What I Said About Nick Clegg at my Local Party’s SGM

I’ve been in two minds about publishing this for a while, but friends in the party have expressed a desire for me to do so, and I’ve finally decided to go ahead. This is the speech I wrote, and delivered, at the special general meeting of the Cambridge Liberal Democrat party, called to determine if we wanted to vote for a leadership election. The vote was lost on the basis that now was decided not to be the right time to call for an election. You can imagine that wasn’t the way I voted.

Here’s the speech:

When someone votes, they vote with their head, but they also vote with their heart. People vote for aspirations, for dreams. They vote for an ideal.

Consider the ideals people have in mind when they vote:

UKIP I want my country back from some unspecified thing, so it can resemble some rose tinted past that never existed.
Labour Up the working classes, even if the reality is that Labour routinely screws them over.
Tories Land of hope and glory, good old blighty, steady hand at the tiller, captain of industry, never mind the poor because poor people bring it on themselves, right?
Green Save the planet! Social justice!

Regardless of how the reality differs from the perception, people at least feel they’re voting for something when they vote for these parties.

Liberals – What do people think we stand for?

Well, what image are we putting out? Is it an image of liberalism? Of staunch defenders of civil liberties? Of a party that wasn’t part of the stale old discourse? This was ostensibly who we were in 2010.

Have we been liberals in government? Really? I don’t think we have.

Liberal should mean something. It should mean something to the people who vote for us. It should mean that they can vote for us and expect us to govern with liberal values.

People do not have that confidence because we, our party, have betrayed them.

As a liberal I believe that the weak should be protected from the strong. That the preservation of freedom is paramount. That people should not be coerced or forced into living in ways they do not want to. That taking away a person’s freedom to live as they will, especially when it is done by the strong against the weak, is a most serious and egregious business.

As a liberal, the reason I want to participate in the process of government is because government is strong. Government possesses tremendous power to shape and affect and constrain the lives of the individual. Liberal government should be a facilitator; liberal government should help ensure that people are free to live their lives without undue restrictions on their conduct, the exercise of their beliefs, and that in a rich country such as ours, people should be free to live their lives, regardless of the circumstances of their birth, free from poverty.

Where the state, or any other strong entity, such as a large corporation, acts to constrain the freedom of the individual, or take it away, that is a very grave matter indeed. It must be subject to due process. It must be seen as a last resort. It must be done in a way that allows the individual in question every opportunity to defend themselves, and when that opportunity is inconvenient to the state, it is more important than ever to stand firm as liberals and ensure it is available.

We need a strong liberal voice in government precisely because, in the difficult cases, when the government finds it really hard to give those it would seek to deprive of their liberty due process, we need to stand up and tell the government, “tough, you can’t deprive this person of their rights just because you find it too hard to grant them”.

It is offensive and intolerable, as a liberal, to have a government rescind that right in my name. There are lines in the sand which we must defend to the last, and not having secret justice, where the accused is not afforded every opportunity to defend themselves, simply because the state finds it hard, is one of them.

I was at Spring Conference in 2013, when one of our MEPs spoke out against secret courts, as illiberal instruments of a state with a cavalier attitude towards exercising its own powers. I was sat only a few rows away when Nick Clegg verbally slapped her down.

It’s not just secret courts, egregious as they are. We have sat on our hands while the Tories waged an idealogical war against the poor, the disabled, the dispossessed, in the name of deficit reduction, when we know that benefit fraud and trying to help people who are otherwise deprived a decent life, through no fault of their own, to live with some self respect has nothing to do with why our economy is in the state it’s in. We, our party, have stayed silent while people have awoken to the disgusting spectacle of one of the richest countries in the world putting spikes outside buildings to deter the homeless, as if they’re vermin.

We should be screaming about these things, and we are not.

We, and by we, I mean our leadership, have sat on our hands while the Tories enslaved people through poverty. We, and by we, I mean our leadership, have sat on our hands while they have removed the opportunity for people to defend themselves through secret courts and legal aid cuts. We, and by we, I mean our leadership, have sat on our hands while the Tories took away one public safety net after another, in health, in education, in privacy, and subcontracted it to the lowest bidder. We, and by we, I mean our leadership, have sat on our hands while the Tories gleefully censored the Internet – the great library of the modern world.

