My Lib Dem Spring Conference 2016 Speech on All Women Shortlists

This is the 3 minute speech I gave to the Lib Dem conference on all women shortlists. It was supporting an amendment which would remove them from a diversity motion we were considering. I took the view that the underlying problem is that the political environment is hostile towards women, and all women shortlists don’t address that, but paper over it.

We lost, but it was quite close, and some told me that my speech had changed their minds, which I suppose is the mark of a successful debate speech.

Conference,

In days of yore, it’s said coal miners took caged canaries down mines, to test the air. Imagine, if you will, one mine that has a problem. Nine miners take down a canary, and the canary, after looking distressed for a bit, dies.

The miners realise they have a problem. “Better get another canary”, says one.

So they do, and that canary dies.

As does the third, and the fourth.

Well word gets round the local canary flock, and when they see the miners coming they make themselves scarce. Now the miners really have a problem.

“I know”, says one of them; “for every five of us who go down, we will reserve another five spaces for canaries.”

“We’ll fill them from all canary shortlists.”

Slowly the miners all get unpleasant health problems, because canary targets don’t clean up toxic air.

I served four years as a councillor. At the end of my term, I feel like I discovered a dirty little secret. I ended my term on antidepressants and so, it seems did a statistically implausible number of my colleagues, in all parties.

Some of us ended up comparing notes: Citalopram or Mirtazapine, which has worse side effects? That sort of thing. How messed up is that?

Maybe we need a spent canaries support group.

Studies show that men often overestimate or overstate their abilities and women underestimate and understate them, and this is reflected in how different genders tend to respond in toxic environments, be it investment banking or be it politics.

We ask a lot of our candidates: organise deliverers, run campaigns, spend x nights a week knocking on y hundred doors. Our local parties often ask for more time than is reasonable. Men will quite often sign up, and then just not do it all. Women, who tend to have less free time to start with, will look at the expected workload and become stressed.

I’m no expert in why the response here is gendered; but it is, and we in all parties have built an environment that unconsciously selects men by tailoring it towards male-typical responses to stress. That’s a bad thing for the men too, by the way, they just tend to respond differently to it.

The problem is not with the women. The problem is with the toxicity of the environment. If we learned anything from New Labour’s love of targets and quotas, it’s that they provide simple solutions to the wrong problem.

Don’t get more canaries. Fix the toxicity.

Government Trans Equality Report; Much to Cheer But Timid in Parts

This morning, the government’s Women and Equalities Committee released its first report on transgender equality, detailing its recommendations. They fall into a few broad areas:

  • Reform of the 2004 Gender Recognition Act
  • Reform of the 2010 Equality Act
  • Reform of healthcare services for trans people
  • “Tackling everyday transphobia”

I’ve had a short while to skim this document and these are my initial impressions. It’s a very long report of nearly 100 pages, but much of it is summarising submitted evidence and explaining the current situation. The committee has helpfully written their recommendations in bold, and those are the sections I’m going to focus on. Zoe O’Connell has also blogged on this and is worth reading.

Before doing that, I’ll note that this is very much a report of our time, and fits with the narrative of the current Conservative government. While noting that the government has work to do, it defends the deeply discriminatory Spousal Veto and only really takes the gloves off when it comes to talking about the NHS.

Taking the parts as they are presented in the document, I’ll start with the Summary:

The report recognises that “High levels of transphobia are experienced by individuals on a daily basis with serious results“, and references the appalling suicide statistics faced by transgender people.

It recognises that the 2004 Gender Recognition Act was “pioneering but is now dated“, and criticises the pathologisation of trans identities and the need for self-determination.

It recognises that the Equality Act is unclear in who it covers, and suggests that the fuzzy concept of “gender reassignment” be relaunched as “gender identity“. Hopefully this will clarify and enhance the position of non binary people.

It has some strong words for the NHS, pulling no punches with “ e NHS is letting down trans people: it is failing in its legal duty“. This seems to refer to both gender identity, and general healthcare services.

