teach young people about sex and, in particular, how to negotiate safe sex with prospective partners … an issue affecting everyone and not just LGBT people.

A few days ago I was beginning to recount Peter's words on a radio show and was almost immediately stopped by the presenter. Apparently, talking about how to ensure youngsters avoid sexually transmitted diseases is considered a fit subject for broadcast at the sort of times when young people might be listening. This somewhat underlines where this debate stands.

The full speech

There are no such restrictions on this blog, however. Below you can hear the whole of what Peter had to say. The introduction is by me.

Question Time Debate Tackles Legacy and Continuity Concerns


On Monday 3rd December NHS North West hosted a major conference at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester.

The purpose of the day was to hear from stakeholder speakers and invite discussion among NHS Equality Leads about how best to assure the continuing legacy of equalities work in the NHS after March 2013, when the e⁞xisting SHAs and PCTs are disbanded and many existing managers become redundant or move to other roles.

Question Time

One of the highlights of the day was an hour-long 'Question Time' style debate, chaired by Human Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Topics were supplied by the audience, who deposited their questions in boxes situated around the venue during the morning session. Questions were grouped by the chair, so that the panel of local NHS and Stakeholder leaders could consider similar questions together.

The panellists were: Shahnaz Ali, Priscilla Nkwenti, Julie Wall, Paul Martin, Evelyn Asante Mensah

The debate was recorded and, to make it easy to listen, we've split the full recording into five segments covering each of the topic areas raised.

Further recordings from the event are also available here

Introductions and question one

Question two

Question three

Question four

Question five

Six Years In Six Minutes

On Monday 3rd December my colleagues and I hosted a major conference at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. The purpose of the day was to hear from stakeholder speakers and invite discussion among NHS Equality Leads about how best to assure the continuing legacy of equalities work in the NHS after March 2013, when the existing Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts are disbanded and many existing managers become redundant or move to other roles.

The day needed a curtain-raiser in order to set the scene. Rather than inflict a Powerpoint presentation on the audience, I undertook to try and tell the story of where we had come from in a short video. The result is "Six Years in Six Minutes"

A Picture Really Is Worth a Thousand Words

Equality Illustration

They say a picture's worth a thousand words.

And this is a really good example.

Over the years I've repeatedly tried to explain a fundamental point about achieving equality...

The challenge is those people who mistakenly think that equality legislation means you have to do exactly the same thing for everyone … that to spend time eliminating barriers for one group (disabled people, for instance) isn't allowed because that's somehow 'unequal'.

This is rubbish, of course. But the image on the left sums up their worldview: "One person can only have a box to stand on if they all do". The result isn't equal at all.

The reality is that equality work is about recognising that people all start from different places and that the only sort of equality that matters is to achieve the same outcome for everyone, regardless. "To each according to their need", as they say.

The picture on the right shows the outcome-based approach in action. Everyone can see the game.

The image has been doing the rounds of social media recently. I make no claims to having thought of it. But I think it's a really good one to adopt and share.

Happy Christmas

Thursday, November 15, 2012

LGBT History Month 2013 Prelaunch Debate

Solarised Badge

LGBT History Month takes place every year in February in the UK.

(A similarly named event takes place in October in the United States).

The UK version of LGBT History Month was started by Sue Sanders and Paul Patrick of Schools Out.

Paul sadly died in May 2008, but Sue is still a major driving force, backed these days by Tony Fenwick.

I interviewed Sue for the Just Plain Sense Podcast in April 2008, shortly before Paul's death.

Personal Support

I have personally supported LGBT History Month since the very first event was suggested in 2004. The first actual month of activities followed in February 2005 and, from the start, it has been traditional to pre-launch the following year's month with an event in November.

I wrote a great deal of content for the original web site in 2004/5, I've always promoted the events and, in 2010, I was honoured to accept the invitation to become a patron.

That year I released a video supporting the launch because I couldn't make it in person. Another year I presented a special historical museum tour in collaboration with the Wellcome Collection and, in 2012, I presented a talk marking the Twentieth Anniversary of the founding of Press for Change.

Maths, Science and Engineering

As 2012 is the centenary of the birth of the now famous gay mathematician and scientist Alan Turing, the theme of LGBT History Month in 2013 will be Mathematics, Science and Engineering.

And, to reflect that theme, the prelaunch (at the wartime code breaking centre, Bletchley Park) included a special debate questioning, "This House Believes Science has been the Enemy of the LGBT Community".

I was asked to present the argument in favour of the motion, seconded by Linda Bellos OBE. The argument against the proposition was put by Annika Joy, Head of Audience Research and Advocacy at the Science Museum, and the event was chaired by the award winning trans journalist Paris Lees.

And this is the full transcript of my argument...

This House Believes Science has been the Enemy of the LGBT Community

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. Before I begin I should explain that I approach this topic with mixed feelings.

By training … and at heart … I am a scientist.

It was science that I specialised and did well in in at school.

At University I studied Computer Science. Indeed, I was taught by some of the peers of Alan Turing … people like Professors Tom Kilburn and Dai Edwards, who built the Manchester Mark 1 Computer in 1948 … the world's first stored program computer.

Because of that background I'm acutely aware of the contribution, for the better, which science makes to our lives on a daily basis.

Science as benefactor

I'm aware how so much that we take for granted would not exist were it not for the scientific discipline of observing the mysterious, postulating theories, constructing experiments to verify those theories, and drawing conclusions. … Conclusions which are only ever provisional … until a better theory, a better experiment, closer understanding.

Not least I'm aware that without the help of Science I could not be me.

Society as a whole has reasons, therefore, to regard science as a friend. However, even the best of friends has flaws.

You would tell a good friend where they are wrong … where they have B.O. perhaps. And that is the spirit in which I approach today's debate.

My arguments

I intend to show first that science does not have a free pass when it comes to culpability. Second that Science is historically associated with the negative pathologisation of LGBT people. Third, that by commission and omission, science has failed LGBT people. That it has allowed itself to be an accomplice in controlling LGBT lives … and sometimes the lead oppressor.


The scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who led the scientific invention of the Atom bomb had this to say about the consequences of that work, in a speech to the American Philosophical Society in 1946:

"[W]e have made a thing, a most terrible weapon, that has altered abruptly and profoundly the nature of the world. We have made a thing that, by all standards of the world we grew up in, is an evil thing. And by doing so, by our participation in making it possible to make these things, we have raised again the question of whether science is good for man, of whether it is good to learn about the world, to try to understand it, to try to control it, to help give to the world of men increased insight, increased power. Because we are scientists, we must say an unalterable yes to these questions; it is our faith and our commitment, seldom made explicit, even more seldom challenged, that knowledge is a good in itself, knowledge and such power as must come with it."

Oppenheimer is therefore acknowledging that Science can set hares running. In this and other speeches, however, he appears to place the responsibility for catching those hares with others. Politicians perhaps? Activists?

Bertrand Russell thought otherwise, however. Writing on "The Social Responsibility of Scientists" he began thus:

"Science, ever since it first existed, has had important effects in matters that lie outside the purview of pure science. Men of science have differed as to their responsibility for such effects. Some have said that the function of the scientist in society is to supply knowledge, and that he need not concern himself with the use to which this knowledge is put. I do not think that this view is tenable, especially in our age. The scientist is also a citizen; and citizens who have any special skill have a public duty to see, as far as they can, that their skill is utilised in accordance with the public interest."

Then there is Alfred Nobel...

Alfred Nobel invented high explosives. The annual prizes endowed by his fortune reflect a realisation on his part that his work had negative consequences for mankind as well as the positive ones. Explosives make industrial scale mining possible. But they also facilitate mass killing.

So how does this relate to the relationship between science and LGBT people?

At first sight you might think it's a rather positive one. Medical science has produced the drugs which help control AIDS. It hasn't produced an out and out cure for HIV yet. But scientists are undoubtedly working hard on the case.

Pharmacists also isolated and identified the sex hormones Testosterone and Oestrogen, and the hormone blockers, which trans people rely on to physically transition.

Pretty good huh? Well, let's dig a bit deeper…

Creating a basis for stigma and pathologisation

For much of recorded history societies had a rather different attitude towards homosexuality and gender variance than we know today. It wasn't called 'homosexuality'. That's a scientific term placed on us later.

Sexual relationships between men were common in Ancient Greece. Native american tribes revered men who expressed female identities … 'Two Spirits' … they held respected positions in tribes.

Although the Church of the middle ages encouraged the idea that homosexuality was linked to disease in some way, they really didn't have much to back that up, other than hearsay and opinion.

The Bible doesn't have much, on its own, to ostracise homosexual or trans people.

Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for Heresy in 1431. Technically the reason was her refusal to wear women's clothing. But her trial was mainly a political one. Her real sin was being an effective leader of French forces in the hundred years war. Clearly her gender variant behaviour wasn't any social impediment to that.

Likewise the Chevalier d'Eon (1728-1810) spent 49 years as a man and 33 as a woman; had a place as the latter in the Court of King Louis XV; and was evidently not an outsider in any recognisable sense.

There is a correlation, however between the rise of science and the pathologisation and stigmatisation of LGBT people.

The rise of scientific influence

Science began its rise in the 17th and 18th Centuries. The Royal Society was founded in 1660. People like Isaac Newton laid the foundations for mechanics and was an important mathematician. Along with his contemporaries the disciplines we recognise today were established. Scientific Method gives the natural sciences their authority.

Science's role as an enabler of the industrial revolution cemented its role in the nineteenth century as the 'go to' authority for things that needed explanation. Scientists in turn were only too happy to place themselves in the service of society to label and categorise behaviours as normal or deviant.

To be fair, I don't want to imply that this process was necessarily conscious (the scientist providing proofs on demand for rich sponsors). I would argue that scientists are often simply unaware of the subjectivities they import into their work.

Men's eyes

Historically, science was a largely male preserve. The exceptions to this in the nineteenth century were truly exceptional. Think of Marie Curie … and then who else? Hands up who knows the contributions of Ada Lovelace?

So masculine science saw the world through masculine eyes. What we regard as normal female behaviour these days was marked as deviant using such terms as "Nymphomania" and "Hysteria".

In the victorian era women were classified as mentally ill for nymphomania if they were a victim of sexual assault, bore illegitimate children, "abused themselves" (i.e. masturbated), or were deemed promiscuous.

Even today the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) has a category for "excessive sexual drive" and female sexual behaviour is more likely to be labelled this way than for males.


Strip away the authority conferred by science, however, and what you have is a lop-sided moral relativism. The famous sex researcher Alfred Kinsey put it best:

"A nymphomaniac is someone who has more sex than you".

And that's the point. Science has too often allowed itself to be used to 'other' people as deviant.

Labelling difference as deviance

One of the researchers who led the way on this was a German-Austrian psychiatrist named Richard von Krafft-Ebing. In 1886 he published 'Psychopathia Sexualis', naming and classifying virtually all non-procreative sexuality.

At about the same time all male homosexual acts were made illegal in Britain by Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act … the so-called Labouchère Amendment.

I'm not suggesting causality here. One event did not necessarily lead to the other. However, when you examine the scientific consensus of the time (which we now know to be wrong) and the socio-political zeitgeist there is no doubt that the two were supportive of one-another.

Scientists are not as objective as they fancy

As I say, in matters social, scientists are not nearly as objective as they like to kid themselves and their peers. A scientist who presents a view that runs against the tide is likely to have a bumpy career. Scientists hunt in packs. And others can simply be unaware of their biasses.

One of the most influential scientists of all time, Charles Darwin, as part of his work on 'Natural Selection' produced a less well known theory on 'Sexual Selection' … of males competing for female sexual partners.

Sexual selection depends on an assumption of heteronormativity in nature. In a circular fashion, it also leads to assumptions that homosexuality is unnatural.

Few have ever challenged the assumptions embodied here. Ironically it has been down to a transsexual biologist, Professor Joan Roughgarden, to point out the flaws … the sheer number of species in which homosexual behaviour is rife.

Science as oppressor

It is science, too, that produced Eugenics … a social theory dressed in scientific drag … popular in the early part of the twentieth century.

We know where that led … and LGBT people were among the victims.

"Oh but that's all in the past" you'll cry. You may point to the fact that the American Psychiatric Society declassified homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973. Or at least the STARTED the process. In fact it wasn't until 1992 that the World Health Organisation … a scientific body … followed suit globally.

And during those 20 years the scientists made up for depathologising homosexuality by starting to pathologise gender variance.

The first gender reassignment operation took place in 1930 … so it was a strange piece of social control for the medical science of psychiatry to suddenly lay claim to the process after 50 years.

