Author Archives: Andrew Brown

Bristol supports trans rights

On Tuesday evening, I proposed a motion to Bristol City Council entitled “Trans Rights are Human Rights”.

This had been put together locally by Councillors and activists from Lib Dems, Labour, and the Green Party as well as non-party people – and was seconded by a Green Party member of council. I am indebted to them for their hard work, and to the Councillors who supported it on the night: bar some abstentions, and Tory votes against, the motion was overwhelmingly passed.

The motion can be found here, and my speech was as follows:

This is the week of Bristol’s Pride march, and I couldn’t be prouder to bring this motion to Full Council. Why?

First, it has been put together by a cross- and non- party group of Councillors and Activists, including those with lived experience of being trans and non-binary in our society.

Second, allowing people to live their lives with freedom from conformity is one of the core principles enshrined in the Lib Dem constitution – and support for trans people is fundamental to living out that value.

Third, as a gay man, I know what it is like to not conform to society’s expectations – and for the state to make life difficult for people like. That spurs me on to work to make lives easier for others.

Finally, attacks on trans people are, when traced to source, orchestrated and encouraged by those who would seek to turn the clock back on the human rights of others – LGB people, women, ethnic minorities.

So, turning to the motion, what is being proposed? Well, it is fundamentally about three things: Solidarity, Support, and Advocacy.

Solidarity – this is about us, as a Council, standing with some of the most marginalised people in our city and communities. Trans people are amongst our residents and deserve to know that their elected representatives have their backs.

Affirming that we recognise that they are part of our community, flying the trans pride flag on appropriate days, and training our staff all have a part to play in reassuring our trans residents that the Council values them and their contribution to the city as much as any other group.

Support – there are a number of ways in which the Council can make life easier for trans people through the way it delivers services, the choices it makes about who to contracts with, and the way issues of sexuality and gender identity are approached in schools.

This last is of particular importance. One of the lessons of Section 28 is that the suppression of age-appropriate education on sexuality damaged the lives of a generation of gay people, we should be avoiding doing the same for the those who are trans.

Advocacy – to use our influence and position to lobby national government and parliament to implement measures that make accessing trans health services easier, tackle LGBT+ hate crimes, and enact a full ban on conversion therapies, as originally promised.

It is often said that Pride is a Protest not a Party – true equality has not yet been achieved for people like me, far less so for trans people. So, this Pride week, don’t just enjoy the party or pay lip service to LGBT+ rights: vote for this motion, stand with trans people, and commit to making their lives easier.

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International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia

On this day in 1990, the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from its list of ‘mental disorders’. Since 2004 the anniversary of this has been used to promote awareness of the legal and cultural discrimination LGBT+ people still experience around the world.

In the UK that we have come a long way towards achieving equality – and yet we know that, for many, there is still a stigma around their sexuality or gender identity. Imagine being a teenager struggling to reconcile same-sex attraction with the teachings of their parents, or religion. Think about why you may not know many people who are openly bisexual, or those who have multiple partners in consensual polyamorous relationships. Consider the workings of the “spousal veto” which insists a trans person’s husband or wife must consent in order for them to gain gender recognition.

IDAHOBIT is about celebrating the diversity of human sexual and gender expression and challenging the barriers to people living their lives as openly as their cis, straight peers.

In the UK, this year’s day takes place against a backdrop of the current media storm over self-ID for trans people. This is the proposal to reform the Gender Recognition Act such as to reduce the hoops that trans people have to go through to replace their birth certificates. Despite what you may have read, it’s not a licence for any man who wants to perv at naked women to walk into the female changing rooms at the local swimming pool. There are, after all, already rules against that sort of thing. It is merely the UK catching up with such notoriously socially liberal states as Ireland.

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How the West can be Won

In May, eight “Metro Mayors” will be elected across England. Whilst the precise details vary between authority areas, each mayor will inherit a city deal providing them with money and powers over infrastructure development in an area covering multiple local authorities.

