Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Stonewall's "A Vision For Change": A New Dawn For Trans & Non-Binary Rights in the UK?

Today saw the much anticipated launch of LGBT rights charity Stonewall's plan for advancing trans and non-binary rights in the UK. "A Vision For Change" has been put together with the specific advice and guidance of the Trans Advisory Group, including Lib Dem Parlimentary Party Candidate for Chippenham and one of the founders of Trans Media Watch, Helen Belcher, Sarah Brown, a Lib Dem LGBT+ advocate who founded TransDocFail which identifies and challenges injustices against trans people in the NHS and private healthcare system and Aimee Challenor, current Chair of the LGBTQIA+Greens and a stalwart of the Coventry LGBTQIA+ community. The report is positive, wide-ranging and looks at all areas of personal and professional life, making a number of very interesting recommendations. I thought I'd proffer an opinion on some of the recommendations that'd make a difference to my life as a trans and non-binary person under the three headings given in the report: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Institutions and Changing Laws.

Empowering Individuals:
  •  Having spoken to trans and non-binary people across Lincolnshire, I found that many do feel inhibited to disclose their gender identity or to speak out about their experiences. Roger, a 26 year old transman from Boston who has transitioned medically told me that he was scared of disclosing the fact he was going through transition to his colleagues on a building site because he thought they'd "mollycoddle" him and stop him from doing the bricklaying because they'd still perceive him as a woman, which was what he didn't want to happen. How to empower Roger may be different from how to empower a trans woman satirist like myself.
  • People's identities are more complex than just relating to their gender identity. To think that trans people may only get a slot on a mainstream debate programme or art exhibition on the basis of their gender identity alone to talk about their gender identity alone can be extremely frustrating. Part of the empowering process has to include trans and non-binary and equal opportunities activists like myself accepting that many trans and non-binary people do not want to talk about their gender identity at all in public. Media organisations, arts organisations, businesses and political parties also have to respect a trans person's right to privacy and allow them to be in the driving seat when creating a platform for themselves.
  • I've been very lucky to hear from and meet with plenty of inspiring trans people. They may not have a social media account and they may not think of themselves initially as role models but they are raising awareness of trans issues simply by finding the courage to be themselves, whether in the workplace, at their sports club or when out nightclubbing. I'm grateful for all trans people that have been open in public before me too, including Marsha P Johnson, Christine Burns and Paris Lees.
  • I do agree with Stonewall's Trans Advisory Group that we need to encourage and empower a more diverse range of trans voices and talent to come through, helping them create and foster a platform, whether that be through designing intriguing artwork, creating a thought-provoking play on gender identity in the Regency period or appearing on Newsnight to counter the gender-critical radical feminist narrative that trans identities are part of a "trend"  that will "disappear soon". Stereotypes can be countered -e.g. that trans people are repressed homosexuals or are "mentally ill" or have to work as sex workers to stay off the street. We do value trans people who identified as gay or lesbian before their transition or trans people that had to work as sex workers to survive but there should be representation from heterosexual trans people too. Trans people of colour (British BAME trans) often have faced more oppression than white trans people and their voices definitely need to be uplifted wherever possible.
  • I'm dyspraxic (a developmental disorder affecting my fine motor control -e.g. I have terrible doctors handwriting and I can't walk in a straight line to save my life so get mistaken for being drunk on nights out) and I'm pleased to see a call from Stonewall to expand the panel to include neurodiverse voices. Autistic trans people are at the moment being targeted by those gender-critical radfems who believe they were not "well informed enough" to make a decision about their gender identity. This clearly needs to be robustly refuted. Trans people who are unable to medically transition because of pre-existing conditions also face barriers to accessing platforms because they're not "believed" by friends and colleagues. Their voices need uplifting too!
  • I'd love to see more trans and non-binary people getting interested in politics. This may include encouraging trans and non-binary people to participate in political parties to help shape party policy platforms or even encourage them to put themselves up as independent parliamentary candidates. Trans young people should be encouraged to get their voice out there (youth representation in Parliament is woefully low). The pressure of being the first trans/ non-binary/gender-fluid/genderqueer MP will undoubtedly be great but I'll be there every step of the way cheering them on. Who knows, I may end up putting myself forward to become part of the staff!