The battle to undo the harm created by that classification … and it IS harm … is currently in progress.

The corruption of evidence-based science and peer review

That kind of pathologisation is driven by a small cadre of men (it is always the men) who set up a scientific publication that sounds impressive, to receive and peer review each other's learned papers, arguing why science should continue to endorse the stigmatisation of women like me.

And I can't leave that topic without a brief mention for the way another crackpot set of scientific ideas were inflicted on both LGB and trans people … ECT and aversion therapies which had the veneer of being evidence based but, we now know, were everything but.

These practices have also provided a legacy to the zealots who offer gay cures or believe they can talk and bully trans people out of being themselves. Take a bow Sigmund Freud too.

In summary

I contend, therefore, that whilst science has undoubtedly benefitted wider society on balance (even counting the better faster ways to kill people) it has shamelessly facilitated a century and a half of marginalization of LGBT people.

It has done this not once but repeatedly.

It has been slow to relinquish that grip.

It has legitimised charlatans, by failing to draw clear dividing lines.

And it is very rare that you will ever hear scientists collectively apologising.

A possible exception is the very late apology by Robert Spitzer for lending legitimacy to the gay cure industry in a poorly conceived 2003 paper.

At the end of his career, aged 80, Spitzer wrote this year, "I believe I owe the gay community an apology"

And with that I rest my case.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Human Rights Rap

Jules Wall

Julie Wall is the operational lead and head of Equality, Diversity and Human Rights at NHS Blackburn with Darwen.

What nobody had realised till today is that that she's also a bit of a poet.

Jules explains that she thought of this poem and wrote it down whilst sitting in her car in a Liverpool car park, waiting to go into a meeting.

Colleagues are asking for details of the car park so that they, too, can head there for inspiration.


The Human Rights Rap

by Jules Wall (Oct 2012)

How to get the message across,
The human rights are an absolute must
The language used needs to flex and bend,
So the message is right that you send.

Articles and Acts turn clinicians off,
Some of them even sit and scoff.
Patient outcomes are the best to use,
If you don’t want the board to sit and snooze.

Consider the life of dear old Betty,
The elderly lady who’d just turned eighty
She sat in her bed all day long
No water to drink, well that’s just wrong.

The jug was left at the end of her bed,
And was still there, after Betty was dead,
Her human rights were not protected
And a heart attack was suspected.

Poor Betty died dehydrated,
Because her human rights were just not rated
All she needed was a cup of tea
And then to be treated with dignity.

We all belong to the human race
It doesn’t matter the colour of skin on your face
Or where you live, or where you were born
Your rights are yours from night to morn,

Our duty is to see the light
And ensure we treat people right
Fairness, respect and equality,
Along with autonomy and dignity

So when you make you considerations
Include human rights in your deliberations

Friday, August 24, 2012

Not MY kind of pride

Parade banner

This weekend thousands of people will be visiting Manchester's Pride celebrations.

I won't be going … though ironically my heterosexual colleagues back in the office will be working very hard as a I type this to support the event.

It's just not my thing.

Not something I feel comfortable about.

Not something I can feel comfortable embracing, given the hurt I can recall.

Too much baggage, you see.

No shortage of pride

Staying away from Pride events has no connection with any personal pride that I feel.

A couple of weeks ago I contributed a 5 minute video to the Proud 2 Be campaign, making very clear how and why I can feel very proud about who I am (and the repeated decisions I've taken over the years to 'out' myself to display that).

I'm proud of my achievements.

I'm proud of the fact that I chose to give up a 'stealth' life 17 years ago and provide a visible public image for some of my sisters and brothers. Hardly anyone did that voluntarily in those days. It was reckless, but necessary.

I'm proud of all those occasions sticking my neck out, answering stupid questions by ignorant people and countering the false arguments put about by mendacious ones. I forever wondered just when a tabloid newspaper would decide to make me a target … and for ten years I sense-checked every action to ensure I didn't provide the slightest ammunition.

The fact the papers didn't turn me over was a tribute to my skills in making myself really the most boring and conventional subject imaginable … and to realising that, as long as I was chasing them, they couldn't chase me.

I'm proud of the life I've built in spite of the extra barriers which that 'out' decision made for me. Conscious of the difficulty it brought to making relationships.

Proud of the fact I was able to help many hundreds (thousands?) of people by being in the right place for them at the right time.

Proud of innovating over and over. Proud of lifting peoples' consciousness. Proud of the milestones. Proud of the legacy.

Proud that my generation are now replaced by hundreds of people carrying the fight the next mile.

Bad memories

I also have the unhappy memories.

I remember a group of lesbian and gay probation officers who invited me to attend their weekend meeting in the early 90's, and who then glowered at me all morning just for being there, and voted by lunchtime to ask me to leave. My existence made some of them uncomfortable.

I recall a bisexual conference I was invited to attend in the mid 90's, which saw very ugly debates about which toilets trans people could use, if any.

I look back on the group of bi-women who invited me to come and convince them why lesbian or bi- trans women might be invited into their space. That same week the Conservative women in Cheshire's Eddisbury constituency had unanimously elected me to Chair their women's supper group. The ironic juxtaposition of these events screamed long and loud.

I remember the women who abused us on our stall at Manchester's pride in 1996. We were there looking for people brave and considerate enough to sign our rights petition.

I remember the gay politicians who told me that it was best to wait until gay and lesbian rights had been achieved before seeking any trans ones.

I recall the unions who invited me to attend their LGB conferences to explain (in sometimes hostile circumstances) why they might consider adding 'T' and thereby extend their union's protections to trans workers. I could never stop thinking that they ought to be making those decisions themselves. I wondered why they needed me as a shield for the abuse.

Taking part

All through those years my colleagues and I still encouraged lesbian and gay trans people to take part in Pride marches if they wanted to do so … in spite of the angry and abusive mail we received from frightened trans people … those who foolishly imagined that the public would grant trans people some civil rights more willingly if we were as homophobic as the straights.

At the height of our political triumph I even walked at the very front of the London Pride march in 2005, reflecting trans people's achievement of the Gender Recognition Act. I spoke on the main stage in Trafalgar square for two years running. I chose not to say much about the cold reception from the LGB 'great and good' at the head of that parade, the back-stabbing meted out to the organiser who had snuck me into that pole position in the teeth of some opposition, and the sullen audience reception in Trafalgar Square.