Enough is enough. As a liberal, these things are intolerable. That they are done in my name is unbearable.

At the time of the secret courts debacle, some of us in this room, and plenty of people in other local parties, came to the brink of doing something similar to what we are doing now. However, we were persuaded not to at the last minute, with an assurance that our grievances would be listened to; that our leadership would grow a spine and start defending liberal values.

But nothing has changed. Nick Clegg has surrounded himself with people who, I now believe, do not share our values, or at least do not consider them important to draw lines in the sand over, or even advertise them as our values.

We desperately need a leadership who will show people what it means when they put an X next to a Liberal on the ballot paper.

I want to be a Liberal again. I want that word to stand for an assurance that we will not stand silently by and let the strong steamroll over the weak.

I no longer believe that Nick Clegg has any intention of being someone who will do that, and it is with a heavy heart that I say he has to go.

And if that doesn’t convince you, allow me to share a picture that loads of my friends are spreading around social media at the moment.

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg holding the Sun.

Facebook advert, current at the time this speech was given.

Enough said?

A Nasty Thing Happened on The Way to The Election

This is something I have sat on for the last few weeks, but during my reelection campaign, I received an anonymous letter, via the Guildhall (Cambridge City Council HQ). The letter is reproduced below:

(please read the rest of the blogpost underneath after reading the letter)

SRS Election Letter

You can click on the letter to see the full size version.

I want to make something perfectly clear before I go on.

I do not believe that a Labour canvasser said this, not for one second.

I may disagree with Cambridge Labour on many things, but one thing we do not disagree on is the need to keep personal attacks about LGBT status out of our politics. There has been a long understanding between us that the trans thing is not up for use in a political campaign. Cambridge Labour have always honoured that, and have several LGBT local councillors themselves. Despite our political differences, I count some of them as friends.

I showed this letter to the leader of the City Council Labour Group at the election count, and he was mortified. I think the claim that a Labour canvasser said that I used my position to demand SRS on the NHS is a lie.

Note that the leaflet is anonymous. If people were actually going around saying this, other local residents would have heard it. Local Lib Dem activists would have heard something via the grapevine. It would have got back to me in other ways. It never did. Nobody heard anything. I checked.

Cambridge Labour activists did not do the thing this letter accuses them of doing.

Now I want to address the central claim in the letter: that I used my position as a councillor to demand sex reassignment surgery on the NHS.

Firstly, what would demanding sex reassignment surgery look like? SRS is something that the NHS provides. One no more demands it than one demands an appendectomy. It’s something doctors either decide to refer you for, or they don’t. I have my own thoughts on this, but that is a discussion for another time.

Secondly, if I, or any other (former) councillor, started using the, “do you know who I am?” line to demand preferential treatment on the NHS, we would be reported by the NHS for corruption and get in deep trouble.

Thirdly, I guess the only thing such a “demand” could do is to allow me to somehow jump the waiting list queue. It can be a bit lengthy.

So here are the facts:

  • I had sex reassignment surgery on January 4th, 2007.

  • I had this performed at the Sussex Nuffield Hospital in Brighton by Mr Philip Thomas, consultant urologist.

  • The Sussex Nuffield Hospital is a private medical facility. I was a private patient there.

  • I paid for the procedure out of my own pocket. It cost a round £10,000.

  • I was elected in May 2010. I joined the Liberal Democrats in January of the same year.

Therefore in order for the claim to be true, I would have needed a time machine and for the NHS to pay my medical bill. Disclosure: at the time, I applied to the then Cambridge City, and subsequently Cambridgeshire Primary Care Trust, to pay said medical bill. They said no. I appealed, they said no again. End of story.

All of this happened years before I became a councillor.

The letter is, to use the vernacular, total bollocks.

So why was it sent?

