Five days left to support trans and non binary people in England and Wales

One of my personal highlights of Lib Dem Conference in Brighton was the LDV fringe meeting on introducing some light and kindness into the currently toxic media atmosphere surrounding transgender and non binary people.

In Scotland the atmosphere is much more inclusive. Scotland’s feminist organisations are open to self identified women who are feminists. There has been an enduring, healthy and respectful dialogue between all equality organisations. That’s why I invited Emma Ritch, the Director of Engender  along with James Morton from the Scottish Transgender Alliance to tell us more. Sarah Brown from LGBT+ Lib Dems was there to outline the current battleground – the ill-informed, scapegoating, fear-mongering in the media and Sal Brinton emphasised the party’s commitment to transgender rights. Sal talked about meeting a young actor who was trans early in her career and being horrified by the discrimination they faced.

Emma spoke about how a comparatively well-funded voluntary sector and a Government determined to make sure services were trans-inclusive helped. She said that there had been some difficult conversations and questions, but that what she called the “institutional kindness” of the Scottish Transgender Alliance had done so much to foster knowledge and understanding. She said that “radical kindness” was a key element in bringing people together.

James talked about the proposed reforms to the GRA and how they would make the process much easier for transgender people to amend their birth certificates. He pointed out that a statutory declaration was a very serious legal document and the penalty for making a false one is two years in prison.

It was a well attended meeting with some excellent canapés (I will dream about the mini Tiramisu things for a long time) and some warm and thoughtful discussion. Paul Walter wrote his account of it here.

One person who was there emailed me with some reflections:

Two LibDem conference fringe meetings were held to discuss transgender In Brighton.

Both discussed the prurient, sensationalist, intrusive and aggressive media stories that are used to hound transgender people.

Two fringe meetings on the same topic? Surely this is overkill for a minor interest?

Well perhaps but two nonetheless. In the first the panel was a trans woman, an MP and an eleven year old trans boy, they shared their personal journeys of the bullying, the prejudice and the bigotry that included pornographic abuse. The audience was four members of the (then) DELGA executive.

In the other a feminist, two trans activists and a Parliamentarian, they sought to explain the rise in that prurient media onslaught.  More than thirty people attended that event,  from all elements of the party.

The main difference between the two events?

Thirty years.

Sadly the media hasn’t changed it tune – the prurient, sensationalist, intrusive and aggressive media stories that are used to hound transgender people are still with us. Media stories that cost people their jobs, careers, their homes, friends and family.

As Liberals, we have a duty to stand with any group of people under attack. Trans people in this country are constantly marginalised and are the target of well-funded misinformation. Last week, a transphobic group took out a full page advertisement in a daily newspaper. These groups use the same tactics as the likes of Nigel Farage. He demonised immigrants, they demonise transgender people.  We can’t stand for that.

We can’t stand for that.

It’s really important that we all respond positively to the Government’s consultation on reform of the Gender Recognition Act in support of our transgender friends and colleagues.

Jean Johnson wrote on here a couple of weeks ago about the difficult and humiliating and arbitrary series of tests she had to go through before being allowed to get her Gender Recognition Certificate. Surely we don’t need to put people through that sort of random and subjective process. None of us are the boss of someone else’s identity.

Chippenham Lib Dem candidate Helen Belcher wrote this week for Gaystar News about what the proposed changes mean -a clue, not the end of civilisation as we know it:

The current process requires trans people to assemble a set of medical evidence and a set of documentary evidence that they’ve been ‘living as their acquired gender’ for a minimum of two years. Just getting this evidence can be costly. They then send it off to a panel, who they will never meet, for them to determine whether gender recognition should be granted.

When the law was originally passed in 2004, it was assumed the panel would operate a fairly light touch. In practice, the opposite seems to have happened. As the inquiry heard in 2015, applications are declined or questions are raised if applicants haven’t provided a full audit trail of documentary evidence, if the medical evidence doesn’t detail every single step taken, if there are other circumstances (such as having a three year old child).

The only meaningful right of appeal is on process. Given the panel meets in secret, it’s impossible to determine what process was followed, let alone whether it was followed ‘correctly’. The effect – there is no right of appeal. Therefore the existence of the panel fails the most basic of justice tests – it’s opaque, it’s unaccountable, it’s costly and there is no appeal.

She busts some of the myths:

Many trans people viewed this process as bureaucratic, costly and inhumane. Parliament agreed. The recommendation was to do away with the panel, reduce the cost, and streamline the process so it became largely administrative, in the same way as has happened in a number of other countries (Ireland, Norway, Malta, Argentina) without any problems whatsoever.

The way to derail the consultation was to make it controversial and seem big. And press coverage over the last year has tried to do this. By implying the change in process will mean that men invade women-only spaces with impunity, the impression was given this was a big, fundamental change. It also was positioned as controversial.

The facts: single sex spaces are protected by all sorts of laws, including but not restricted to the Equality Act, public order acts and acts around gross indecency. None of these will change. No one is advocating for single-sex spaces to be eliminated.

Stonewall has produced some really good resources to help you respond to the consultation, too.

The consultation closes at 11pm on Friday 19th. Be sure to have your say.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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