Friday, 8 July 2016

Leading Lights or Laggy LeftBehinds: My response to the Govt Response to the UK Trans Enquiry

"Closets Kill. They suffocate us. We drown in the refuse of our own lies, lies that say we're alright. We're only alright when we can be seen for who we are". David Husted.

Godot Lols (Takk to Bizarro
So after nearly 5 months of biting my finger nails and endless staring at my emails folder to hear a "You Got Super Important Mail" tagline, the Tory majority Govt. has dared to respond to the 33 Trans Enquiry recommendations that were put forward by the Women and Equalities Select Committee (and mentioned in my previous politics blog post). It's strange how this dicey Directorate decided to sneak their response out whilst uber Brexit economic fallout and the "feminist victory" of an all woman Tory Leadership battle dominated the news cycle. (Quick note: Tory Leadership battle happens to be between two "practicing Christians" who are privately uncomfortable about same sex marriage (SSM) (Andrea Leadsom voted against the SSM bill whilst Theresa May abstained. God knows what their private views on transrights are!)

As a transwoman currently going through the gender recognition and reassignment process, I felt it was my duty to scrutinise and highlight a few important issues that have arisen as a result of the Trans Enquiry Government response for the benefit of my (international) reading audience. Here is the link for those who have an expressed wish to read the response in full (40 pages in total):

Most trans people probably don't have the time to read such a report in depth, so in the interests of public disclosure and my belief that social media is a valid and important platform for free speech, I summarise my thoughts below:

International Trans Rights Protection:
  • The Government has expressed their fundamental commitment to improving the lives of transgender people across Europe. I think any UK based trans individual would want the Govt to work within existing UN Human Rights Conventions in addition to advocating the creation of further legislation within the EU. Just rather unfortunate the UK population has decided to leave the EU at such a vital time for equal rights campaigning in the predominantly zealous (anti trans) Christian Central and Eastern European States such as Poland.  They seem to agree in principle with the ideals fostered by the Yogyakarta Principles and Resolution 2048 9 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; important pieces of international trans legislation. However the Govt refuses to see how following the Yogyakarta Principles could add anything to existing UK and international transgender law. They relish the fact it is "non binding". Basically it's a whole load of diplomatic wordplay muck to me! Whilst the principles may not appear to be constructive to UK bureaucrats, to others in Europe and beyond they are seen as key to fostering further attempts at mainstreaming LGB and especially T rights across the world. Therefore the Govt must be careful not to gain a reputation for being patronising with regards to human rights interventions within the international community. Yes our friends and allies realise how socially progressive we have been but we must not think that we know best on all trans issues, as has been demonstrated by Norway's gender legal self-determination already being implemented ahead of the UK.  
  • It is pleasing to note that the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office remains committed to providing £900,000 from their Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy in the 2016/17 budget tax year cycle to help fund LGBT projects around the world. It is absolutely vital that the UK Govt continues to work with our European Union partners to raise awareness of transgender discrimination and encourage the creation of LGBT community groups to act as a forum for change. The fact this has been extended to projects in Africa is also welcome as there is a need to support grassroots LGBTQIA groups in countries such as Kenya and Nigeria. Helping to provide training materials on hate crime for local police forces and on trans issues within schools will help to combat the religious zealotry espoused by extreme Muslims and Christians  in countries such as Nigeria or Uganda. This may also help to reduce the possibility of immigrants committing trans hate crimes in the UK as a result of ignorance and religious bigotry. Perhaps including LGBT issues such explaining gender terminology or the fluidity of sex and gender being linked but separate subjects within core UK citizenship testing could also be a welcome step forward in hate crime prevention. After all one of our core British values is meant to be "tolerance" of citizens regardless of their personal preferences!

