Author Archives: Helen Belcher

The EHRC is utterly broken

February is LGBT History Month – a month where we take the time to reflect on our history and honour those who fought for our rights.

Last week the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) issued a letter to the Scottish Government asking them to pause consideration of reforming the Gender Recognition Act. Apparently two consultations over 5 years was not enough. Not content with that, on the same day they wrote to the UK Government proposing that the new proposals for banning conversion practices should NOT cover trans people. The Equality and Human Rights Commission there, proposing inequality.

Yesterday, VICE magazine revealed that the EHRC is actively considering guidance for single-sex spaces which would bar all but a very few trans people from the spaces appropriate for them. The Equality and Human Rights Commission there, actively considering removing human rights and promoting inequality.

It’s for this reason that TransActual (which I chair) said this afternoon that the EHRC is “no longer fit to be called an equalities organisation. Trans and non-binary people will rightly now consider the organisation to be a hate group.”

For the avoidance of doubt, a good legal phrase there, any such guidance would plainly be unlawful, as it runs completely against the actual wording of the Equality Act, let alone breaching all sorts of basic human rights such as privacy. As such it would be challenged in the courts, as Good Law Project has indicated. But let this run for a moment.

The EHRC is utterly broken. Lest you think this is just about trans rights – it isn’t. In September, the EHRC agreed with the Government that there was no evidence of systemic racism in Britain, causing a huge outcry from race equality groups. Individual Commissioners have history in supporting the “hostile environment” against immigrants, supporting “white self-interest”, and that wariness about Muslims is justified. The Commission has made statements overtly supporting the Government’s political agenda, so it’s not even independent.

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For Transgender Awareness Week

This week has been coined Trans Visibility Week. It comes round each year, just before the annual Trans Day of Remembrance, when we honour those who lost their lives in the previous year just for being trans.

So, what’s happened in this Trans Visibility Week?

There’s been an almighty row at the BBC, and Vice has reported that LGBT+ staff are leaving in droves. There have been a couple of fiery meetings between the BBC Pride group and management, and in one of them, Tim Davie (the Director General) reportedly said he was worried about the perception that the BBC is transphobic. Well, Tim, I think it’s way beyond a perception.

We’ve had those opposed to trans equality appear on programmes like Wednesday’s Politics Live. We’ve had an appalling piece a couple of weeks ago, which framed trans women as predatory sex offenders – a piece which had to be amended when one of the three contributors not only admitted to predatory sexual behaviour herself but went on to call for the lynching of all trans women. Note – amended, not withdrawn – despite a letter with over 20,000 signatories being sent to the BBC. And we had a BBC podcast attempting to smear Stonewall, seemingly for no other reason that it campaigns for trans people.

When I appeared before a parliamentary inquiry into trans lives in 2015, I noted that certain BBC programmes couldn’t portray trans people without being slightly incredulous about them. In 2017 the BBC tried defending a documentary which was trying to rehabilitate a Canadian doctor who had been criticised for essentially carrying out conversion practices on trans people. Earlier this year, I complained that the Today programme was using the term “biological males” when it meant trans women – and was met with the response that, yes, the phrase did mean trans women and, no, it wasn’t transphobic and didn’t deny trans women their lived experience. Excuse me!

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Our vision for the future must be sound

Extraordinary times can have extraordinary outcomes. And these are extraordinary times. Civil liberties are restricted, the global economy is shutdown, and emerging communications technology is proving its worth. It’s very easy to assume that the world will change.

People point to the outcomes from other extraordinary times, such as the post World War II Labour Government which built upon the liberal foundations of social care. Folk say, “surely now people see the need for change”.

There is surely much to change – from the need to ensure effective scrutiny of Government can continue, requiring significant reform of parliamentary procedures, through proper valuation of those we now class as key workers, to the need for financial and medical security for all.

The challenges our society is having to work through in very short order are immense. The potential repercussions on the way we used to do things are also huge. For example, how many people are now finding that technology is making routine use of their office questionable?