For all that, as I said in my recent video, I'm proud to place myself among lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people who share my conviction that we are all working for the same thing.

Being othered

This week I agreed to sit on a panel at a Women's pride event in Manchester. As a woman. As a lesbian. As a trans person.

It was packed out and  a nice enough event, even when debate turned to whether women's and lesbian women's space is still necessary.

For the record, I think it's important for people to have spaces where they can develop confidence. But political change ultimately has to be won in the big bad world outside, without such protections. So special spaces, whilst they can act like a cloche for developing plants, are not the whole answer. And we need confident and vocal political representatives just as much today as in the past.

The moment that question about safe spaces was raised, however, I was reminded of all those bad memories over the last 20 years. And, just to underline it, someone in the audience asked whether (if I supported safe spaces for discussion) I therefore disapproved of actions that had opposed the Rad Fem 2012 conference earlier this summer.

In an instant, I felt 'othered' once more. And potentially skewered by the question. All tribute to the other panel members, they had lots to say about the inappropriateness of excluding trans women. We were back in those days when conferences debated whether to include 'T' or not.

When it's a debate about trans women in women's space that always boils down to whether trans women are woman enough. We never have debates about whether to include black women in women's space. Or disabled women. Or straight women. Or even Conservative women. Trans is a special case. It's not about your adjective, but about the noun.

In the end, the answer's really simple. I support safe spaces for people to discuss things that matter to them in confidence, of course. But it all depends what you do with those spaces. If you organise such a space just to debate depriving other people of their rights (or give the impression that's what you want to do) then the 'safety' purpose doesn't apply. We don't make safe spaces for people to plan how to bully others.

The rest of the event this week felt a bit like a blur. I was too busy remembering all the reasons why I had avoided participating as a woman in women's events for all these years, except on a professional level. In an instant I was reminded of being an outsider. One of the only women in the room who might have to argue for their own inclusion in a women's space. One of the only lesbians in the room whose lesbianism had the potential to be voted upon.

Strange friends

I've referred to the irony of being supported so well by social and political conservatives in my early days as a campaigner. My coming out shocked Cheshire's conservatives in those days. If they had any idea what a transsexual person was, I was probably the furthest thing from that stereotype. But they recovered and went out of their way to affirm my standing as one of those Cheshire Ladies who lunch.

So much support left me feeling very conflicted when I finally had to admit the politics came between us. As I still joke, the time came when I realised that it was far more embarrassing to admit to being a Conservative than to tell the world I was a transsexual woman.

But the joke has a bittersweet feeling. It reminds me that I'm joking about being embarrassed by the politics of people who showed they weren't embarrassed by me. A bit of me feels cheap when I make fun of their belief system, as those people paradoxically treated me rather better than some LGB people have done during the ensuing decades.

And that's why I still to this day feel uncomfortable about the elephant still in the LGBT room. For, during all these years, the only people I have learned to treat with caution … the only people who have occasionally chosen to try and hurt me … are some elements of the LGBT community.

The elephant in the room

I stress that these days such elements have become more and more of a minority. And their existence has never stopped me from professionally promoting LGB rights as well as trans ones.

I'm proud to be a Patron of LGBT History Month. I'm proud of my professional part in commissioning the most comprehensive LGBT History resource. I'm proud of pushing forwards the development of 'Pride in Practice' and guidance on sexual orientation monitoring.

I'm just as proud of those as the long list of things I've tried to do for trans people over the years. These things I do because they are right … just as right as working to eliminate inequalities for other diverse groups.

That doesn't mean I'm not aware that things are changing where the boot's on the other foot. There aren't many LGB people who can run off a list of things they've done to advance trans rights. But there are some, whom I salute. And the numbers are slowly increasing.

There have been fantastic recent advances in the support of trans people by lesbian and gay folk in the last couple of years. Maybe younger trans campaigners, without the historical baggage, find it easier to just accept those at face value.

For me lopsidedness of the alliance is still a reality, however.

It's real so long as I can still wonder whether participating in a lesbian women's event might raise questions or eyebrows.

It's real so long as some lesbian women still write about denying trans peoples' right to exist.

It's real so long as organisers of some pride festivals think they've ticked the 'trans' box by having a drag act on stage.

It's real so long as there is still cause to wonder whether trans women will be safe using the toilets at LGBt events.

It's real so long as long as those safety questions have an ounce of credibility.

Not my kind of Pride

People taking part in LGBT Pride events are hopefully proud of being who they are, and of being against the very real prejudice that so many have faced.

That's good. There may be a debate about whether that should be done in a commercial way or not. Even the commercial is political in its own way though.

Much as I support the cause though … much as I count many LGB people as friends and allies … they and I bring different experiences to looking at overt party-style Pride celebrations.

For many it's just that … a party. Most probably feel unquestionably equal. Not me. Because those questions are still there.

So, I feel unquestionable pride in so many advances and in my own strength. But the party where some still feel like poor relations isn't MY kind of way to express it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

First do no harm


July 11th 2012 sees the tenth anniversary of a key ruling from the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg.

It was on that day in 2002 that 17 judges unanimously ruled that the United Kingdom violated the Article 8 and 12 rights of transsexual people, through the continued denial of any legal mechanism to correct the gender registered for them at birth, and through maintaining their inability to marry according to their acquired gender.

The cases of Goodwin & I vs UK were a watershed, requiring specific action by the Labour government of the day, after previous administrations had dragged their heels on the issue for 32 years.

Factual coverage

Christine Goodwin and another transsexual woman, referred to anonymously as "I" were not the first British citizens to seek redress from the European Court on this issue.

The first had been Mark Rees, who lost his bid in 1986. He was followed by Caroline Cossey in 1990 (whose case was lost on an appeal by the government). Then there was the dual hearing of cases brought by Kristina Sheffield and Rachel Horsham in 1998.

By the time of Goodwin and I, the legal correspondents of Britain's broadsheets were familiar with the arguments. In fact, newspapers in general began by reporting the decision factually.

The Guardian's Clare Dyer (a tacit supporter of trans legal battles), reported,

The judgment, the culmination of a long battle by transsexuals, will oblige the government to introduce legislation allowing a new birth certificate to be issued for anyone who goes through a sex change. The result should be that those who have sex changes will be treated for all purposes as if they had been born with the acquired sex - including the right to marry and the age they qualify to draw a state pension.