The Gender Recognition Act (2004):

  • The Gender Recognition Act must be changed; it is not currently fit for purpose. I believe there is no reason as to why people cannot declare themselves to be non-binary in a legal manner. Gender self-declaration has to change from an application process to an administrative process. It should not be punitive and costly; £140 just to get a certificate can be a lot if you are unemployed and not claiming state benefits! Equally waiting for your gender dysphoria specialist to verify you have been diagnosed as having the "condition" is just plain nonsense! It makes trans people feel as if they are lying unless they pass through a "rigorous truth framework" created by the Establishment to determine your fate. No need for it if we are living in a truly fair and equal socially democratic age!
  • There is also no logical reason as to why gender self-declaration cannot be extended to 16 and 17 year olds. If you can drive, have sex and marry before you are 18 then you certainly have the mental capacity required to decide how you wish to be perceived by others in a legal manner. Therefore I'm disappointed that the Govt has not moved towards absolute gender self-declaration rights for those 16 years and over without parental consent. I believe there may be issues with regards to allowing legal gender self-declaration rights for those under 16 but I would remind the Govt that in Norway, gender self-declaration has been legalised provided their parents have given their absolute consent.
  • Married trans people continue to be concerned about the current requirement for their spouse to give consent prior to changing their legal gender. I believe there is no excuse for such a Draconian law to continue to be endorsed by any government in 2016; it has to be completely repelled. Trans people should not feel ashamed at daring to change their gender whilst still married. It is not enough for the Govt to point out 74 people have been given Gender Recognition Certificates since the Gender provisions were introduced in December 2014 to the SSM Act.
  • I am concerned that there have been no prosecutions under Section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act. It is clearly not an effective deterrent if prosecutors are unwilling or unable to provide clear evidence to build a case to prosecute companies or individuals that have violated Section 22 by disclosing confidential historical information about trans people when it is unnecessary to do so. Perhaps all organisations need further nuanced training on the Data Protection Act and its implications for trans people to prevent accidental "outing". This would send a frank and clear message to employees and employers  that they can and must help prosecute those who deliberately "out" trans people whilst in the workplace or whilst trans people are accessing their services. Individuals and organisations must also be aware that they will be prosecuted if they fail to protect confidential information according to DPA requirements as well as under Section 22.
  • There is no fundamentally logical reason to me as to why there cannot be an X option provided for trans, non-binary or gender fluid individuals to use on official documentation such as passports and marriage certificates. The fact it has already been implemented successfully in Australia shows how such passports could be understood internationally. I believe there must be a change in primary legislation to create a third gender option as the impact on fraud and public protection would be minimal if the Govt were to review data from Australia that shows how X passports were being used in the first months after their implementation. It'd be amazing to think that the gender requirement could be dropped from passports in the near future and I wait with interest to hear about the findings from the International Civil Aviation Organisation in December 2016.
  • I am glad to see that HM Courts and Tribunals staff undertake equality and diversity training and that the judiciary have been given adequate guidance to address issues of gender reassignment so as to prevent accidental and deliberate "outings" of trans people whilst going through court proceedings.  

Equality Act (2010) Protected Characteristics referring to trans individuals:

  • I believe the Govt has wriggled out of the need to change the protected characteristic category protecting trans people from "gender reassignment" to "gender identity". Whilst I accept that "gender reassignment" may be fully compliant with the Equal Treatment Directive (soon to be defunct as we Brexit the EU) it seems overly simplistic to automatically assume that an individual will be protected under the Equality Act even if they are treated less favourably because of a protected characteristic even if they may not deem themselves as having that characteristic. For example, how would a cross dresser know that he or she was protected under the EA if they chose to wear a lace dress to work instead of a suit and tie one day? Would the employer know  whether the cross dresser was protected under the EA when they choose to discipline them? More importantly, would the employer actually care whether they were protected or not? A Gender Identity characteristic I posit would protect cross dressers, non binary and gender-fluid people without any doubt being cast on their intentions or rights. After all, how embarrassing must it be for a cross dresser to know his or her colleagues think that he might consider gender reassignment when this might not be the case!
  • I am heartened to see that the Govt agrees with the Trans Enquiry recommendation 12 at least in principle. It is imperative that the Equality Act be amended to state that if a person has already transitioned legally (i.e. holds a Gender Recognition Certificate) that they should be able to access the single-sex services that relate to their chosen gender. Whilst I understand the concerns from domestic abuse charities such as Women's Aid that trans women may still be seen as "men" by some victims, I believe that if a trans woman has transitioned fully they do not pose a "rape risk" and therefore should be afforded the same amount of dignity and respect when they are also victims of domestic abuse. I do accept that there may be exceptional circumstances where this may not be possible, for example if a victim has acquired an phobia of trans people as a result of being raped by a trans person; clearly that victim deserves to have dedicated care and privacy that may not be afforded them if they were treated with trans victims or treated by trans professionals.  
  •  The Govt may have published detailed employment and service provider guidance in November 2015 to educate managers and HR professionals about trans issues but I've not personally met any manager, or trans employee who has read and understood the guidance in any great depth. Perhaps there is a problem with disseminating the information in an engaging and cohesive way. Information has to be accessible and take into account a variety of different types of reader, not just those who may already have awareness of trans issues (such as HR managers). Why not make the guides interactive? Why not create modules that can be built into existing online learning media programmes that include visual and audio content to take into account learning styles? Very short sighted thinking in my opinion!