  • LGBT+ organisations should definitely be encouraged to reflect on their current vision and policies so that they are being fully inclusive towards trans and non-binary people. Trans and non-binary people can be encouraged to put themselves forward for charity management positions. HR/Voluntary co-ordinators can enhance training to increase awareness of key issues, especially getting volunteers and employees to recognise the validity of gender self-identity and legal gender identity too. Organisations need to do more than pay lip-service to fulfill their equality and diversity remit; trans and non-binary peoples'  needs must be considered beyond tick-boxing surveys and positive statements.
  • I'm very proud to have supportive parents and friends who haven't battered an eyelid in me stating myself to be trans and non-binary. I understand that for trans and non-binary people in rural communities, it may be hard to find even one positive ally to show them respect and friendship, hence why they keep their feelings secret for decades before deciding to transition. I agree that more needs to be done to support trans and non-binary people in the countryside, which is why raising awareness is vitally important. I'd like to see funding available to help establish friendship groups in every rural county to connect trans and non-binary people so they can share experiences and support each other in a safe and secure space. I also believe that religious groups have a role to play in challenging stereotypes; village vicars should present an open, tolerant and compassionate attitude towards trans and non-binary parishioners and make it clear that their door is "always open" should a trans or non-binary parishioner need to talk to them. Mandatory Sex and Relationships Education in schools, including faith schools at Key Stage 3 and 4 which is fully LGBTQIA+ inclusive should also help to dispel stereotypes about gender identity to reduce instances of bullying and harassment in the playground.
Transforming Institutions:
  • Schools:
    • As mentioned above, LGBTQIA+ inclusive SRE is going to be key in transforming attitudes towards trans and non-binary people over the long term. It's shocking to read that 9/10 LGBTQ+ students haven't learned about trans identities even though "58% of trans said they knew they were trans or non-binary by the age 13" (Metro, Youth Chances Survey 2014).  I believe that trainee teachers in every subject should be equipped with the knowledge of how to support trans and non-binary students during their PGCE. Teachers in subjects such as Religious Studies and PSHE should be prepared to talk about gender identity issues, perhaps using Stonewall resources or encouraging trans and non-binary activists to come into the school and give a talk about their experiences, as Stonewall's School Speaker programme facilitates. It's pleasing to note that the programme will have trained 60 extra speakers this year in England, which will be replicated for the next 4 years. Regardless, every school in the country should be helping to foster an attitude of tolerance and those who wish to discriminate against trans people should be challenged head-on through honest debate.
  • The Workplace:
    • HR professionals have a huge responsibility to ensure that colleagues and managers are aware of the importance of treating trans and non-binary employees with respect, in accordance with the Equality Act 2010. This means creating training packages that disseminate practical information in an easily accessible, coherent way. Managers who fail to show respect for trans and non-binary employees should be subject to a disciplinary hearing, with their behaviour monitored in appraisal meetings by HR.  
    • Certainly no employee should be forced to openly disclose their gender identity (including past history) but more and more often employees are being open with HR in order to help facilitate a package of support to help them have a smooth transition process at work; for example HR professionals can help to set up bathroom arrangements if necessary so that the trans or non-binary employee can have access to facilities that correspond to their gender identity. I agree with Stonewall in that HR professionals must ensure that any private health insurance covers trans and non-binary employees regardless of any intention to medically transition and that any documentation relating to trans and non-binary employees is kept confidentially in accordance with the provisions laid out in the Data Protection Act, 1998. Any disclosure of that information should be investigated and if done with malicious, the employees involved must be fired.
    • Trade Unions can certainly do more to support trans and non-binary members, whether that be providing basic training sessions for reps and members or advocating with LGBTQ+ charities and organisations for changes to legislation, such as replacing the protected characteristic in the Equality Act from "GRS" to "Gender Identity" and removing the term "transsexual" from the legislation. Trade Union reps can also name and shame bad employers and agencies and help speak up for organisations that do have positive HR procedures in place.