But people have short memories, and the next General Election is scheduled to be many years away. The current Government doesn’t seem that minded to change very much. The clue is in the name of the governing party.

The saying “oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them” almost always holds true. In 1945, the election most pointed to by left-leaning advocates of change, Churchill’s Conservatives were seen to have no viable plan for the post-war world, while Attlee’s Labour held out a positive vision for the future, rooting it in the horrors of the immediate past and explaining the clear benefits in a way which resonated.

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Today’s cancellation of the 2nd part of the Leveson Inquiry – a massive betrayal of the promises to victims of press abuses

Just over six years ago, I walked into the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand, sat down in a blue chair in front of some microphones and faced about an hour of questions from Robert Jay QC. I was giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.

Quite frankly, I had been terrified about doing so. Before heading up to London I had called the local police to warn them that I may need rapid response. I had talked through press management with the school I was a governor at, and had given advice to every single family member.

But I sat there and dismantled the evidence given by the editors of the Mail and the Sun, including pointing to a story the Scottish Sun had published the same day that Dominic Mohan (the Sun’s editor) had said they had improved their reporting on trans issues.

I did this, not because I personally had been the subject of adverse or downright hostile press coverage, but because as part of campaigning for fairer media representation of trans and intersex people, the group I had helped start had received numerous stories from those who had. Reading the damage the press did to countless individuals and families, including disrupting the education of children who had nothing to do with the stories the press were covering – quite honestly it was and still is heart-breaking.

My appearance before the biggest media story in the country at the time went largely unreported, probably for obvious reasons. Fortunately the protections I’d put around my family, my company and the school I volunteered for were simply not needed. But the initial appearance did prompt a press backlash on the community I represented– until I made a second submission, acknowledged by the Inquiry Team within minutes.

The relatively new Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – Matt Hancock – has made clear his direction of travel from shortly after he was appointed. Under Karen Bradley, Government launched a consultation last year on whether the second part of the Leveson Inquiry should proceed, but it was clear from the questions asked where they were minded to go.

So today’s cancellation of the second part of the Leveson Inquiry – the part that couldn’t happen while court cases were proceeding – comes as no great surprise.

But it is a massive betrayal of the promises to victims of press abuses made by David Cameron, who said publicly that Leveson’s proposals would be fully implemented unless they were clearly bonkers. Those victims are hurting, and hurting badly. Not only were they subjected to some of the most egregious behaviour, they now feel completely betrayed by Government.

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It was time to fight for liberal values

Helen Belcher 2I joined the Liberal Democrats a couple of weeks after the 2015 General Election. David Cameron’s awful statement on human rights was the final straw. For a peacetime Prime Minister to threaten innocent people by saying “for too long we have been a permissively tolerant society, saying to our citizens that, as long as you stay within the law, we will leave you alone” – well, quite frankly, that was extraordinary. It made me realise that it was no longer enough to passively support liberal values, but that it was time to fight to protect them.

The last year has been a whirlwind of activity. Balancing family life, running a growing company, campaigning and learning some of the political ropes has been exhilarating, although difficult to manage at times. After a couple of speeches at the Bournemouth conference, and a very close result in a town council by-election which seemed to come out of nowhere, I was persuaded to apply to join the list of approved parliamentary candidates. That session Ben Sims wrote about, I also attended, as did Thornbury and Yate PPC, Claire Young.

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Shortlists and Privilege

On Sunday, Conference voted for all-women shortlists. As part of the debate, I gave a speech outlining how my experience showed that lots of men simply aren’t aware of the privilege they have. I was surprised that this speech would immediately precede the rare event of a leader’s speech in a debate. Tim – I hope I set them up all right for you!

For the first 40 years of my life I lived as male. Transitioning to female in 2004, and starting my own software company at the same time, showed me what I had anticipated – that I had to work much harder to be treated as worth listening to. It didn’t come as a shock to me, as I’d observed this since childhood – in fact, it was one of the reasons I used to delay transition. But I know other trans women who have been surprised by this side-effect.

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