Now on to the detailed sections, starting with the Gender Recognition Act. The report:

  • Recognises that the Act has nothing to offer non binary people, stating that “The Government must look into the need to create a legal category“.
  • Urges the government, “within the current parliament” to “bring forward proposals to update the Gender Recognition Act, in line with the principles of gender self-declaration“.
  • Recognises that the Spousal Veto is open to abuse and that this is “deplorable and inexcusable“, but recommends that the veto remain in place.
  • Recommends that gender recognition be available to 16 year olds, but suggests this should be subject to parental consent or Gillick Competency.
  • Notes there have been no prosecutions under Section 22 of the Act (the protection from outing clause), and expresses concern that this may be effectively useless. It suggests the Ministry of Justice “take action to address this“.

There’s some good stuff here. I’m pleased the committee spotted the uselessness of Section 22 as a piece of criminal law that is routinely violated and never enforced, and welcome suggestions that this be tightened up. I welcome the recognition of the need to extend recognition to non-binary people but am disappointed that the committee presents no suggestion as to how this might be attempted. Similarly, while it recognises the need for self determination instead of the current practice of having bureaucrats literally put your gender identity on trial, it presents no suggestions for how this might be done.

In regards to the above, the committee’s report is essentially, “isn’t this terrible? The government ought to do something!”

The attitude towards the Spousal Veto is extremely disappointing. The report notes that Scotland effectively did away with it, but stubbornly insists it must stay, while noting that abuse of it is “deplorable”. Again, it offers no suggestions to how such abuse might be prevented, nor what can be done in the instances where spousal consent is not possible to obtain (e.g. the spouse is in a coma, or cannot be contacted).

This is, perhaps, the most disappointing aspect of the report for me, and the point at which it is at its most timid. The justification for retaining the veto is both paper thin and nothing we haven’t heard before. Stating, “in a marriage where one party transitions, the non-trans spouse does have a legal right to be consulted if it is proposed to change the terms of the marriage contract in consequence“.

Let’s note here what it is that’s being vetoed: it’s not transition itself, nor any of the hormonal or surgical changes that have potentially profound consequences for the nature of what is supposed to be a life-long monogamous sexual relationship.

What is being vetoed is access to equality before the law.

While I will never agree that the veto is anything other than a gross and disgusting infringement on the liberty and humanity of trans people, I would perhaps understand it more if those defending it were able to present an argument that actually made sense. How can you possibly give a spouse power of veto over access to employment nondiscrimination, but not access to genital reconstruction surgery?

On The Equality Act, the report:

  • Suggests that the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” be replaced with “gender identity“.
  • Suggests clarification of the Act so it is obvious that its protections apply to children.
  • Recommends that the granting of a Gender Recognition Certificate prevents the exclusions on access to single sex services and jobs from applying to someone.
  • Recommends “the Government work with Sport England to produce guidance which help sporting groups realise that there are likely to be few occasions where exclusions are justified” from single sex sport competitions.

There’s some really good stuff here. The Equality Act was a rush-job at the end of the 2005-2010 parliament and many (myself included) think that its provisions for trans people are a mess as a result. The single most important change, perhaps, is changing the definition of what’s protected from discrimination from “gender reassignment” to “gender identity“. It is currently very unclear just “how trans” you have to be to be covered by the Act, and this should go a long way towards addressing that, especially for non-binary people.

At present, you can be fired from certain jobs (or prevented from applying for them), and refused access to single-sex services (such as domestic violence shelters and rape-crisis counselling) if you are trans, and this is explicitly legal under the Act. The report proposes removing these exceptions but only if you have a Gender Recognition Certificate. According to some legal experts I have spoken to in the past, this is very much the situation that existed prior to the Act passing in 2010.

This does risk widening the perceived gap between those who have a Gender Recognition Certificate and those who do not though. Given there are no actual proposals for how the Gender Recognition Act might be extended to non-binary people, if this proposal is implemented by itself then it very much maintains non-binary people as “second class” trans people, from a legal standpoint.

