My responses to the government GRA consultation

The government finally started its consultation on reform of the Gender Recognition Act in England and Wales today.

These are my responses. Feel free to nick bits for your own if you want.

Please do respond to this if you’re trans, or a cis ally. Transphobes will be attempting to drown us out in the volume of their responses.

About the Consultation

Additional information (as published in the consultation document)

Questions 1 and 2 – Experiences of Trans Respondents

Question 1: If you are a trans person, have you previously applied, or are you currently applying, for a Gender Recognition Certificate?


If yes, please tell us about your experience of the process. If no, please tell us why you have not applied?:

I applied in 2009. I was hesitant because it meant my 8 years of marriage would no-longer be recognised but I felt it important as, at the time, the GRA affected my equality in law as a woman. The Equality Act and Same Sex Marriage Act rendered these points largely moot (in particular, the Equality Act made it clear that a GRC no-longer guaranteed my treatment as female in situations where I might face discrimination). I feel like I have had part of my marriage stolen from me for a bargain which the government has not upheld its end of.

The process was bureaucratic and long-winded. The decision of the panel felt arbitrary. I felt like I was operating in an information vacuum. The Act talked of the ability to be able to have civil partnership ceremony and annulment on the same day, but in reality this was a logistical impossibility.

The court paperwork was byzantine and assumed we were having a hostile divorce. Even though my wife and I were standing next to each other when we handed the paperwork in, the other party had to be “served” by post. The court didn’t seem to know what they were doing.

Question 2: If you are a trans person, please tell us what having Gender Recognition Certificate means, or would mean, to you.

Initially: that my identity was recognised by the government and that I had some protections in law against discrimination because of it.

After 2010: very little, mostly that 8 years of marriage were taken from my wife and me under duress and we got essentially nothing in return.

Questions 3 and 4 – Medical Reports

Question 3: Do you think there should be a requirement in the future for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria?


Please explain the reasons for your answer.:

Medical care for transition is incredibly difficult to obtain in the UK, with waiting lists lasting many years. Some GPs will not refer trans people in any circumstances. A diagnosis of gender dysphoria has less to do with someone being trans than it does to do with their ability to wait many years under a system of institutionalised neglect and to “win” a postcode lottery.

Many trans people medically transition using “grey-market” hormones and ad-hoc medical care. Cases where someone has literally turned up to their first GIC appointment after having already had sex reassignment surgery are not unheard of. The current situation makes getting a diagnosis and hence a gender recognition certificate harder than actually getting genital surgery. This is absurd.

Question 4: Do you also think there should be a requirement for a report detailing treatment received?


Please explain the reasons for your answer.:

I have encountered many trans people who are unable to obtain any such report, often because their doctor has retired, or because of administrative incompetence within the NHS. Some people have treatment abroad and are either unable to obtain such evidence, or have such evidence rejected when they do obtain it.

Question 5 – Evidence

Question 5: (A) Do you agree that an applicant should have to provide evidence that they have lived in their acquired gender for a period of time before applying?


Please explain the reasons for your answer. :

I literally used a gas bill as part of the evidence to obtain my GRC. It’s now 2018, and I receive almost no paper bills or bank statements. I own my own house, which many do not. If someone was renting in a house of multiple occupation, as so many now do, even if they did receive paper utility bills, which are almost extinct amongst anyone under the age of 70, they likely wouldn’t be addressed to them anyway.

(D) If you answered no to (A), should there be a period of reflection between making the application and being awarded a Gender Recognition Certificate?:

Any such reflection would simply encourage people to apply early, before they felt ready, so that it was “in process”. Deterrent from making a frivolous application should be based on making the gravity of what someone is doing, and the consequences of making a false application abundantly clear.

Question 6 – Statutory Declaration

Question 6: (A) Do you think this requirement should be retained, regardless of what other changes are made to the gender recognition system?


Please explain the reasons for your answer.:

Transphobes have recently tried to create press suggesting a reformed GRA would allow anyone to receive recognition in frivolous or nefarious circumstances.