I think somebody sent it in the hope I would release it to the press during the election campaign in an attempt to smear both me, and by implication Cambridge Liberal Democrats, and also Cambridge Labour. Possibly it was sent by some right wing agitator wanting to stir up trouble, possibly it was sent as part of the campaign of harassment which a group of trans exclusive radical feminists had been waging on me since February this year.

I had letters of complaint about me written to the Lib Dem central office in London, my local MP’s office and the City Council that I know of. All were seen to be vexatious. All were dismissed. I had my blog subjected to a denial of service attack and my email hacked at exactly the same time as two other people I know on Twitter who also vocally opposed these people.

And I had this letter.

Maybe these things are unrelated, maybe they are not, but there’s a nasty smell around all of this.

Finally, I want to thank those of you in Cambridge Labour who helped me out when these people did try to smear me again recently. You know who you are, and I owe you all a beer.

My Open Letter to Stonewall on the Departure of Ben Summerskill as CEO

This is a piece I wrote for Pink News, but I’m also publishing it here:

The relationship between Stonewall and the trans community has never been straightforward, to say the least.

Stonewall in England is, and has been, ostensibly an LGB group, campaigning for those involved in same sex relationships, and has taken the position that they are allied with trans campaign groups, but do not involve themselves in trans issues directly.

On paper you can draw nice neat lines separating “gender identity stuff” and “sexuality stuff”, and have everything work out. Sadly, reality is messier and doesn’t much care for attempts to confine things to neat boxes.

Perhaps this was most obviously seen in 2008, when what was reckoned at the time to be the UK’s largest public protest by transgender people and our allies took place; outside the swanky Stonewall Awards ceremony in London. Trans people were hurt and outraged that journalist Julie Bindel, who many trans people saw as openly transphobic, was nominated as a champion of diversity. I was there, waving a banner and shouting, and the crowd was angry over what it saw as Stonewall promoting its own interests by hurting our vulnerable community.

A similar problem arose more recently, over the same sex marriage bill. It’s fair to say Stonewall were caught napping a bit when, in autumn 2010, the Liberal Democrats announced our commitment to delivering marriage equality. As momentum built, Stonewall joined enthusiastically and published a draft “same sex marriage bill”. It was, as I recall, less than two pages long and didn’t mention trans people once.

Trans people were treated terribly unjustly by marriage law for a long time, and if ever there was an opportunity to right wrongs, it was with this bill. Since the 70s, our marriages were in legal limbo until 2004, when the then government, finally forced to act by the European Court of Human Rights, grudgingly agreed to recognise our true genders (and thus allow us to be protected at work from sex discrimination and a whole host of other stuff), but at a cost; the government wanted to take our existing marriages away, to erase them from history.

When the actual act came forth, not only did the government not want to right historical wrongs; they also wanted to make a new one, the Spousal Veto. If you wanted your employment non-discrimination rights, and other stuff that came with recognition, you (literally) need a letter from your husband, wife or civil partner saying they consent. If they don’t (and it doesn’t matter if they’re estranged and hate you, or in a coma after an accident and unable to consent), the only way you can end your legal non-personhood is to divorce them.

About a dozen-or-so trans lobbyists, of which I was one, met with civil servants, lobbied parliamentarians, and offered amendments and compromises to try and get our confiscated marriages back, to remove or at least time-limit the veto. Despite parliamentarians like Julian Huppert and Liz Barker passionately taking up our cause in the Commons and Lords respectively, the civil service and government didn’t budge.

The Marriage (same sex couples) Act passed into law with a spousal veto, and with no restitution of the marriages confiscated.

Things could have been so different if our little group of people who didn’t really know what we were doing had a big organisation like Stonewall behind us. In Scotland, after work by the excellent Scottish Transgender Alliance and the Equality Network, and where Stonewall does support trans people, the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously to remove the spousal veto. In England and Wales, we’re stuck with it. At a time when trans people really, really needed the help of a professional LGBT lobbying organisation, Stonewall decided it was nothing to do with them and looked away.