It also makes a retained Spousal Veto much nastier by creating the unpleasantly ironic situation where an embittered spouse of a trans person can subject them to domestic abuse while withholding their legal right to access a domestic violence shelter.

There are kinds of discrimination that the Equality Act allows which the report does not address. One such is marriage in church, where if the priest reasonably thinks you are trans, they can refuse to marry you. Another relates to military service. The report has no recommendations to make here.

On The NHS the report:

  • Says there is “too much evidence” of discrimination towards trans people in the NHS.
  • Notes that trans people encounter “significant problems” accessing general healthcare and sometimes encounter “out-and-out prejudice
  • Notes GPs often lack understanding of trans issues and referral pathways and this can lead to “appropriate care not being provided“.
  • Calls for a “root and branch review of failures in professional development, commissioning and incidences of transphobia in healthcare to be published within six months.
  • States that the General Medical Council must provide reassurance that it takes transphobia seriously.
  • Welcomes ongoing depathologisation of trans identities, in the same way that LGB people have been depathologised.
  • Suggests that gender identity services be separated from mental health services, and perhaps become a discipline in their own right.
  • Recognises that while gender recognition on request is something it would support, it would not support the informed consent model for “medical intervention as profound and permanent as genital … surgery
  • Notes the inappropriateness of prescribed gendered codes of dress and mannerisms to access treatment.
  • Demands that the “lack of capacity” which is causing long waiting lists be addressed urgently.
  • Recommends much easier access to puberty blockers for adolescent trans people and notes the urgency this represents.

I have less of a dog in this fight than many, as my own interactions with transition related health services largely finished nearly a decade ago. I do still experience problems accessing general healthcare, and I have campaigned continually on the difficulties trans people face accessing all forms of healthcare, because it’s really important.

I know the recommendation against an informed consent model will be disappointing to many. I’m not going to talk about that in depth here as it’s a complex topic and this is already getting really long.

Many clinicians will likely welcome the possibility of gender identity services becoming a fully fledged discipline in their own right, rather than the poor and neglected stepchild of mental health trusts. I would welcome this too: GIC’s currently live rather like a primary-school aged Harry Potter, shut away in the cupboard under the stairs by an adoptive family that would really rather they weren’t there at all, and if pushed, doesn’t really hold with “that sort of nonsense”. In order for GICs to properly reform and grow, they should be set free.

The last major section is called Tackling Everyday Transphobia. The report:

  • Notes that legal change will “only bite” if there is social change too.
  • Calls for the Ministry of Justice to work with trans people on hate crimes reporting.
  • Calls for the government to strengthen hate crime legislation.
  • States that the requirement for a doctor’s note to obtain an updated-gender passport “must be dropped“.
  • Calls for public bodies to justify those occasions where they record name and gender, and notes there is no such thing as a “legal name” in the UK.
  • States that the UK “must” introduce “an option to record gender as ‘X’ on a passport“.
  • Suggests the government move towards non-gendering of official records as a general principle.
  • Notes it is not appropriate for trans people in prison to be put in solitary confinement just because they are trans.
  • Asks the prison service to clarify its position on trans prisoners and requires prison staff training and that the implementation of policy be monitored.
  • Tasks the Independent Press Standards Organisation and OFCOM with working out how to get trans people to complain about poor representation.
  • Notes harassment of trans people online needs to be taken seriously.
  • Suggests schools need to cover trans issues in Personal, Social and Health Eductation.
  • Asks further education bodies to better promote trans equality.
  • Calls for trans-appropriate training of social workers “as a matter of urgency

This is the single largest section and there’s a lot here. The stuff on official documents is eminently sensible and the call for X markers on passports (with a move towards removing gender on them altogether) is very welcome indeed.

Treatment of trans people in prisons is a festering sore and urgently needs addressing. The committee seems, in its language, to be putting the prison service on notice, and I welcome that.