  • Faith communities:
    • Attitudes towards trans and non-binary people is being challenged on a daily basis by trans and non-binary people of faith. Certainly some Christian denominations are resistant to change than others: Catholics do not recognise gender identities as valid beyond the binary gender system, evidenced by Pope Francis's comments that transgender people could lead to the "annihilation of man" even though he later admitted that Jesus would "not abandon transgender people". I looked at the Biblical basis for such a view in my blogpost"God Made Us All In His Image: Get Over IT: A Liberal Christian Trans Approach to Christianity"(http://sassysvensknorsk.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/god-made-us-all-in-his-image-get-over.html) which shows that some Christian denominations are far more accepting of trans identity because there's no real concrete basis in Scripture to be discriminatory. Universal acceptance for trans and non-binary people can only come about as cis people of faith join with trans and non-binary people of faith to challenge stereotypes and to show that ethical codes do evolve over time. For example, 300 years ago, burning a woman as a witch was seen as a good act by most Christians in England; now that act would be seen as murder by members of the perpetrator's own congregation and thus punishable by a prison sentence. Challenging absolute restrictive orthodoxy, where religious texts and church doctrines interpretations are followed literally is happening all the time. Allies will continue to speak up for trans and non-binary people, even if it takes another 300 years before we are fully accepted by mainstream Christians across the world. Despite the enormity of the task I do agree with Stonewall that work with faith schools is vital in helping to challenge restrictive orthodoxy but I acknowledge the difficulty that work entails. I'm glad to hear that Stonewall will develop a new programme specifically aimed at stamping out homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in faith schools.
  • Sport:
    • As I noted in my response to Hadley Freeman's article on trans women (http://sassysvensknorsk.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/a-few-thoughts-on-hadley-freemans.html ) it's important that sports organisations foster an environment of inclusivity at the grassroots level. That includes clubs looking at designating/installing gender neutral changing facilities and challenging homophobic and transphobic chanting from fans and making sure coaches address any transphobic bullying coming from a trans person's teammates.
  • Justice:
    • The UK as a whole is failing trans and non-binary people who find themselves involved with the Criminal Justice System. Hate crime is underreported because trans people are afraid of their case being tossed aside by police officers who may not have met a trans person in their personal lives before. Therefore robust procedures must be in place for investigating officers to follow, including making sure they treat trans victims of crime with respect and dignity and keeping them informed about the investigation as often as possible.
    • Trans prisoners are being denied access to counselling because prison officers may not understand the effect of being incarcerated with prisoners who are of the opposite gender identity to them. Training is essential to help prison officers treat  trans prisoners humanely. Wherever possible, trans prisoners should be housed in the prison which corresponds to their gender identity. Non-binary prisoners should be treated respectfully, with prison officers using the person's preferred pronouns.
    • Young people who identify as trans and/or non-binary who are at the centre of custody disputes worry that they may be forced by one parent to conform to a gender identity which is no longer theirs. Family court judges need guidance to help them come to a determination that allows trans young people to be respected. I agree with Stonewall that guidance is needed more generally that informs court personnel of the need to remember the importance of correct pronoun use for victims.
  • Health and Social Care:
    • My Mum is a care assistant at a care home in Lincoln and she's told me of several occasions where a trans elderly disabled patient was disrespected by care staff (at her old care home) and by health professionals. On one occasion, the trans woman in question was referred to as a "poofy fake pussy oaf" because of she had had a fall in her room and the care assistant in question was angry about having to call out paramedics. Clearly such language and attitude is completely unacceptable which is why staff training on gender identity is of paramount concern, especially as the Baby boomer generation begins to enter advanced age.
    • Family members of trans and non-binary patients in hospitals and care homes do not need to be grilled for information by medical professionals. Basic training about gender identity should allow them to make an informed decision -e.g. about which ward the patient needs to be put into. Pronoun usage isn't of immediate concern in emergency cases and the doctor/nurses can ask about pronoun use when the patient is able to tell them themselves.
    • I am very lucky to have a GP that's polite, passionate about offering the best level of care to all and someone who went out of their way to find out more about trans and non-binary issues. Unfortunately my experience doesn't yet seem to be the norm. GPs have a responsibility to educate themselves on gender identity issues wherever possible. The General Medical Council guidance is there for a reason, after all. Any GP who fails to show any inclination to follow that guidance should be reported by colleagues or patients.