Transgender issues in Sport:

  • It is imperative that transphobia present in some sports is stamped out vigorously over the next decade. Whilst I understand in competitive sports it may be more difficult for trans people to participate in their gender preferred sports due to supposed ability bias due to muscle strength advantages etc. at the grassroots level in schools there is very little room for bias. I'd like to see defined exactly what the "unfair advantages" are with regards to grassroots sport for trans men and trans women. I think they may be able to identify quite a few for trans women but very few for trans men. The Govt. seems committed to helping the UK become a "more active nation" through the creation of initiatives such as Sporting Future: a New Strategy for an Active Nation (2015) but I've yet to see any evidence to suggest trans participation in football, rugby, cricket or hockey has increased as a result of its implementation. Hopefully such evidence will begin to emerge in a positive manner with sports professionals conducting more surveys focussed on LGBT participants.

Transgender issues and the NHS:

  • Transphobia in the NHS is and must be seen as unequivocally "unacceptable". Trans people have the right to access treatment for any health concerns that they may have, not just ones which relate to their gender reassignment process. GPs must undergo equality and diversity  training as part of their Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme so that they understand the importance of treating trans patients with the dignity and respect they deserve. I believe that medical students in the first year of their degree must be taught about trans issues before they enter a hospital environment. They must be vetted to ensure that they understand the need to separate their personal views from their professional competences and to know there will be grave consequences if they fail in this regard.

  • I welcome the Govt view that Gender Dysphoria should no longer be seen as a "mental illness". I understand the complexity of moving the 7 Gender Identity Clinics away from mental health trusts as some trans activists have hoped would happen soon. However it is strange that there is no single body that has the responsibility of transferring GICs away to another speciality. I'd like to see more GICs being established in the UK, perhaps doubling the number by 2030. This would reduce waiting lists dramatically and could solve many of the mental health issues that may arise as a result of trans people waiting for hormone therapy to be approved.  

  • There should also be funding in place to try and increase the number of gender specialist clinicians and nurses within the NHS. Helping trans people can be just a rewarding career as helping cancer patients or working with patients with learning difficulties and often there is a level of crossover between various medical specialities as a result of working with trans people; for example I am trans but I also have dyspraxia and mild dyslexia! There should be marketing in place to attract more medical students GPs and psychologists to retrain within the Gender Dysphoria field.

  • I am disappointed by the Govt's reluctance to change the guidelines around the 2 year RLE (Real Life Experience) prior to Gender Reassignment Surgery. I personally argue that the RLE requirement be scrapped in its entirety because of its purely tick-boxy arbitrary nature. I'm sure that Nicky Morgan understands that gender is just as fluid as sexuality even if you are considering changing your biological parts from those traditionally associated with "man" to those of "woman". I certainly won't conform to imposed societal expectations of what a "normal" woman looks like just to gain support to have surgery. The RLE requirement is not about qualifying for surgery but to allow the trans person to understand the potential consequences of life post surgery. This doesn't mean that a trans person should stop wearing men's tees if they want to be seen as a woman. #JustScrapTheRLELikeTheyDidInNorway!

Transgender and The Criminal Justice System:

  • Hate crime awareness has to be increased within the policing profession. There is no excuse for local police officers not to be aware of how to define hate crime, let alone not having practical solutions to implement to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Equality training also has to be embedded into Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) training to compliment the training undertaken by full time police officers so all members of the force are singing off the same hymn sheet so to speak. I'm therefore heartened to see that the College of Policing is undertaking a training needs analysis to address the universal gap in knowledge on trans hate crime. I hope they are referring to trans activists and trans police officers throughout this process so that it can be seen as "fit for purpose" when it is finally rolled out nationwide.