Yesterday the court lost patience, accusing the government of having effectively done nothing.

The court held that British law's insistence that a person's legal sex is established at birth violated both women's right to respect for private life and the right to marry under the European convention on human rights.

The Daily Telegraph, likewise reported,

The English judges, headed by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, were dismayed to hear that there were no plans for the Home Office to act on the findings of a working group that had reported in April 2000. They warned the Government last year to expect a ruling from the European Court in line with the one delivered yesterday.

Overturning previous rulings in the light of changing conditions, they said that the terms "men" and "women" could no longer be defined by purely biological criteria.

Even the normally excitable Daily Express reported at first,

Transsexual Christine Goodwin has won her battle in the European Court of Human Rights to be recognised as a woman and to marry under British law.

It was interesting to behold all this at the time, since Fleet Street reporting of transsexual issues had always been haphazardly unpredictable. Sometimes sensitive and factual; other times everything but.

Evidently the long history of these cases, the authority of the European Court, and the unanimity of the decision, castigating the Government for having done nothing, had a lot to bear.  Many newspapers, having no point of reference of their own, also simply recycled wire coverage from agencies such as Reuters, which simply stated the facts.

Cue hysteria

That press honeymoon was soon to be shattered, however. And the assault came not from frustrated Evangelical Christians (who could generally be relied upon to fulminate on demand), but from a team of Psychiatrists at the NHS Portman Clinic, who submitted open letters to the Guardian and Daily Telegraph, signed by themselves collectively.

These letters are so extraordinary, looking back, that they are worth reproducing in full. First there was this letter in the Guardian:

Fantasy of transsexuals

The victory in the European court of human rights in which a post-operative transsexual person was granted permission to marry in his adopted gender role is a victory of fantasy over reality (Landmark ruling for transsexuals forces Britain to change laws, July 12).

Many psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and psychotherapists find that their trans-sexual patients are individuals who, for complex reasons, need to escape from an intolerable psychological reality into a more comfortable fantasy. By attempting to live as a member of the opposite sex they try to avoid internal conflict which may otherwise prove to be too distressing.

It is a measure of their urgency and desperation that they frequently seek surgery to make their fantasy real. By carrying out a "sex change" operation on their bodies, they hope to eliminate the conflict in their mind. Unfortunately, what many patients find is that they are left with a mutilated body but the internal conflicts remain.

Through years of psycho- analytic psychotherapy, some patients begin to understand the origins of their painful feelings and can find ways of dealing with them other than by trying to alter their bodies. The recent legal victory risks reinforcing a false belief it is possible to actually change a person's gender. It may also strengthen the view that the only solution to psychic pain is a legal or surgical one.

Dr Ruth Berkowitz
Stanley Ruszczynski
and six others
Portman Clinic

Then there was this letter in the Daily Telegraph:

The psychiatry of transsexuality

Sir - The recent judgment in the European Court of Human Rights (report, July 12), in which a post-operative transsexual person was granted permission to marry in his adopted gender role, is a victory of fantasy over reality.

The experience of many psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and psychotherapists working with transsexual patients is that they are individuals who, for complex reasons, need to escape from an intolerable psychological reality into a more comfortable fantasy. By attempting to live as a member of the opposite sex, they try to avoid internal conflict, which may otherwise prove to be too distressing.

It is a measure of the urgency and desperation of their situation that they frequently seek surgery to make their fantasy real. By carrying out a "sex change" operation on their bodies, they hope to eliminate the conflict in their minds. Unfortunately, what many patients find is that they are left with a mutilated body, but the internal conflicts remain.

Through years of psychoanalytic psychotherapy, some patients begin to understand the origins of their painful conflicting feelings and can find new ways of dealing with them, other than by trying to alter their bodies. The recent legal victory risks reinforcing a false belief that it is possible to actually change a person's gender. It might also strengthen the view that the only solution to psychic pain is a legal or surgical one.

From: Sira Dermen, Dr Damian Gamble, Dr Az Hakeem and five others
Portman Clinic, London NW3


What is most striking about this affair is the sheer determination of these psychiatrists to get their point across. Remarkable, given that none of those named were generally recognised as specialists in the field, or for pursuing a recognised therapeutic approach.

Clinicians worldwide had already been following the generally accepted Harry Benjamin standards of Care, through six revisions since the late 1970's. The High Court and Court of Appeal had already accepted expert clinical testimony (in 1998 and 1999 respectively) that the Harry Benjamin style approach to assessing and treating people with what we now call Gender Dysphoria was the appropriate protocol.

Both letters, both with eight signatories, and both apparently submitted at around the same time, appeared to go out of their way to dispute a large body of clinical practice from people who did deal with large numbers of transsexual people, and to reject the findings of a court which had been examining and probing all sides of the question four times over sixteen years.

First do no harm

Clinicians do disagree with one-another of course. That's acceptable in the spirit of developing knowledge and exchanging ideas.

Good clinicians, concerned to achieve the best for their patients, will listen to those opposing views.

The forum for this kind of debate is in peer reviewed journals and specialist conferences, not national newspapers … and certainly not when those resorting to the press were never usually to be seen frequenting the conferences where treatment approaches in this field are normally debated.

Resorting to the press is remarkable … particularly if you are quite evidently seeking to use the authority of your institution and qualifications to stigmatise people who have just won a remarkable human rights case.

That goes well beyond the realms of normal professional behaviour.

There is a key principle which all clinicians are supposed to adhere to. "First do no harm"

It is still hard to conceive, after ten years, just how the doctors who signed the above letters thought they might be working according to that principle.

Looking back

Looking back, much water has flowed under the bridge in ten years.

In December 2002 the Labour Government announced plans to bring forward a Gender Recognition Bill (which colleagues and I had the privilege to work on); in June 2004 it completed the final Parliamentary hurdle to enable it to pass into law. It has now been in effect for over seven years (since April 2005).

The press meanwhile became in many ways far more hostile. In 2004 I submitted a dossier to the Press Complaints Commission containing many examples, and with a mass of personal testimonies from transsexual people affected by that reporting.

Whilst no direct causal relationship can be asserted, those letters by eight Portman clinic psychiatrists, aiming to undermine a decision in favour of transsexual peoples' privacy and marriage rights, might be thought (in hindsight) to have been hardly very helpful.

Some might think that "First do no harm" was far from their thoughts.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dear Sir or Madam on eBooks


It feels like such a delicious irony.