Making a false statutory declaration is perjury. The consequences of this should be clear to anyone applying. This should protect trans people, showing that they are committed to their identity, and deter transphobic pranksters eager to play silly games in the media.

Question 7 – Spousal Consent

Question 7: The Government is keen to understand more about the spousal consent provisions for married persons in the Gender Recognition Act. Do you agree with the current provisions?


Please explain the reasons for your answer. If you think the provisions should change, how do you think they should be altered?:

At present, a spouse is presumed to veto a GRC unless they explicitly waive that veto. This puts them in a position of power over a transitioning partner. If a GRC grants any legal rights at all (and the extent to which it does that is questionable post EA2010), then giving one person veto over the equality before the law of another is offensive and unjust.

The spousal veto provisions were clearly intended to empower a presumed cis partner to prioritise their feelings over the identity and equality of the transitioning partner. This assumption is not always valid, however:

– a marriage between two trans people, which are not uncommon, would result in each one being able to veto the other’s GRC.

– the partner holding the veto, be they cis or trans, may not be in a position to revoke it. In a situation where someone was in coma, or suffering from dementia, they would be unable to give consent and the trans partner would either have to divorce the person they love and are caring for, or wait for them to die. This is a horrible situation to put someone in.

The idea that a veto is even necessary contains the implicit assumption that a marriage that is officially same-sex is somehow a less desirable state that one which is mixed-sex (even though the veto applies the other way round, it’s clear the scenario envisaged in the Same Sex Marriage Act was a previously “straight” marriage “becoming gay”). This is not only homophobic; it enshrines homophobia in English law.

Refusal to waive the veto is one partner throwing down the gauntlet to the other, daring them to initiate divorce proceedings. If the partner weaponising their veto in this way has such a problem with being seen to be “officially gay”, then they should be the one to initiate a divorce, rather than mobilising the full weight of the law to passively aggressively make their partner do it. In any other situation, we expect the spouse who is unhappy with the state of the marriage to start the divorce process. It is inappropriate for the government and courts to assist someone to emotionally blackmail their partner into starting divorce proceedings.

In the event you decide to keep this morally objectionable veto, then at least modify an interim GRC so that it automatically converts to a full GRC after 6 months, thus making the veto temporary and allowing the vetoing spouse time to pursue a divorce.

But ideally, just get rid of it. It’s an affront to the idea that LGBT people are equal before the law.

Question 8 – The Cost of Legal Gender Recognition

Question 8: (A) Do you think the fee should be removed from the process of applying for legal gender recognition?


(C) What other financial costs do trans individuals face when applying for a gender recognition certificate and what is the impact of these costs?:

If the veto is invoked, they face the cost of a messy divorce and potentially the loss of their home and children.

Obtaining the medical reports is often very expensive – it can be more than the £140 fee for the application.

Question 9 – Privacy and Disclosure of Information (Section 22)

Question 9: Do you think the privacy and disclosure of information provisions in section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act are adequate?


If no, how do you think it should be changed? :

Section 22 as it exists is essential unenforceable. There have been very few cases even considered to my knowledge, and I am unaware of any successful prosecutions. Enforcement of S22 relies on the CPS being willing to take the case. The reality is that anyone can violate someones S22 protections and be reasonably confident that they will not be subject to any penalty at all. A law which is not enforced or enforceable is a bad law.

Questions 10 and 11 Impact of Legal Gender Recognition Process (Protected Characteristics)

Question 10: If you are, and you have one or more of the protected characteristics, which protected characteristics apply to you? You may tick more than one box.

Age, Gender reassignment, Marriage and civil partnership, Race, Sex, Sexual orientation

Please give us more information about how your protected characteristic has affected your views on the GRC application process.:

This question is a little odd. Everyone has an age, sex and race, and arguably a sexual orientation.

Question 11: Is there anything you want to tell us about how the current process of applying for a GRC affects those who have a protected characteristic?

Enter your answer below.:

The Equality Act is interpreted by the EHRC and others on the understanding that a trans person’s sex, for the purposes of the Equality Act, is their acquired gender and that any treatment contrary to this must be done on a case by case basis and be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

The Equality Act’s explanatory notes suggest that a GRC makes no difference to this.