I think the committee have missed the point on press and media depictions of trans people. The problem isn’t that trans people aren’t complaining; it’s that nothing is done in response. This is symptomatic of a much larger problem with the press in our society, and I’m not optimistic much will happen any time soon.

I couldn’t help but smile at the suggestion trans issues be covered in PHSE. At my school, the only time they were mentioned was to note that people like me “should be locked up”. Things have improved, thank goodness.

Internet harassment really needs to be tackled. I had a nervous breakdown because of it 2 years ago. This report doesn’t suggest any kind of compulsion to do anything about it though. The government, apparently, doesn’t want to tell ISPs what to do (apart from when it comes to spying on us and making them censor LGBT news sites as “porn”).

I will close by apologising for the length, but there was a lot to get through and the committee have done a thorough job.

What they’ve produced is a curate’s egg. There’s some really good stuff in here, but some of it is really disappointing too, particularly the stuff about the Spousal Veto, especially since Scotland proved there is no need for it whatsoever. I can only wonder why the government is so attached to it, particularly since this report, if implemented, gives it more teeth.

And finally, a word of caution. This is not a bill before parliament. It’s a report from a committee, and while it contains a list of recommendations, it doesn’t have the power to implement any of them without ministerial support.

Still, it’s a step in the right direction, and quite a big one.

But the Spousal Veto guys – sort yourselves out, seriously.

Calling for an End to Trans Conversion Therapy

This is the speech I gave to the 2015 Liberal Democrat Spring Conference, introducing an amendment to the mental health motion to call for an end to transgender conversion therapy.

The amendment passed without opposition.

I’d like to read from a young girl’s Internet diary.

I really need help.

Hi, I’m Leelah, 16 and ever since I was around 4 or 5 I knew I was a girl. As soon as I found out what transgender meant, I came out to my mom. She reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl.

I wanted to see a gender therapist but they wouldn’t let me, they thought it would corrupt my mind. They would only let me see biased therapists, who instead of listening to my feelings would try to change me into a straight male. I would cry after every session because I felt like it was hopeless.

Please help me, I don’t know what I should do and I can’t take much more of this. I don’t know if my problem is serious enough that I can contact authorities for help and even if it is I don’t know how much that’ll damage or help my current situation. I’m stuck.

Two months after writing this cry for help on the Internet, transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn took her own life. This was in the US, but it could easily have happened here.

Studies show that when transgender people express a need to undergo gender transition, if they are not able to then 50% will try to kill themselves.

Conversion therapy does not work. This is not opinion, this is established fact. If you try to talk a transgender person out of changing gender, there is a better than evens chance they will try to kill themselves. This is not opinion, this is established fact.

If you subject a transgender person to conversion therapy, you might as well drive them to Beachy Head and tell them to jump. Conversion therapy kills transgender people.

When the NHS, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and other bodies signed a memorandum of understanding against conversion therapy for lesbian, bisexual and gay people in January, they called it “unethical and potentially harmful”.

They also left transgender people out.

Well, conference, conversion therapy for transgender people does worse than potentially cause harm: it kills them.

All this amendment asks is that transgender people are given the same protection from dangerous quackery that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are given.

Coercing vulnerable transgender people into discredited conversion therapy is not a valid psychological practice. It is not helping people who are struggling with their gender identity to come to terms with themselves.

It is attempted murder.

Conference, I implore you to support this amendment and put a stop to this appalling practice. Thank you.

On “Male TERFs”

Many will have noticed the phenomenon of the “male TERF”, that is a man, typically regarded as a left wing progressive, declaring himself a feminist ally, or perhaps even a male feminist, where the feminism he signs up to is the transphobic, whorephobic, anti porn kind.

In response to a furore over comments made by Rupert Read, a Green Party member who seeks to be MP for Cambridge, on Twitter and on his blog, a friend commented to me that the existence of male TERFs made the world “a truly strange place”. I have to say that I disagree. I think it’s entirely a natural place to be.