A man I've known all these years as such a dyed in the wool technophobe is self-published in eBook formats.

The rest of the world can celebrate now, however, as his wonderful autobiography is now available to a world-wide audience in moments.

Worth the wait

It is two and a half years since I first reviewed the revised edition of Mark Rees' autobiography 'Dear Sir or Madam'.

At that time I felt it was worth explaining to a younger audience just what an important contribution he had made to the development of trans activism in the UK.

I also had to explain that if you wanted a precious copy of his book you would need to resort to some charmingly retro means to obtain it.

Mark eventually took the big leap though. Now, with the assistance of the company who helped him self-publish his updated biography, you can purchase it online and download to a range of eReader devices, including the iPad/iPhone and devices that use the universal ePub format.

Worth the read

Mark was too modest to pen a blurb for the iBook Store edition. However, this is what I wrote for him.

Born a girl in wartime Britain, Brenda never fitted in as a child. The young Rees even looked like a boy. Thus it was that he finally found the means to permanently become a man almost thirty years later, in 1971. Whilst Mark was accepted by neighbours and friends, he rapidly found that his new embodiment was not accepted by the state. He would be unable to marry as a man and the Church of England rebutted his desire to become a priest because he remained a female in law. Undeterred, in 1986 Rees became the first British transsexual person to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights. His bid failed but in the process initiated a modern era of transsexual people using the law to bring about changes in their rights. Dear Sir or Madam is no political polemic though. Quite the reverse, it is a thoughtful account of a true gentle man, searching for understanding of his own self as much as the understanding and acceptance of the world around him.

Others have also reviewed the book. Professor Arthur Sullivan published this review for the LGBT History Month web site in April this year. The Religious Archives Network also profiled Mark and the book here in July 2009, when the paperback version was printed.

Where to purchase

For iBooks users the procedure is simple. Just open the iBooks app, go to the store, and search by name for 'Dear Sir or Madam' as illustrated above. The Apple price is £7.49.

To obtain the book in ePub format, you have a choice of vendor sites:

  • World of Digitals has it here at £10.12
  • The Hive Network has it here at £9.00

If you don't have an eReader or tablet then the Adobe Digital Editions application can be downloaded free for Windows and Mac platforms. This makes it easy to open and read ePub format books. You can also copy limited amounts of text to share or quote.

Mark isn't planning to make the book available directly for Kindle, as the marketing terms would leave him with very little income. However, there are apps available to convert ePub files into Kindle's mobi format … and I've certainly got a copy that opens perfectly well on my own Kindle.

So much for BBC mainstreaming


Earlier this week I reported on plans for BBC local radio which would result in the axing of the network's only specialist shows for Jewish, Irish and LGBT people.

The BBC's argument defending this policy is that coverage of subjects relevant to these communities will be achieved in general mainstream programming instead.

Aziz Rashid of BBC North West told the Lesbian and Gay Foundation, “We have taken the view that we can represent LGBT issues in our mainstream news programming." 

Well, if this snapshot from the iPlayer is anything to go by this morning they've got a bit of catching up to do.

"No results for lgbt" it said … for a search across all of TV and Radio.


I asked Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender supporters of the BBC's specialist 'Gay Hour' programme which kinds of topics they thought mainstream programme presenters would be incapable of covering in an intellectually sound fashion.

These were a few of their suggestions...

  • Bisexual invisibility
  • LGBT people in care homes
  • LGBT arts and culture
  • Sex, intimacy, relationships and family
  • Violence, symbolic and physical, towards LGBTQI people
  • The intersecting disadvantage that can attach to being gay, black, working class, old, disabled, etc...
  • History of LGBT culture

You can see the point. Presenters who feel obliged to treat mainstream audiences as starting from a low understanding threshold very seldom manage to cover topics like these in ways that LGBTQI would consider 'in-depth'.

Personally, in the past, I've lost count of the times where brief appearances on TV or radio have been overshadowed by inappropriate questions about my body … never reaching the serious topics I wanted to discuss before those fateful words, "well unfortunately we've run out of time there".

Mainstream media has tended to use people like myself, rather than serving them.


When you ask people questions from a position of in-depth knowledge you get much better results. When I personally interviewed transsexual reality contestant Nadia Almada about her experiences and feelings in 2010 I recorded an insight into her feelings that so- called "professional" presenters had completely failed to achieve.

BBC Manchester's LGBT Citizen Manchester show has similarly achieved many exclusives, including a remarkable on-air apology by Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the Church's treatment of gays worldwide, and a key part in achieving a posthumous apology for the treatment meted out to Alan Turing.

What the BBC should do

Mainstream BBC has meanwhile got a lot of catching up to do before its presenters even know the right questions to ask.

Far from axing unique shows for Jewish, Irish and LGBT people the Corporation should be taking the opportunity of local radio reorganisation to network them nationally.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

BBC Take Note - Equality Doesn't Mean 'The Same for All'

Media City

One of the commonest mistakes made by managers who don't understand equality is to assume you achieve it by whitewashing difference out of sight.

The culturally incompetent assume that equality means you've got to treat everyone in exactly the same way. They think that anything else would be 'unequal'.

The reality is the complete opposite. Equality is about achieving the same outcomes for people, after understanding that they start from different places.

Achieving equality of outcomes means you may have to do specific things for different groups to get everyone to the same place.

That's not 'favouring' those who need more input than others. That's just putting the effort where it's needed to set the record straight.

The BBC have demonstrated this week that their most senior managers haven't seemingly grasped that most basic of principles.

Either that, or maybe there are some uglier agendas at work.

A Funny Kind of Local

Earlier this week it emerged that the BBC plans to axe a whole series of unique specialist community programmes, in an initiative that will transform the face of BBC Local Radio.

In fact the plans, if carried out, will mean that BBC Local Radio will be barely 'local' at all.

The BBC needs to save money. That's an unfortunate given.

The programme to find budget savings has the Orwellian Newspeak title "Delivering Quality First" … presumably in the hope that nobody will notice that quality is generally the first thing to go when you start trying to make big savings of the kind the Corporation is forced to find.

Delivering Cuts First

The BBC's first attempt to "deliver quality first" was to announce plans back in 2010 to axe the digital station 6Music and the Asian Network.

Tellingly for our society, the first of these drew more mainstream indignation and calls to action than the second.