However, many of a transphobic intent are keen to interpret the Equality Act as if a trans person’s sex, for the purposes of equality law, is immutably the one assigned at birth.

When updating the GRA, the opportunity should be taken to amend the Equality Act to make it clear what the existing practice actually is, rather than leaving it open to finding EHRC guidance and interpreting it through a lawyer, that is: trans women are women, trans men are men and non binary people are valid.

This is of more than academic interest. Trans women in particular are a highly vulnerable group, at significantly elevated risk of poverty, domestic violence and sexual assault. The law needs to be far clearer than it is that these women are entitled to the same assistance that any other woman is.

Women’s organisations have been negotiating this issue for decades. There is no risk that a man with nefarious intent will pretend to be a woman to enter a DV shelter, for two reasons: firstly, there are far easier ways to do that (e.g. pretend to be a maintenance worker), and secondly, DV shelters already have the ability to throw out anyone they regard as operating dishonestly, and because they can apply this policy equally (they would still refuse access to the abusive female partner of a woman in a same sex relationship), the issue of sexual discrimination need not arise.

Furthermore, pretty much all a GRC does now is reissue a birth certificate. A birth certificate is clear that it is not evidence of identity, and so an abusive male partner of a woman in a DV shelter proves nothing by turning up with a birth certificate that says “female”. It’s not an identity document.

Introduction to Wider Considerations of Impact (Equality Act)

More information (as published in the consultation document)

Question 12 – Impact on Sport (Equality Act)

Question 12: Do you think that the participation of trans people in sport, as governed by the Equality Act 2010, will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?


Please give reasons for your answer.:

Why would it? This consultation is quite clear in that it isn’t changing the provisions set forth in the Equality Act.

Sport governing bodies already navigate this issue based on hormone levels, length of transition and suchlike. Equalities law has not proven a barrier to them doing this until now and there is no reason why it should in the future.

Question 13 – Impact on Single-sex and Separate-sex Service (Equality Act)

Question 13: (A) Do you think that the operation of the single-sex and separate-sex service exceptions in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?


Please give reasons for your answer.:

Gender recognition reissues the birth certificate. Nobody ever showed their birth certificate to access, e.g., a leisure centre changing room. I refer to my answer to Q11 for further information here. The existing gatekeeping around the GRC application process is not acting as any kind fo safety mechanism or barrier to entry for accessing DV services, so relaxing said gatekeeping should make no appreciable difference.

(Sexual assault question) Please give reasons for your answer.:

I have been subject to sexual assault. I did not report it because as a trans woman I do not have confidence in the authorities or other organisations to treat me appropriately, and fear that reporting it would make my experience worse.

Question 14 – Impact on Occupational Requirements (Equality Act)

Question 14: Do you think that the operation of the occupational requirement exception in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?


Please give reasons for your answer.:

The EA2010’s explanatory notes clearly state that this exception is not affected by the issue of a GRC.

I would like to take this opportunity to note, however, that the way the EA is drafted makes it unlawful to require an applicant for a position *is* transgender.

This seems like a curious omission. Practically it effectively makes it impossible to set up services for trans people operated by trans people.

Question 15 – Impact on Communal Accomodation (Equality Act)

Question 15: Do you think that the operation of the communal accommodation exception in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?


Please give reasons for your answer.:

See my answer to Q11. I would note, however, that in practice such exemptions have more often than not been used to deny service to “butch” cis women because someone thinks they look a bit trans.

The language in the Equality Act needs tightening up here. The EHRC did what they could when drafting their guidelines, but the source material constrained them. The presumption should be one of inclusion, not exclusion. The current law is not at all clear on this.

Question 16 – Impact on the Armed Forces (Equality Act)

Question 16: Do you think that the operation of the armed forces exception as it relates to trans people in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?


Please give reasons for your answer.:

As you state in the preamble to this question, a GRC has no bearing on someones combat effectiveness.

The armed forces have been navigating this issue for years.