Mr Read, reassuringly for the trans people, sex workers and avid pornography consumers of Cambridge will likely be fighting UKIP for 4th place come May, but that’s not really the point…

Despite declaring themselves “radical”, the feminists who sign up to the transphobic, whorephobic, anti porn kind of feminism are basically reactionaries. There are few things more conservative than the view that trans people are dirty perverts who shouldn’t be indulged in our supposed delusion, that sex workers are wanton harlots who are certainly to be discouraged, and that masturbation is some kind of social ill that needs eradicating.

These are non-threatening ideologies which do not trouble the patriarchy one iota. Any man holding these views would likely be entirely safe and uncontroversial in espousing them in the surroundings of a conservative 19th century gentlemen’s club.

“Male TERFism” thus gives the “male feminist” the best of both worlds: they get to have the ideological seal of approval which comes from knowing you’re an “ally to women”, even if the women in question also happen to be the worst kind of reactionary bigot hypocrites, while signing up for an ideology which requires them to do nothing that would even draw the ire of the Daily Mail on a bad day.

The only surprising thing about male TERFs is that lots more reactionary men who still want a bit of left wing approval haven’t cottoned onto the wheeze.

Fraudulent; Negligent; Incompetent. My speech to the Trafalgar Square Vigil for Leelah Alcorn

Our community spends a lot of time in mourning, but today I am angry. A lot of us are angry. Some of that anger is being focussed at Leelah’s parents for putting her into profoundly damaging conversion therapy.

However, before sending Leelah to one of these nasty pieces of work, Leelah’s parents presumably talked to them, and the conversion therapist assured them that their therapy could “fix” their child and turn Leelah into the dutiful straight cisgender son they wanted. That the trans feelings could be “cured”.

We know these are lies. We have known for a long time that conversion therapy, whether it be aimed at changing gender identity or sexuality does not work.

We also now know that if a trans person has stated the need to transition, and things are done to block them, there is a better than evens chance that they will try to kill themselves.

These are not opinions, these are established facts. They’re facts that any medical practitioner working with trans people has a professional duty to know. They need to know their patients are vulnerable. They need to know conversion therapy doesn’t work. They need to know their patients are suicide risks if not handled carefully.

And yet someone presumably told Leelah’s parents none of this.

Why would someone do that? I can think of only three reasons.

  • The first is that they know that what they are saying is a lie, but they don’t care. They are selling lies. They are a fraud.

  • The second is that they haven’t bothered to find out what the best practice for counselling trans people is, because they don’t care. They are negligent.

  • The third, and perhaps kindest interpretation, is that they are in over their heads, that it simply never occurs to them that they should learn about how to counsel trans people before doing it. They are incompetent.

Conversion therapists are either fraudulent, negligent or incompetent. There doesn’t seem to be any other explanation.

Now in other areas of medicine, say if I need surgery for a broken leg, there are laws and regulations to ensure that if my surgeon is fraudulent, if they have faked credentials, they can go to prison. If they are negligent, if they turn up to work drunk, they can go to prison. If they are incompetent, they can be struck off.

Fraudulent, negligent, incompetent; in most areas of medicine you would not be allowed to practice, and yet it seems any charlatan can walk in off the street and set themselves up as a conversion therapist. They’re not subject to legal consequences if they are fraudulent or negligent. There is no overseeing body to sanction them if they are incompetent. They operate in a regulatory vacuum.

This isn’t good enough. These people are killing our young people through their fraudulence, their negligence, their incompetence. The lawmakers and regulators who should be stopping them are not.

Leelah’s dying wish was that we work to make these things better. A good start would be to stop frauds and charlatans from pushing trans people into suicide through fraudulent, negligent and incompetent therapy that is worse than useless, and if they do, to ensure that they face justice for it. I, for one, intend to make our lawmakers try.

The Privilege Denier’s Diversity Monitoring Form

If you are one of those people who have scoffed at the idea of words and phrases like “cis”, “TAB” (Temporarily Able Bodied) and “Neurotypical” when really you just want to describe yourself as plain old normal, then I have created a diversity monitoring form just for you! Enjoy!