Every time I talked to formed CEO Ben Summerskill about this, he said it went back to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, when trans groups wanted to do things by ourselves. I can’t help wounding if there were personality politics involved at the time, if bridges were burned. Perhaps that’s why we’re left in the cold. Times change, a new generation of trans activists is around today and we feel like we’re being constrained by deals, and perhaps arguments, that happened behind closed doors ten years ago by people who haven’t been able to move on.

My plea to Stonewall, and to interim CEO Ruth Hunt, is to use this opportunity to sweep away old understandings and misunderstandings, and to see if we can’t build something more inclusive, where trans people can turn to the largest LGBT rights organisation in the country (because that’s what everybody else sees them as, regardless of whether they see themselves that way), ask for help, and get it.

We don’t promise to be uncritical, and not say anything when you get it wrong, but wouldn’t it be great if Stonewall at least tried to be on the same side as trans people, rather than leaving us to fight the same battles, against the same people who hate us for the same reasons, alone?

Editor’s note: This piece originally created the impression that Stonewall Scotland was responsible for the removal of the spousal veto and discounted the hard work of the Equality Network and the Scottish Transgender Alliance. This was a drafting mistake on my part, and I offer my unreserved apologies to both.

Speech to Lib Dem Autumn 2013 Conference on Internet Porn Filtering

20130915-170410.jpgPushed by Baroness Benjamin (she of Playschool fame), the Liberal Democrat 2013 Conference debated a motion to require censorship of the Internet by default on all Internet capable devices, with an explicit requirement to opt-out. The filter is supposed to prevent access to porn, but since computers are bad at identifying what is porn, and what is, for example, an LGBT news site, or a breast feeding advocacy site, these things have a tendency to block all sorts of other sites too. They block resource sites, sex education sites, political satire, blogs, equality campaigns and all sorts of things that it is vital to maintain free and open access to.

I put in a card to speak an, for the first time at a federal conference, I was called! Here is what I said:

Conference, I was recently in Plymouth, and being not overly familiar with it, I asked the Siri assistant on my iPhone for driving directions from one side of town to the other.

It tried to send me via Warsaw, in Poland.

Automatic systems behave like this because they don’t know enough to realise when they’re doing something obviously ridiculous. They just do it anyway.

This is the folly of automatic censorship on the Internet. There is so much stuff out there that you can’t possibly do it all by hand; you have to use automated systems and, like my iPhone’s bad driving directions, they get it wrong.

As an equality campaigner I have seen first hand the effects of Internet censorship. I have been frustrated when trying to access LGBT news sites, or reading blogs of people campaigning for quality, sex education, breast feeding, safer working conditions for those involved in sex work, drugs information, and so on.

I have even been disallowed access to my own blog, which, by the way, was shortlisted for a Lib Dem Voice award this year, because, apparently, it contains “adult content”.

Perhaps campaigning for equal rights for vulnerable and abused minorities is “adult content”, but so-called porn filters shouldn’t be blocking it.

While I do not doubt the intentions of those behind this motion, and the amendment, I do doubt the technical literacy they represent, or rather the lack of it. In seeking to “protect children from porn”, automated filters will block political campaigns, satire, support sites for victims of homophobic bullying, sexual abuse, eating disorders, breast feeding campaigners and the blogs of members of this party.

This motion, amended or not, is unfit for purpose. Conference, send it back so that it can be reexamined with the full participation of minority groups and young people, those affected by it. If you don’t send it back, then please vote it down. It’s profoundly illiberal and it will cause real harm to the things we value.

Why Are UK Trans People Going on About a “Spousal Veto?”

I have been given to understand that the issue of the spousal veto in the Same Sex Marriage Bill is confusing to those not immersed in trans issues. I appreciate that, because if you don’t understand the processes we have to go through, then it’s not clear what is being vetoed and under what circumstances. I’ll attempt to explain. It’s long, but if you scroll to the bottom there is an executive summary.

Part 1: Corbett v Corbett

In 1970, the divorce of trans woman model, April Ashley and Arthur Corbett, later the 3rd Baron Rowallan, came before the court. In order to avoid giving up part of his substantial estate, Corbett’s team advanced the argument that the marriage was never valid in the first place, because April Ashley was really a man.