Question 17 – Impact on Authorising or Solemnising Marriages (Equality Act)

Question 17: Do you think that the operation of the marriage exception as it relates to trans people in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?


Please give reasons for your answer.:

It may. The current exception is effectively that a priest may refuse to solemnise a marriage, essentially if they genuinely believe that one of the people involved “looks trans”.

Increased publicity around this issue, regardless of what the government ends up doing, may result in this issue coming to the fore.

Previous experience suggests that if and when it does, the person who “looks trans” will most likely actually be cis.

I’m not religious and am already married (to the same person 3 times, thanks largely to this act!), so there is an extent to which this is not a problem that directly concerns me, butI believe it represents an other area in which the EA2010 is not properly thought though in this area.

Question 18 – Impact on Insurance Operation (Equality Act)

Question 18: Do you think that the operation of the insurance exception as it relates to trans people in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?


Please give reasons for your answer.:

I know very little about this area, and will take your word for it.

Question 19 – Impact on Other Public Services (beyond the Equality Act)

Question 19: Do you think that changes to the Gender Recognition Act will impact on areas of law and public services other than the Equality Act 2010?


Please give reasons for your answer. :

The practical consequence of obtaining a GRC is that you get 2 bits of paper: a gender recognition certificate and (if you were born in the UK), a birth certificate.

Nobody knows what the first one looks like (well, I do because I have one. They’re quite underwhelming in the flesh), and I have never encountered a public toilet, leisure centre, etc. where anyone ever asks to see a birth certificate.

The prison service operate their own guidelines, and place difficult cases in certain accommodation regardless of sex anyway. The Equality Act is full of

exemptions for religions to engage in sexual and other forms of discrimination.

The only issue I can think of where it might make a difference is with respect to the succession of hereditary titles. The current situation around that is sexist and in need of more reform than can be accomplished by just changing the GRA.

Question 20 – Non-binary Gender Identities

Question 20: Do you think that there need to be changes to the Gender Recognition Act to accommodate individuals who identify as non-binary?


If you would like to, please expand more upon your answer.:

Non binary people are currently in a situation where they have to lie about who they are pretty much every time they engage with the government.

We can wait to be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world by what other nations do, and then find ourselves back here doing this again in another 14 years, or we can lead the world in making a statement that non binary identities are valid, and we recognise and support non binary people.

A good start would be issuing X passports on demand. The current intransigence to do this, given it is allowed by international treaty, seems petty and mean spirited.

The world won’t end if we stop pretending non binary people don’t exist.

Question 21: Experiences of Intersex Respondents

Question 21: (A) Do you have a variation in your sex characteristics?


Question 22 – Any further comments?

Question 22: Do you have any further comments about the Gender Recognition Act 2004?


If you answered yes, please add your comments.:

The delay in this consultation has been unfortunate. It has allowed a climate to exist in which trans people have faced weekly demonisation in the press and allowed transphobe groups to thrive and spread misinformation, sending “resource packs” to schools that are reminiscent of the dark days of Section 28, and creating a narrative where several major newspapers started talking about the possibility of banning trans women from public toilets; a conversation hitherto unimaginable in the UK.

This has been very hard on trans people and has largely exhausted our resilience. Statements of support made by the government have been very welcome. A comprehensive review of the GRA done in such a way as to show that transphobes shouting loudly does not influence government policy would also be welcome, even if they have been comprehensively misinterpreted by the press. The tidal wave of hate that has been unleashed against trans people is not going to be easy to put back in its bottle (excuse the mixed metaphor), but we need resolution on this.

I appreciate the government is busy with Brexit, and the political situation in the UK is not wholly stable, but please do not allow this to be delayed further. Trans people are desperate.

Finally, there are not many of us, but those of us who’ve had our marriages taken under duress , and arguably under false pretences, have not been well treated. This is an open sore and you should address it.

Sarah’s Brexit Policy

I came up with this while thinking about what an awful job the government is doing at negotiating Brexit, and the tragedy of how a marginal victory by one side in a dubious referendum is taken as a sign that instead of trying to bring the country together, you should just ignore one half completely.