Sarah’s Diversity Monitoring Form for Normal people

Question 1: Eye colour
Blue
Green
Normal

Question 2: Age
0-9
10-19
Normal
50+

Question 3: Sex
Male
Normal

Question 4: Religion
Practising Christian
Normal

Question 5: Hair Colour
Blue Rinse
Normal

Question 6: Relationship Status
Married and Monogamous
Normal

Question 6: Ethnicity
White British
Normal

Question 7: Voting intention (optional)
UKIP
Conservative
Normal



Thanks for taking the time to fill this in!

My Speech to the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference, 2014, on Sex Work and the Nordic Model

The Liberal Democrat autumn conference debated a motion calling for further decriminalisation of sex work, and condemning the so-called Nordic Model, which criminalises the purchase of sexual services by making it a criminal offence to buy sex, but not to sell it. This has caused significant controversy amongst sex workers, with evidence that this “partial prohibition” model does nothing to help keep sex workers safe, and just further stigmatises the practice aqnd drives it underground.

Still, the Nordic Model is very popular amongst certain whorephobic radical feminists, who promote it as a way of “ending demand”, while pretending it doesn’t place women in harms way (it does).

A number of what I consider to be wrecking amendments were submitted, to remove the language condemning the Nordic Model included in the motion. I putt in a card tho speak against these wrecking amendments, and was lucky enough tone called to speak. Here is what I said:

Conference, we’ve heard a lot of people talking about sex workers today. I wonder how many of those seeking to weaken this motion actually talk to sex workers? I am proud to count sex workers amongst my friends. I am privileged to have some of my friends share their thoughts, their hopes, and their fears with me.

One thing, conference, they consistently fear is the Nordic Model.

The Nordic Model, supposedly criminalizing clients but not workers, is profoundly illiberal. It is profoundly damaging. Make no mistake, it is a model of prohibition. It criminalises an activity between consenting adults that is legal as long as no money changes hands. Since when are we about telling consenting adults what they can and can’t do with their own lives? Since when are we about telling consenting adults how thy manage their sex lives?

The Nordic Model is illiberal, and it also puts sex workers in danger. Supporters of the Nordic model claim sex work has decreased, but these claims are often based on sex workers coming forward voluntarily to speak to social workers and the police. My friends don’t trust the police. They don’t trust social workers. They say they’d trust them even less with the Nordic model. What they would do is be driven underground.

Don’t take my word for it. Research recently published in the BMJ concluded that, and I quote:

“These findings suggest that criminalisation and policing strategies that target clients reproduce the harms created by the criminalisation of sex work”, there is no difference between the Nordic Model and criminalisation. “In particular, vulnerability to violence and HIV/STIs.”

Conference. We need to stop talking at sex workers. We should stop telling them how to live their lives. We should stop passing laws that get them hurt and killed.

I want to finish with the words of one of my friends. She asked me to say the following about the Nordic Model.

“It doesn’t work. It was intended to make sex work so dangerous women wouldn’t do it. It is not about safety. It is ideological.”

Thank you.

In the event, the motion passed unamended, with overwhelming support. This marks a party of government taking a stand for sex worker safety, and for the rejection of the prohibitionist Nordic Model, and the injustice and violence against sex workers which accompany it.

The speech was also recorded on video, where you can observe me giving it on a bad hair day:

On Withholding NHS Treatment From The “Undeserving”

The headline from the Daily Star

The headline from the Daily Star

This morning I was invited onto the Nick Ferrari show on London’s LBC Radio to talk about the case of someone who transitioned from male to female and wants to transition back again.

The story is rather sensationalist, and I wonder how much of it is journalistic licence (in my experience dealing with the press, entire stories can be). For example, the story suggests part of their reasoning is that heels and makeup are too much like hard work. The obvious response is “don’t wear them then”, but the subtext is clear: this person is, it is suggested, the author of their own misfortune and we as a society should not spend public money helping them out.