The judge agreed and thus set a precedent that meant that trans people were, from that point on, treated by the government as their birth sex forever for all sorts of legal reasons. This didn’t just affect marriage: it also affected stuff like employment protections, what prison you would be sent to if you were found guilty of an offence, and so on.

Prior to this, trans people had been applying for corrected birth certificates and getting them, effectively being recognised in their new gender. This practice ceased completely, and trans rights in the UK entered a dark age.

Part 2: The Gender Recognition Act

Fast forward 3 decades. The European Court of Human Rights had ruled that the government had to legislate to fix the unfairness inflicted upon trans people by the Corbett v Corbett ruling. The government kept dragging its heels, but in 2004 eventually passed the Gender Recognition Act. In a nutshell, the act did the following:

  • It created a thing called a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).

  • Upon issue of a GRC, you would be issued a new birth certificate, and gain the other protections in law that you lost by transitioning (e.g. employment nondiscrimination rights).
  • You could only apply for a GRC if you’d been transitioned 2 years and had a report from your GP and the doctor who originally diagnosed your gender dysphoria.
  • There was a time-limited “fast track” for people transitioned more than 6 years: you didn’t need the original diagnosis (because your doctor may have retired or lost your notes).
  • You didn’t need to have had surgery, but if you hadn’t you had to justify why not.

Never wanting anything to be simple, and demonstrating an enduring instinct for screwing trans people over, the civil service (via the government of the day) included a nasty little gotcha: you weren’t eligible for a GRC if you were married.

Of course, you didn’t have to apply for one, but if you didn’t, you didn’t get your rights back. To deal with this, the act created something called an “interim gender recognition certificate” (IGRC). The name is entirely misleading: it’s not a GRC, it doesn’t grant the same rights or anything. All it does is give you a cast-iron reason to initiate marriage annulment proceedings within the next 6 months, at which point the IGRC expires and you go back to stage 1.

If you complete annulment proceedings with an IGRC, you automatically get a GRC and new birth certificate. Anticipating the 2005 Civil Partnership Act, the Gender Recognition Act then allowed you to enter a civil partnership with your former spouse. 151 couples have since done this (I am part of one of them).

If you’ve seen trans people talking about the “confiscated marriages”, it’s those 151 marriages we are talking about, where we were essentially coerced into giving up our marriages to restore our rights.

Interlude: The Equality Act, 2010

In 2010, a year after my marriage was annulled, the Equality Act 2010 passed. This revoked the employment nondiscrimination protections granted by a Gender Recognition Certificate. Thanks guys, appreciate that.

Part 3: Same Sex Marriage Bill

The advent of same sex marriage brings an end to this coerced divorce, or rather it should, but the government and civil service have cocked it up.

Firstly, you still have to end your relationship if you are in a civil partnership, although you can convert it to a marriage first to avoid that.

Secondly, and more offensively, rather than just ending the requirement to be unmarried when you have a GRC awarded, the Same Sex Marriage Bill requires your spouse to consent to the granting of a GRC. This is significant because, despite being gutted somewhat by the 2010 Equality Act, GRCs still restore some rights (the ones we lost in 2010 we just stay without for good). If your spouse doesn’t consent, you get an IGRC instead, on the same terms as before: start to annul within 6 months of return to square one.

So basically, if your spouse can’t, or won’t sign the consent form, you have to divorce them to get your rights. This creates what is possibly the most passive-aggressive legally sanctioned way to initiate a divorce ever, i.e. “I don’t want to divorce you, but I’m going to veto your human rights until you divorce me”.

The government call this “both parties having a say in the future of their marriage”. What trans people call it isn’t actually printable, but in polite company we call it, “the Spousal Veto”.

Part 4: Lobbying

We don’t like the spousal veto. We really, really, don’t like it. Your spouse doesn’t get to veto your transition, your surgery, or anything else. They get to veto this though. In 2013, we are passing a law in the name of equality that makes the human rights of one party to a marriage the “gift” of the other.