    • Gender Identity Clinic waiting times are very frustrating; I'm currently waiting for my first appointment with Nottingham Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) which when I was first referred there in April was expected to take 18 months as a minimum. What needs to happen is the Government needs to provide a fund to help expand GIC services, whether that be increasing the number of GICs, increasing capacity within existing GICs by recruiting more sexologists and specialist nurses or changing the Gender Recognition Act so those who do not wish to medically transition can change their gender identity legally without having to wait for a medical diagnosis.
    • More must be done to protect trans and non-binary youth homelessness. Organisations such as Stonewall Housing deserve to have central government funding to allow them to expand their capacity. I agree with the Trans Advisory Group's recommendation that social (and private landlords) must do all they can to protect tenants from transphobic abuse from fellow tenants wherever possible.
Changing Laws:
  • Gender Recognition Act 2004:
    • Get rid of the requirement for a medical diagnosis of "Gender Dysphoria" before being able to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate
    • Remove the Gender Reporting Panel requirement for a GRC
    • Allow non-binary, gender-fluid and genderqueer people to change their legal status and to use gender-neutral markers on their documentation
    • Consider review of the "acquired gender" requirement; should it be 2 years, 1 year, 6 months or no requirement at all (if you identify as non-binary)?
    • Get rid of the Spousal Veto requirement.
  • Equality Act 2010:
    • Change the protected characteristic of "GRS" to "Gender Identity"
    • Remove "GRS" and "Transsexual" from the terminology of the act
    • Make it explicitly clear that non-binary, gender-fluid and genderqueer individuals have legal protection under the Equality Act
    • Include a separate protected characteristic for intersex individuals who may never identify as trans.
  • Asylum policy:
    • Remove the requirement for trans and non-binary asylum seekers to have to "prove" their gender identity
    • Allow trans asylum seekers access to counselling if necessary
    • Improve the quality of accommodation available at detention centres, making sure gender-neutral bathroom facilities are available for asylum seekers to use in safety
    • Reduce the processing time for LGBTQIA+ asylum seeker applications from countries considered dangerous for LGBTQIA+ people
    • Oppose mass deportation plans for those whose asylum application is rejected.
Conclusion:
Stonewall's "A Vision for Change" articulates a comprehensive plan to help improve the personal and professional lives of trans and non-binary people in the UK. There is much that Stonewall can do to help increase trans visibility, whether it be getting more trans and non-binary speakers into schools through the School Speakers programme or getting involved with the lobbying process to get the protected characteristic changed in the Equality Act. SMEs in Lincolnshire can also participate in "A Vision for Change" by equipping their employees with the knowledge and skills to deal with trans colleagues and customers with respect and looking at the implementation of gender neutral bathroom facilities for non-binary employees and customers. Schools can ensure that SRE and PSHE lessons include material on gender identity and teachers can use part of their Continuing Professional Development to read up on trans and non-binary historic and current role models. Prisons can ensure prisoners are treated with dignity, even if that just means remembering to refer to them by their preferred pronouns. Our Government however really needs to be at the forefront of helping to improve trans and non-binary rights in the UK. The GRA and EA can be updated, asylum seekers can be treated humanely with the introduction of gender neutral facilities and SRE programmes can be mandated to include lessons on gender identity. In business, HR management aims to try and facilitate change by appealing to the CEO to change his tone and thus the business culture. PM Theresa May and her Government should lead by example by fully implementing the proposals set out in last year's Trans Inquiry, many of which are referred to in Stonewall's "A Vision For Change". Political parties, including Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens can unite around the proposals and lobby for PM May and Justine Greening to start the formal process of amending legislation. It's recognised that Lib Dem and Green representation has been strong on at the Trans Advisory Group and the hope is that will translate to party policy for the next election (if not party policy already) if the Conservatives refuse to begin making legal amendments. We must not sit on our laurels. I hope Sarah Champion and Labour's Women and Equalities will read the Stonewall report and consider applying any additional policy principles to their platform as required. I have faith that this can be done without causing a reduction in rights for cis people. Onwards and upwards should be the direction for all of us who are interested in seeing rights improve for trans and non-binary people. Hopefully I myself can work with Stonewall to help facilitate this in the future.