Campaign groups were set up on social media sites such as Facebook. One hundred thousand people supported 6 Music … a station which some of them might never have even listened to before.

The swell of indignation was so strong that the BBC rapidly backed down and both stations were saved and continue today.

The BBC still had to find cuts though, so it was back to the drawing board.

National Content for Local Radio

The latest wheeze, therefore, is to save money by cutting the heart out of the Corporation's local radio network … a collection of small scale stations around the country, first begun with a station in Leicester (one of Britain's most minority ethnic cities) back in 1967.

BBC Local Radio has been told to find budget cuts of 12% across the board … including the loss of 40 paid staff from among 1300 employed in the 40 separate stations.

Effort will be focussed on peak time programming, with increasing reliance on shared programming the rest of the day.

One detractor argued last year, "If I wanted to destroy BBC Local Radio, Delivering Quality First is the way I'd go about it".

On weekday evenings, between 7-10pm, it is envisaged that there will be a single national programme, rebroadcast by the whole network.

The move means the stations will have very little to differentiate themselves from well established national BBC and independent stations at that time of day.

Goodbye Community Content

Unfortunately it is in that evening slot that the majority of genuinely local radio has been broadcast until now.

BBC Manchester uses that slot for programmes made by and for local communities of interest … Asians and Irish people, the city's vast Jewish community, and LGBT folk among others.

Nowhere in the plans for 'Delivering Quality First' is there any consideration of what to do with these programmes, deprived of their air time.

Indeed, it's not clear whether the Corporation even thought to carry out any kind of equality analysis before announcing its decision.

Not Universal - And Not The First Time

The axe is not universal.

BBC Manchester's Black, Asian and Chinese community programmes will still have a place in the local schedule.

However, well established shows for Jewish and Irish communities, plus the only regular scheduled LGBT specialist programme, LGBT Citizen Manchester (aka The Gay Hour) will be faded out.

For LGBT Citizen Manchester this will not be the first time it has faced the axe. Shortly after the previous station manager, John Ryan, took up his post in 2006 he decided the show should go back then.

As reported in the Daily Mirror at the time, the station's official line was "Gay and Lesbian issues need to be incorporated into mainstream programming rather than just being relegated to a weekly show".

It must have seemed like Deja Vue to the Gay Hour's presenters, therefore, when the new station manager Kate Squire, started making the same arguments in 2012, shortly after arriving in her post.

If Only...

The problem with the argument that issues should be mainstreamed is that it doesn't work.

It's rather like arguing that profoundly disabled children will do better by being placed in ordinary classes at school, with no special support or attention.

It sounds laudable. And it expresses where all minorities would eventually aim to be. In the meantime, however, it doesn't deliver as promised.

This goes back to the principle I articulated right at the beginning of this blog. You don't achieve equal outcomes for diverse groups by pretending they're not different and trying to shoehorn their needs into vanilla programming.

How often, for instance, do mainstream media take time out to talk about big cultural events like Ramadan or Eid, except in the most bland and homogenised fashion?

Does mainstream radio devote time to issues such as whether it is safe for diabetic muslims to fast? Not often. Because mainstream presenters lack the breadth of cultural knowledge to ask the detailed questions that asian presenters would think to ask.

Likewise, how often have you heard mainstream radio or TV presenters dealing in depth with issues of importance to jewish listeners? It would be lovely if they did … and other listeners would learn volumes … but it hasn't happened yet.

And I'll make the bold prediction that it would be unlikely to happen once shows like BBC Manchester's Jewish Hour or Irish Hour or Gay Hour have been axed as well.

Far from getting equal value from BBC radio that their taxes pay for, minority listeners will lose out.

A Test Case

A good example of how mainstreaming is unlikely to deliver is with the present BBC coverage of an event like the Annual International Transgender Day or Remembrance.

Although events have been running in many UK cities every November 20th for many years now, it's something that BBC mainstream programming has not reported. This is not surprising of course, because the news values in mainstream news and current affairs mean that niche events like these wouldn't be covered for any minority.

There would have to be a serious disturbance at such an event … a murder perhaps … for programmes to take an interest. And even then the coverage would be shallow … designed for what the general audience could understand, rather than what LGBT listeners might like to know.

By comparison LGBT Citizen Manchester's reporters have been out to cover the event for several years now, interviewing attendees sensitively about why the vigil matters, and helping Lesbian and Gay listeners to learn something in the process.

Mainstreaming coverage may ostensibly tick a box. Broadcasters like the BBC may think they are delivering equality. Yet they are achieving the exact reverse, because the minority audiences (be they asian, jewish, irish, chinese, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) get little information about issues that concern them.

Ignoring Their Own Research

Paradoxically the BBC would seem to be ignoring its own research if it axes shows like LGBT Citizen Manchester.

Two years ago, in September 2010, the Corporation announced the results of research and consultation on what LGBT people thought of them.

The full report is here, if you have insomnia.

Tim Davie, Chair of the BBC Working Group on Portrayal and Inclusion of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Audiences, responsible for commissioning the research, said: "The BBC has a responsibility to serve all our audiences as best we can and there are clear commitments we are taking from this study. We have already begun to share the research with content teams across the BBC in order to continue the progress we have made towards achieving more authentic and diverse portrayal of lesbian, gay and bisexual people."

Amanda Rice, BBC Head of Diversity, said: "[this research] sends a clear signal to all our licence fee payers that the BBC is committed to meaningful engagement with all audiences. Not only is this a key priority within our diversity strategy, it is also one of the best ways we can continue to learn about what the UK's diverse communities want and expect of the BBC."

Turn Again Aunty

As mentioned already, the BBC is no stranger to making U-turns if it can be persuaded.

Plans to axe "The Gay Hour" in 2006 were reversed when it was plain that the intended policy of covering LGBT issues in the mainstream simply wasn't sufficient.

The arguments that were wrong then are still wrong today. A simple Equality Analysis would have revealed that without the embarrassing consequences of announcing a policy that will eventually have to be rethought again.

Is this just a rite of passage for new station managers at BBC Manchester? Is it somewhere in the job description that they have to axe their specialist community programming, only to discover what a spectacularly inept decision that really is?

Plans to close 6 Music and the Asian network in 2010 were also embarrassingly withdrawn, following a public outcry. Does this demonstrate that the executives paid to run the network simply don't know what their audiences want?