  • The Govt recognises the valuable reporting input of third party organisations, in particular the fact that they help make access to justice easier for victims by offering a safe space for them to get the physical and emotional help they may need after the crime has been perpetrated. Just Lincolnshire is one charity that supports victims of hate crime. I also support the Govt's pledge to fund the True Vision website, which allows third parties to report hate crime. It is vital that the Govt builds on this by encouraging all hate crime victims to access and report to third party agencies.

  • Transgender offenders have suffered abuse as a result of their choice to identity with the gender which is the opposite to them biologically. Whilst I do not condone the offences carried out, trans offenders have the right to be treated in a humane way as set out by current UN Human Rights Conventions and enshrined in our Human Rights Act (the same HRA that Tories like Theresa May and Michael Gove want to scrap).  Therefore it is not acceptable to lock transwomen up in men's open prisons where they may be subject to harassment, bullying or rape attempts which could further damage their mental health and lead to potential suicidal thoughts and actions. Treating trans offenders according to their gender identification is certainly more likely to reduce reoffending rates, especially those related to minor theft offences or soliciting. They need hope not our contempt!

Transgender issues in Education:

  • Whilst I understand the Govt has provided significant funding to bullying prevention programmes (£3 million to date), I continue to read teacher and student commentary documenting numerous transphobic bullying cases in rural and faith schools. Teachers in such schools need to be equipped to deal with transphobic bullying resulting from religious zealotry from the first days of being in the teaching profession. Therefore trans awareness training must be embedded within PGCE programmes to help give trainee teachers practical knowledge of trans issues and the confidence to confront bullies in a direct manner.

  • I believe wholeheartedly that PSHME curriculum programmes have to be reformed so that they deal appropriately with LGBTQIA topics and issues in a sensitive yet engaging intellectually rigorous (impartial) way. I'm afraid I don't share Nicky Morgan's view that we should trust all headmasters and school teachers to approach trans issues in an impartial manner according to their own personal experiences of teaching students. Some headmasters may never have met an openly gay person let alone a trans one! That's why transgender issues must be made a statutory part of the PSHE curriculum. I also believe queer and intersex topics must also be covered as part of a wider, more socially progressive PSHE programme. It's perfectly OK to teach secondary school children in state schools that it's acceptable to be asexual or to be gender fluid. It's time to remove the Judeo-Christian stigma that has been attached to such discussions and there is no reason why primary school teachers may begin to address such issues in their students' last year of tuition (Year 6). It is not enough for the Govt to recommend that schools teach PSHE. They must make PSHE compulsory for all schools regardless of their status. If faith schools refuse to address PSHE they must be highlighted "named and shamed" in my view. I think Ms Morgan may like to read my blogpost on LGBTQIA awareness in schools to see how trans individuals can get involved locally to raise awareness in a sensitive and engaging way!

Transgender issues in Social Work:

  • It is deeply worrying that social workers are enter their profession after years of graduate study unaware of how to deal with gender fluidity issues in a sensitive and dignified manner. Young people who are in the care of social services are amongst the most vulnerable in our society and they deserve respect and support especially when it comes to them exploring their gender identity. Social workers are often seen as a role model for vulnerable children and young adults and therefore need to be seen as beyond reproach on LGBT issues. It wouldn't take much for CPD programmes to be designed and implemented by HR professionals in the social work field to help fix such a blatant loophole quickly and effectively.

I hope that the Trans Enquiry conducted over the last year will lead to positive, lasting changes for those within the transgender community. I may have grave concerns as to what direction the Govt may take when under the leadership of right wing socially conservative Tories such as Theresa May or Andrea Leadsom but I sincerely wish that recommendations made for public service providers can be followed through regardless of such a change in the Govt moral makeup. As highlighted in a previous post, I myself would love to be able to hold the Govt to account from within Parliament to make sure progressive changes are considered ASAP. Perhaps there will be other potential trans left candidates who come into the limelight before me. At least we have a framework which we can follow - a blueprint for real change. That is something I can thank the Women and Equality Select Committee for wholeheartedly.