So a bunch of us tried to get it changed. Much of the work around this has been done by a dozen-or-so people, including me. We wrote some amendments, which were submitted by my MP, Julian Huppert, aimed at restoring the stolen marriages and ending the spousal veto, amongst a couple of other things (one being that if your spouse discovers you’re trans and you can’t prove they knew before you married, they can have the marriage declared invalid. We aren’t all that keen on this either).

The amendments were rejected by the government at committee stage, so Julian put them again at Commons Report Stage, and gave what must rank amongst the best transgender-related speeches ever on the floor of the Commons.

And then an interesting thing happened: the minister in the Commons, Helen Grant, rejected the amendments using the exact same words that the civil servant responsible for drafting these bits of the bill had used when talking to our little bunch a few days earlier, when we met them in London.

It also became apparent to us that the veto had arisen on the basis of what sounded, when described, like the civil servants pretending they were married to trans people and writing into law what they would want for themselves.

The bill passed onto the Lords, with the veto intact. By now it had become apparent that the government would die in a ditch over not restoring the lost marriages, and I reluctantly gave up campaigning for their restoration to concentrate on the veto – the thing that we all agreed was the single most offensively transphobic provision in the Bill.

Part 5: Lords amendments

A number of us started talking to various Lib Dem and Labour peers, and it came to pass that while the government was adamant the veto needed to stay, they might be minded to give a bit of ground, and could we draft two amendments: what we wanted, and a compromise for if we couldn’t get it. This we did. The first amendment was no veto. The second was a veto, but if annulment proceedings hadn’t commenced (at the behest of either party) within 6 months, or a decree nisi hadn’t been issued within 12, the spouse lost the veto and gender recognition could go ahead.

Our compromise amendment was debated on the floor of the Lords, with brilliant speeches in support by Baroness Barker of the Lib Dems and Baroness Gould of Labour. The amendment was rejected.

This brings us close to the present day. There followed a flurry of desperate emails to try to salvage something. In the end, this week the government published an amendment. They were going to reintroduce the “Fast Track” for getting a GRC, but only for people who have been transitioned 6 years at the point the same sex marriage bill passes, and only if they’re married. The rationale is that some have waited, refusing to divorce, without their rights, and they might not be able to get the original diagnosis any more. These are couples who have put their commitment to their marriage over and above the human rights of one partner, in what must count as one of the strongest testaments to love that there is.

Oh, and by the way, there’s a spousal veto on this as well. Given what these marriages represent, the government could not have been more crassly offensive if they’d tried.

And that was the end of the battle, or so we believed, until out of the blue came the promise of another amendment, specifically to address the veto!

Part 6: The veto amendment

Here is what the government are proposing to do. Instead of saying you need signed spousal consent to get a GRC, otherwise you get an IGRC, they want to say that you need signed spousal consent for the marriage to continue.

As far as I can tell, this is a bit of legal manoeuvring. It seems that to address our objections that the consent is a veto over the issue of a GRC, the government are explicitly recasting it as permission to stay married.

Of course, if your spouse doesn’t grant that permission, you don’t get the GRC, just the same as before. It doesn’t actually change anything – the veto remains.

Summary

That was long, so I’ll summarise it in a TL;DR version.

  1. 1971 – Corbett v Corbett case removes ability for trans people to get rights associated with new gender, leaving them in limbo where they have neither the rights of the gender they started off with, nor the ones from where they ended up.
  2. 2004 – Gender Recognition Act restores those rights, but you have to have your marriage confiscated first.
  3. 2010 – Equality Act takes some of the rights back
  4. 2013 – Same Sex Marriage Bill proposes an end to confiscated marriages, but your spouse gets to veto your rights while you remain married.
  5. Bill passage – government gets increasingly transphobic while they defend the need to maintain the veto provision.

Text of my Marriage Restoration Amendment

Just a quick update to post the text of my trans marriage restoration amendment which I am now informed has been tabled by my MP, Julian Huppert (many thanks):

Page 10, line 3 (Section 9), after end insert:
(8) Where a civil partnership formed under part 1, section 96 of the Civil Partnership Act (Civil Partnership with former spouse) is converted into a marriage under this section —

(a) the civil partnership ends on the conversion, and
(b) if both partners so elect,
(c) the resulting marriage is to be treated as having subsisted since the marriage dissolved under schedule 2 of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 was formed.