Parliamentary Support

Already the current proposed cuts are being opposed by local MPs. Two, Graham Stringer and John Leech, have tabled Early Day Motions (EDMs) calling for a rethink.

Social Media Action

Concerned listeners have also begun organising themselves since the policy first emerged this week. Facebook already has a Save Citizen Manchester LGBT group for people who want to become involved in campaigning. On Twitter people are using the hashtag #savegayhour.

The Facebook page lists key BBC managers whom people can write to with their concerns and encourages them to ask their MP to sign one or both EDMs.

Better Still

Better still, however, the BBC could just improve the quality of the training it gives to senior managers, so that they don't make these crass ill-considered decisions in the first place, imagining that platitudes about mainstream programming really address genuine needs for equality.

And if the BBC suddenly sees sense then a good outcome would be to recognise that, far from axing specialist programmes like these, the Corporation could actually give the national evening content more of a distinct flavour by broadcasting the shows nationwide. Then, perhaps, there could be a benefit for all from the reorganisation of BBC local radio.

I won't hold my breath though.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Why Pressing Mattered

As mentioned in a previous post I was invited to present my view of 20 years
of Press for Change for LGBT History Month on the occasion of the campaign's
twentieth birthday. These are the slides.

Use of Litigation in the UK to advance Trans Rights

A presentation which I gave to activists from across Europe in September 2010
for a conference organised by the International Lesbian and Gay Association 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

His Lordship Doth Protest Too Much

St Pauls

This weekend the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, used a prominent article in the Daily Telegraph newspaper to protest that "Britain's Christians are being vilified".

Lord Carey says worshippers are being “vilified” by the state, treated as “bigots” and sacked simply for expressing their beliefs.

He says Christians will face a “religious bar” to employment if rulings against wearing crosses and expressing their beliefs are not reversed.

He writes: “In a country where Christians can be sacked for manifesting their faith, are vilified by State bodies, are in fear of reprisal or even arrest for expressing their views on sexual ethics, something is very wrong."

And he continues:

“It is now Christians who are persecuted; often sought out and framed by homosexual activists [..] Christians are driven underground. There appears to be a clear animus to the Christian faith and to Judaeo-Christian values. Clearly the courts of the United Kingdom require guidance.”

Qualified Right

Carey is over-stating his case, of course. And we've got to assume that he must know that, for the law is clear.

I've written before (here and here for instance) about the way in which the right to have a personal religion or belief, the right to change that belief, and the right to worship in peace is protected as a "qualified" human right. I've also written about the way in which any conflicts raised between this and other rights can be addressed.

It's disarmingly simple really. You have that right to believe or worship what you wish; but this is a world away from having any right to impose that belief on others. Believe that women are second class or that homosexuality is sinful if you feel you must, for instance … but you don't have a right to override the legal protections enjoyed by other people.

Privileged position

And it's clear that Christians have a privileged position … far in excess of what is enjoyed by others under that legislated protection...

  • The Church of England is not just any old religion. It is established at the heart of the British state, headed by the monarch
  • Bishops have automatic seats in the House of Lords, with a direct say over every piece of legislation to pass through Parliament
  • Schools have statutory obligations to stage an act of worship in assembly every day -- and the current government has massively increased the state support for church run teaching establishments
  • BBC radio has a slot for religious belief in prime time weekday breakfast programming; and both TV and Radio have wall-to-wall programming on Sunday
  • The primacy of Christianity is still recognised by forcing shops to close on Christmas and Easter Days
  • And clerics such as Lord Carey have an almost guaranteed platform for their views in most newspapers

Pot meet kettle

The assertion that Christianity is the new underdog in society is therefore risible.

  • Christians are not singled out for vicious persecution and bullying in the way that many disabled, BME and LGBT people report
  • You don't hear of Christians suffering from stigma-induced depression in the way that many women, ethnic minorities, disabled people, gays, lesbians and trans folk regularly do
  • There is no movement asserting that religious belief is a "choice" or targeting Christians or other religious believers for quack "cures" to change them
  • You don't often hear of Christians being thrown out and disowned by their parents because of their beliefs

By comparison, Christianity seems to have very much defined its brand in terms of targeting others...

  • Roman Catholicism has set itself against birth control for women since modern methods were invented in the 1960s.
  • Even as I write, there are moves to roll back provisions which make abortion available to Women in Britain. Women come to Britain from other countries where abortion has been banned through Christian dogma
  • The Church of England is still torn over whether to allow women to become Bishops, with some followers defecting to the Roman Catholic Church in protest at the idea
  • Roman Catholics have systematically covered up industrial scale abuse of children around the world
  • Christians have opposed every move in the last 50 years to emancipate lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people, included blatant deception and misrepresentation when it has suited


For all this, we still have an attitude of benign tolerance towards Christianity … recognising that the extremists who hijack its power in order to vilify minorities are not representative of the whole. As the law makes clear, we respect the right to worship God in peace and safety, whilst protecting the rights of others from abuses carried out in God's name.

In Christian terms we turn the other cheek and take note of the imperative to "love thy neighbour".


With all that in mind, Lord Carey's statements must be seen as a profound insult by many women whom his Church has cast as second class citizens; by all the Children who've been abused under the protection of the Church; and by all the LGBT people who may feel that the Church has gone out of its way to vilify them.

Those people know what real vilification and marginalisation mean.

Not for them a prominent article in a national broadsheet paper.

Not for them a guaranteed daily slot on prime time radio.

Not for them blanket coverage on Sunday radio and TV, and an almost automatic seat in any forum where issues of fairness or morality are to be debated.

Not for them the backing of an institution with hundreds of millions of pounds in assets, acquired by taking donations from the poor.

Out of touch

Lord Carey has amply demonstrated how out of touch he is with the genuine experiences of marginalised groups by crying "poor me" when the law seeks to limit the worst excesses of his followers.

And that is the point. His cries of anguish come because the courts have challenged the right of Christians to hold themselves above laws against discrimination which apply to the rest of us.

It is time to say "enough is enough".

It is time for the established Church to wake up and realise that, for whatever reason, it has become synonymous with discrimination rather than love.

At a time when there are immense problems in the world, Carey and his successors have chosen to obsess about women Bishops and opposing complete equality for LGBT people.

Faced with the opportunity to have a real role in the debate over banking excesses, the Church flunked it.

And articles like this weekend's one by Lord Carey continue the decline into irrelevance.