This theme was also explored in the radio show by Nick Ferrari, who, I think it’s fair to say, takes a rather right wing approach to social issues. He asked me how many cancer surgeries could be paid for for the cost of the bilateral mastectomy this person wants.

Actually none; bilateral mastectomies are relatively cheap operations and cancer surgery tends to be much more expensive, but that’s not really the point. Sometimes people make life decisions that with hindsight they wouldn’t have made, and get themselves into difficulty as a result. Helping them out is part of the quid pro quo of civilisation.

Perhaps Nick was playing Devil’s advocate, perhaps not, but I suspect many of his listeners would take the view that this person brought their misfortune on themselves and that we should abandon them to that misfortune, and save the money to spend on cancer treatment instead.

I would simply ask anyone taking that view the following question:

Do you walk less than 3 miles a day, every day? Do you ever eat fast food? Do you ever drink sweetened drinks? Alcohol? Do you ever smoke? Do you sometimes go out in the sun without sunscreen?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then consider that these are all risk factors in causing cancer, and if you ever find yourself needing that cancer treatment you are happy to use as an excuse to be crappy to one person wanting their medical transition reversed, understand that you are a raging hypocrite.

Understand also that if you get the sort of society you want, someone might just decide that you are the author of your misfortune, and leave you to die in agony because you “brought it on yourself”.

Be very careful what you wish for.

My Thoughts on the Block Bot, as a User and a Member of the Blocking Team

I was recently contacted by an American journalist, keen to speak with someone involved “at the coal face”, as it were, of Twitter’s block bot, both as a user of the tool and as a member of the blocking team, which I now am.

For those unfamiliar with it, the Block Bot is a crowd sourced tool that will, if you allow it to, block a list of people on twitter. These are divided into three categories – level 1 for people who should probably be banned if Twitter’s abuse process worked correctly, level 2 for people who are generally abusive but it’s not their raison d’être, and level 3 for people who show abusive behaviour through ignorance or refusal to acknowledge their own privilege in ways that cause distress to marginalised groups.

It won’t block anyone you already follow, and the list is crowd sourced, peer-reviewed and constantly being examined to ensure people are placed correctly. If adding someone to the list would prove controversial amongst the bot’s users for some reason, they are generally not added.

Anyway, here’s what I said to the journalist (fixed a couple of grammatical errors).

As a somewhat visible trans woman, being for a few years the only openly trans elected politician in the UK (Im not currently serving), and a somewhat outspoken one on issues of trans equality, I have attracted a lot of attention, and some of it has been quite negative.

In February to May of this year, I was subject to an offline harassment campaign where numerous people made vexatious complaints to my party, and to my council, all of which were dismissed, but which had a very negative toll on my mental health, requiring me to take antidepressants and tranquillisers for some time. The harassers were openly discussing their campaign on Twitter, and the people involved continue to try and attract my attention, and engage in the technique known as gaslighting and getting under my skin in other ways. Some of them even turned up to picket London DykeMarch in June because I was one of the podium speakers. It gets a bit much when social media bullies start turning up to events one is at to harass!

Unusually, compared to the harassment most women experience on social media, where the perpetrators are men, the perpetrators of the transphobic harassment I’ve been experiencing have been mostly (but not exclusively) women.

I blocked most of them manually, but a common technique of harassers is to create new accounts and try again from there, so it was difficult to keep up, and the ones that got through were often very distressing. I can sometimes look at what these people are saying, as long as it’s on my own terms, and when I’m able to walk away, but to have them impose themselves, when I may be having a bad day or whatever, is not good.

I signed up for the blockbot, after being sceptical of it for some time, but found that the blockers, most of whom are women, are generally sympathetic to the harassment transgender women face from the transphobic fringes of the feminist movement. As a result the bot was a good match, and I increasingly discovered, some time after the fact, that people had been trying to harass me and the bot had already blocked them for me.