So this is my fantasy Brexit policy. It’s not the policy of any political party at the moment. I do wish it would be. If you’re a politician reading this, feel free to steal it.


Sarah’s Brexit Policy

The referendum revealed a profound split in our country. Since the result, politics has pandered exclusively to one side while completely ignoring the other. This is not a way to heal the fracture in our society, and will only lead to escalation and further division. A 52/48 split should have been a time to reflect on ways to bring both halves together. Nobody has tried to do that.

If elected we would revoke Article 50 and then start the process the government SHOULD have embarked upon after the referendum vote. We will hold a national conversation respecting both sides of the debate and seek to find a consensus position. If two halves of society want contradictory things, the only fair thing to do is find a position that both can, at least, live with. Only then will we go forward with a change to our international position.

My Speech on an Exit From Brexit to Lib Dem Autumn 2017 Conference

For context, the motion is to make our Brexit policy a simple revocation of Article 50. The amendment seeks to insert a referendum on the deal.


Good morning, conference

This year we had a general election. Our flagship policy going into it was essentially the one that the amendment tries to reassert: that if in government, we would carry on negotiating Brexit until at least March 2019, 2 years after the Article 50 invocation, while employers and jobs flee the country, while our friends and neighbours born in other EU countries suffer xenophobic hate and discrimination, while the pound crashes, and while talent flees our NHS, and then finally, when we’ve negotiated a deal we will hold a referendum and ask the electorate to reject that deal.

Bizarrely, the voters didn’t think this was very good, and as a result we got our lowest vote share in decades. What appeared to be an attempt to appease people who would never vote for us anyway made people who might have voted for us instead put their trust in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour to defeat Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn, a man who could probably shoot EU migrants in Trafalgar Square and not loose a single one of his adoring voters, was seen as more credible on the EU than we were.

So let’s be clear, conference, the referendum policy has been tested in a general election, and found to be electorally toxic. It is a failed policy and we should abandon it.

What we should do now, and what we should have done in the first place, is stand on our principles. It was Charlie’s principled stand on Iraq that made me become a Liberal Democrat in the first place. I admired that. It’s time to stand on our principles again.

Instead we act as if the support for the European project, written into our constitution, is something we are vaguely embarrassed about, and we then wonder why nobody will vote for us.

Many of those representing us at Westminster still want to cling to this failed referendum policy. A policy that even Tom Brake suggested was foolish even while asking us to re-endorse it.

If I never see another referendum again, it will be too soon. They are where representative democracy goes to die. They are popularity contests for extremists and demagogues. They bring out the very worst in our politics. Things got so bad last time that an MP was assassinated. Our parliamentarians need to end their love affair with them and do their jobs.

The final deal referendum policy sounds like it was born in the Westminster bubble. It was only ever going to appeal to people who think inside the Westminster bubble.

Well today we’re a few hours train ride away from Westminster, and that’s where this referendum policy, our very own electoral suicide note, should be laid to rest, because if it isn’t, we will be.

We should be proud of who we are. We are Liberal Democrats. We believe in the European Union. Vote for us, and we will Exit from Brexit.

Reject Amendment One and pass the motion unamended. Let’s stand on our principles again.

Speech I gave at the Humanist UK panel on LGBT kids in faith schools

Hi. I should perhaps explain why I’m here. Those who were at the faith schools debate at the Liberal Democrat conference may recall that Chris Ward spoke eloquently on his experiences as a young LGBT person in a faith school. The things he said resonated with me and my own experiences, and I rushed to put an intervention card in. I only had a few seconds to make my point, but I did, and I was quite tearful when I made it. Between us I think we made a difference in how the vote went.

The film he referred to, which they showed to kids, and which I understand some schools still do, is called “The Silent Scream”. It’s on youTube and you can watch it. I should warn you that you may find it extremely disturbing. I was 14 when they made us watch it.