Given the generally urban nature of most of the areas it is anticipated that Labour will win many of these. (Although given recent results in Sunderland and Rotherham such old certainties no longer feel quite so axiomatic.) In the “West of England” area, though, we anticipate the fight will be between us and the Tories.

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Brexit means…Keeping mum

Brexit means Brexit… The oft repeated mantra has become as synonymous with Theresa May as Major’s “Back to Basics”, Blair’s “Education, Education, Education” and Cameron’s “Compassionate Conservatism”. Like those, the phrase has become something of a joke – not helped by the assonance of the words “Brexit” and “Breakfast”, and the trap this has provided to ministers and commentators alike. So far, so funny, so harmless. Well, not harmless, but there is a world of difference between soundbites and actual policy. Originally “Brexit means Brexit” seemed designed to simultaneously pander to those who want a hard Brexit, whilst leaving the government leeway to work out what to do.

Of course, the official explanation of a lack of policy is that we cannot “reveal our hand” in advance of negotiations. There can be no escaping the whiff of sophistry about this answer – particularly when you consider the conflicting signals from the various departments charged with coming up with some form of coherent plan for those negotiations, preferably before Article 50 itself is triggered. It is patently obvious that no such plan yet exists, and all the while the clock is ticking towards the government’s self-imposed deadline.

If taken at face value, then May’s approach shows a shocking disregard for parliament, and the people. Her original desire to exercise Royal Prerogative to trigger Article 50 was but a symptom of a wish to retain control over every aspect of Brexit. I doubt those who voted to “Take Back Control” meant “take back control and hand it to the whoever is selected to lead the Tory party to do with as they wish”. Nonetheless in a few short months we have gone from having a government elected on a manifesto in which they said “yes to the Single Market” to a situation where the new Prime Minister will not now categorically repeat that affirmation.

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Is a Progressive Alliance the way forward?

Since the last general election – and even more so since the EU Referendum and the election of Donald Trump in the United States – there has been talk of a need for a “Progressive Alliance” between Labour, Lib Dems and Greens, in an effort to beat the Tories.

Much of this talk has come from Green Party members, with Caroline Lucas being a prominent voice in favour, but there are those in Labour and the Lib Dems for whom this would seem to be a beguiling idea. Indeed, former leader Lord Ashdown has long hankered for a realignment of the left.

Personally I’m a sceptic; for all sorts of reasons.

First, just how do you define “progressive”? To me it’s one of those political phrases that gets thrown around a lot, but means so many things to so many different people it has lost any real meaning. There are, for example, many in Labour who are perfectly happy with its authoritarian tendencies (evident in its internal organisation as well as in many of the policies it pursued in office) who would describe themselves as progressive, whereas I would not.

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Agenda 2020 Essay #12: What it means to be a Liberal Democrat today

Editor’s Note: The party is currently running an essay competition for members of the Liberal Democrats, to submit 1000 words on the theme “What it means to be a Liberal Democrat today.” The deadline for contributions is TODAY. If you would like us to publish your submission, send it to [email protected].

For me, it means what it meant in 1986/87 when, in the early years of Secondary School, I was taught about different electoral systems. The Modern Studies teacher explained the ins and outs of First Past the Post and alternative forms of Proportional Representation.

I pointed at PR: “I support that, and the people who support that.” I said.

It means what it meant in 1992 when I cast my first General Election vote. Still  politically naive (despite many hours of listening to Radio 4 over the years prior: the demise of Thatcher, the election of Major, through the first Gulf War and the scrapping of the poll tax…) but knowing that I wasn’t Tory (I had seen how Tory policies has decimated large parts of Fife, with pit-town upon pit-town in ruins) but also that I wasn’t Labour – even though, in those days, Labour votes in Dunfermline West were weighed not counted.

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Opinion: Fairer Taxes? How higher rate taxpayers will benefit more in 2014

Earlier this week I saw this tweet from Paul Lewis of BBC Radio 4’s Moneybox programme:

This struck me as odd, so I asked Paul how he calculated the £195 figure (I do not know enough about benefits and Universal Credit to make a judgement on the £39 figure). He quickly answered:

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