My mental health is much better now. Some of that is because I’m no longer in office and face less stress generally, but undoubtedly some of it is not having to deal with constant harassment, or exposed to constant microaggressions associated with being a member of a minority community (people persisting in those tend to get blocked too, but at a lower severity level – you choose which severity level you sign up to). I have since joined the team of people who maintain the block list and decide when to add new blocks, and they’re a great bunch of people.

I know the idea of a block bot is proving very controversial in some quarters, but I don’t hesitate to recommend it now. It has played a significant part in keeping Twitter as a usable platform for me, and I can only see that as a good thing.

Open Letter to Academic and Media Feminists – Deal with the Transphobia in your Ranks

Anti-transgender protestors held a picket at London Dykemarch on Saturday 21st of June, chanting transphobic slogans in an attempt to drown out my keynote speech.

Some of the picketers at the Lesbian Pride march who handed out transphobic literature

Some of the picketers at the Lesbian Pride march who handed out transphobic literature

As I gave my speech, a group of 6 protestors started trying to shout me down, and distributed leaflets amongst the gathered crowd calling me a “lesbian hating man”, claiming that I was part of a “male” takeover of lesbian spaces, and accusing me of appropriating a lesbian identity.

Two of the protestors have since been identified as Dr Julia Long of Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, and Dr Lynne Harne, of Bristol University. Both lecture in women’s studies and both are involved in developing equalities policy.

Both academics have previously been involved in the London “RadFem” conferences, which are notorious for their trans exclusionary policies and their lineup of transphobic speakers. The conference lost its venues in 2012 and 2013 due to its transphobic-hate focus, having to find alternate venues at the last minute.

This is the latest incident in a campaign of transphobic harassment of me, coordinated via social media, which has been going on for several months, ever since I declined to engage in a panel discussion with journalist Julie Bindel, also noted for transphobic writing in the past.

Since then, a series of coordinated complaints about me were sent to the Liberal Democrat Party and Cambridge City Council, each of which was investigated and found to be invalid. I have had my blog targeted for a denial of service attack and my email hacked, and have received anonymous hate mail accusing me of abusing my position as a councillor to obtain a “sex change operation” – a charge which would require me to invent a time machine for it to be true.

My family was targeted, with harassers claiming that my wife left me because I “could no longer satisfy her sexually” after “mutilating” myself (my wife and I are together and very happy). The abusers wrote blogs calling me a “privilege denying t****y”, and described my vagina as a “f**khole”.

The harassers make their goal clear

The harassers make their goal clear

More recently, one of the harassers made their intentions clear, saying that, “Sarah Brown should gracefully bow out of public life”. It seems that any trans person who has any kind of public profile is considered “fair game” by these people.

The stress of the constant harassment, coinciding with my reelection campaign caused me to seek medical help for acute anxiety and depression. I spent around 3 months on antidepressants and tranquillisers and much of that period is still a black hole in my memory. After losing my seat, and while coming off the antidepressants, I finally snapped back at one of the people who had claimed responsibility for involvement in the harassment campaign, in response to constant provocation, telling her to, “suck my formaldehyde pickled balls”.

I regret saying that, but it was done after months of provocation, the destruction of my mental health and the targeting of my family. This was used as “proof” that I am a “violent male”, and the justification for picketing the London Dyke March.

I am not the only transgender woman to suffer this kind of abuse. I am deeply concerned that any transgender woman who dares to have any kind of participation in public life is subject to this kind of relentless hounding, I am deeply concerned that prominent academics, involved in researching and developing equalities positions and in a position of responsibility over students, some of whom may be trans themselves, see fit to picket a Lesbian Pride march, chant transphobic slogans and hand out transphobic material.

This abuse is performed in the name of “feminism”, and many mainstream media feminists either turn a blind eye, or actively endorse these activities. Enough is enough – this persistent abuse of transgender women by a vocal minority of transphobic radical feminists, pushing discredited transphobic ideology from the 1970s should not, and must not be tolerated.