So my background: I grew up in a single parent family in the East Midlands coalfields in the 70s and 80s, living through the miners’ strike in an area where kids didn’t tend to expect big things for their lives. I did quite well in primary school and my mum worked during the day in a bookies. That didn’t bring in enough money to support me and my brother, so she had an evening job serving behind the bar in an old roadside coaching inn in the middle of nowhere. Its clientele fell into two groups: lorry drivers parking up for the night from the nearby M1 motorway, and teachers from the local independent boarding school who lived on site and liked to nip out in the evenings for some liquid entertainment.

And my mum, being quite gregarious, got friendly with these teachers, and would, on occasion, talk about her kid who was doing really well in primary school and was a bit of a wiz with computers.

And what a shame it was that the local secondary school didn’t tend to produce students who went on to university, or do much of anything really.

And then one day my mum came home and asked if I’d like to go to a really good school.

Mrs Thatcher was PM at the time and she was doing all that Tory stuff like favouring selective education. They had something called the Assisted Places scheme, where kids from a poor background who were “academically gifted”, could go to a fee paying school and the government would pay some or all of their school fees.

So I got an interview with the headmaster, and apparently I impressed him, and they offered me a place.

There are two further salient points to this. While I didn’t grow up in an overtly religious environment, the school in question was run by Jesuit priests, who are essentially the shock troops of the Catholic Church. The headmaster was a jesuit priest, various teachers were jesuit priests, the rest were members of what the church calls the laity.

The second salient point is that I’m a transgender woman and a lesbian. Specifically at the age of eleven, I was a closeted, terrified, and somewhat impressionable transgender girl who didn’t really understand there was a name for what I was feeling, but knew that if other people found out it would be very very bad for me.

I thought there was something wrong with me. This was not a good start for what followed.

I got the impression that the Jesuit school system saw its purpose as producing members of the establishment who would further the aims of the Catholic Church. They never seemed to have got over the whole Glorious Revolution thing. Indeed, the headmaster literally told me, as he was tutoring me to give the reading in mass, that he expected me to be a member of parliament one day. There’s plenty of overt religious indoctrination, and even to a kid it’s quite easy to recognise that and either run with it or shake it off.

The problem is the stuff they do that’s more subtle. The ways they teach you to think, and to see yourself and the world, which aren’t tagged with the overt “God” stuff, so if you later fall to atheism, as I did, some of it stays with you.

That includes the understanding that thoughts can be wrong. Not just actions, but certain thoughts. I don’t mean ideas of self harm or of other kinds of mental illness. No, there are some ways of looking at the world that are wrong. There are some ways of living you life that are wrong. There are some feelings that are wrong.

And if you think or feel these things you are a bad person.

if you feel attraction towards someone of your own sex, you are a bad person.

If you have these pervasive thoughts about how you desperately need to be a girl, you are a bad person.

You definitely shouldn’t act on these thoughts, and actually you should have the strength of character to be able to get rid of them. That would make you redeemed. That would show that you’d struggled against bad thoughts, and won.

Only, of course, I couldn’t make them go away. Indeed, as puberty wore on they got stronger and stronger. That meant that I was a bad person with weak character. That meant that I had failed. That made me loathsome and pathetic. A disappointment to the system that educated me to the point where I could go to Cambridge. A failure, a waste of money, and if there was some residual religious faith, probably someone who was going to be tortured for all eternity in hell.

This is how I, as a child, felt about myself.

In a school of a thousand kids, a hundred or so of them will be LBGT. Around ten of those will be transgender. A leading cause of death of transgender people is suicide. A large number of apparently unexplained suicides are probably transgender people who couldn’t find a way to square the circle in their own minds. I know a lot of transgender people and every single one of us has had to make our accommodation with death in one way or another.

Some faith schools manage to offer non judgemental or supportive environments, at least superficially. Some of the self hatred stuff, the idea that there are bad thoughts and feelings you need to struggle against is going to be there even in some notionally supportive environments, because it’s not tied to LGBT friendly SRE lessons: it’s mainstreamed in how these places teach you to relate to yourself and the world.

I wasn’t Catholic. My mum wasn’t Catholic. She just saw an opportunity for me to escape a life of no prospects ands took it, and I can’t ever blame her for that. Lots of parents send their kids to these places because they want their kids to have the best future. We can talk about how that’s a pretty dismal thing for social equality, but we really need to talk about what it’s doing to confused, scared, closeted LGBT kids who could be supported to become happy confident LGBT adolescents, comfortable with themselves and how they’re feeling, but who instead are being terrorised in the name of churches giving parents a way to produce moral upstanding citizens with good A-Levels.

An Ode to Brexit

Ode to Brexit

Tune: Ode to Joy, Ludwig van Beethoven, Words: Sarah Brown

Cameron watched the rise of UKIP
Feared he’d never end them
Came up with a cunning plan
And pledged a referendum

He just assumed Nick Clegg would veto
Blame the Lib Dems, so much fun!
He never stopped to wonder
What would happen if the Tories won

Boris Johnson saw his chance
To be the next Prime Minister
Switched sides; joined with Michael Gove
And hatched a plan most sinister

They both assumed Remain would win it
5 points clear and they’d be done
They never stopped to wonder
What would happen if the Leave vote won

They watched Donald make a fortune
Playing as to lose the game
With a campaign based on nonsense
Surely they would lose the same?

Bent bananas, hate the migrants
Pander to the worst excess
They never stopped to wonder
What would happen if they had success

On the day the country voted
Turnout it was very large
Stupid bastards went and won
And now it’s Springtime For Farage

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.


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.

My Speech to Lib Dem Autumn Conference 2015, Trans and Intersex Health Charter

I was called to summate this motion. It passed with no votes against.

Good morning conference,

The state of transgender healthcare in this country is a complete pig’s ear. The state of healthcare for intersex people is far worse.

At the first session of the Women and Equalities Select Committee’s inquiry into transgender issues a couple of weeks ago, one MP asked, if she went to her GP and told them she had been struggling with her gender identity and needed help, how long it would take before she got any kind of treatment.

She didn’t get a clear answer, so I’ll give one now. The answer is years.


And that’s for a prescription of HRT drugs which are basically harmless and cost about as much as ibuprofen.

This happens because of systematic neglect by the NHS. It happens because of pig-headed commissioners who would rather squander their budgets on the worsening mental health of trans people desperate for treatment, while they wait years, and while their lives collapse around them. They’ll spend two, three times as much money as it would cost to cure people to keep them in a state of distress.

It happens because clinicians, working at the front line, have told me that they do not get the support they need from their trusts, that they are overworked and under-resourced. That other clinicians think they’re wasting their time working with a bunch of weirdoes.

A recent study revealed that the most dangerous time for a transgender person is immediately after they have requested treatment, because that’s the point at which the dam has burst, and the thing they’ve been suppressing for years has gushed through. If denied help at this point, the study found that around half of them will attempt suicide.

Medical neglect of transgender people is pushing them into suicide.

But however badly transgender people have it, intersex people have it worse in many ways. We have heard about how they are mutilated as babies, often based on whether the length of their sex organ passes an arbitrary threshold.

The scalpel ham-fistedly assigns them as boys if it’s beyond certain length, and girls if it’s not. This often sterilises them in the process. Their parents are told not to discuss it with them as they grow up.

They are then treated with further surgery and a cocktail of hormones to try and force them into the gender role medics chose for them at birth, and then at 18, when they are often suffering from a litany of health problems and traumatised by what is done to them, funding dries up.

Those who subsequently seek gender reassignment, to try and fix what was done to them, often have a harder time accessing it than trans people do. Trans people who, ironically, have almost no access to medical intervention before they are 18.

We have heard that trans people are treated poorly by equalities law. That it’s legal to fire us, that it’s legal to sack us from certain jobs, that it’s difficult to gain legal recognition, and even that process is subject to spousal veto.

Intersex people have no legal recognition at all. At the LGBT+ Lib Dems fringe yesterday, prior to this debate, we heard that intersex people are as common as redheads. The shocking way society treats them represents collective guilty secret shared by us all. The way the medical community treats both trans and intersex people betrays a medical community that has not learned from the decades it spent trying to “normalise” lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

Conference, it has to stop, and it has to stop now. Please vote for this motion. Thank you.

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.