If we get mixed sex civil partnership, an equivalent amendment will be needed to restore those as well, but we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.

Same Sex Marriage Bill – Transgender Implications

The government has published its long-awaited proposals for same sex marriage. This is a technical blog post, looking at what the implcations for trans people are:

I have a non-binary identity

The government’s equal marriage consultation set the tone by starting off talking about “marriage regardless of gender”. This was hopeful in that it suggested that trans issues were being given equal consideration to the comparatively more straightforward issue of same sex marriage in a cisnormative situation.

Note however that this bill is called the “Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill”. This seems like a retrograde step. We’re back to talking about “same sex” and “opposite sex” rather than “regardless of gender”. Indeed, it goes on, when talkming about how “marriage” is to be interpreted in existing legislation:

A reference to marriage is to be read as including a reference to marriage of a same sex couple

Same goes for cohabiting people who aren’t married – extension is to be granted to same sex couples.

Furthermore:

(a) “husband” includes a man who is married to another man;
(b) “wife” includes a woman who is married to another woman

This is pretty thin for non-binary people. If you’re neither a man nor a woman, or your marriage can’t be described as either “opposite sex” or “same sex”, then you’re not included in any of this. Where the consultation simply avoided this “opposite sex/same sex/man/woman” distinction entirely with “marriage regardless of gender”, what we now have in the bill is “marriage for the genders of male and female”.

If that’s not you and you want to get married, you’ll likely have to lie about who you are.

I want a civil partnership

Nothing has changed – you and your partner have to be the “same sex”, even if that’s a completely nonsensical way to describe your relationship. If the concept of “same sex” doesn’t mean anything in your relationship, you’ll likely have to lie if you want one of these.

I’m in a civil partnership and I’m transitioning

If you are in one of these and want a Gender Recognition Certificate, you have a few options:

  • Convert your civil partnership to a marriage before having anything to do with the Gender Recognition Panel.

  • Get an Interim Gender Recognition Certificate and annul your civil partnership. This is the same as at present and there are no proposals to end this barbaric practice.
  • Have your civil partner transition to the same binary gender as you (if one or both of you aren’t binary, lie) and apply for a GRC at the same time. The highly competent and efficient civil servants who administer all this stuff will make sure this works smoothly (warning: sarcasm may apply).
  • Don’t get a gender recognition certificate. This is what lots of people in this situation (both in civil partnerships and marriages) already do, because they regard their relationship as more important than legal recognition as their proper gender. I wish I hadn’t found out I was one of these people until too late.

If you want to transition into an “opposite sex relationship” in the eyes of the state and retain your civil partnership, you can’t. If you have lots of money you may want to consider speaking to a human rights lawyer at this point.

I’m already married and I want to stay married and I want a Gender Recognition Certificate

Congratulations. You fall into the category of “trans people for whom this is actually useful”. You can have one. Your existing relationship will continue to be recognised. It’s not clear if you can get your name fixed on a reissued marriage certificate the way you can on your birth certificate; the bill doesn’t say.

I was married, I had my marriage annulled, I’m now in a civil partnership, can I have my marriage back?

I’m in this situation. The answer is no, you can’t. It stinks, doesn’t it? The government screwed us over and it’s not really interested in sorting that out. It’s not that the bill prohibits restoration of our relationships per-se; it just completely ignores the issue. It’s almost as if they’re really embarrassed about what they did to us and hope that by not mentioning it, it’ll just go away.

Oh, right…

I’m married, my relationship has turned acrimonious. We have a house/kids/shared stamp collection [delete as applicable], it’s all really toxic, does this affect my rights under this bill?

I have some bad news for you. You might want to sit down.

The stuff about marriage being no impediment to getting a Gender Recognition Certificate any more … that’s not entirely true.

When you apply for a GRC, if you’re married, you need your spouse to consent in writing to you getting a GRC.

That’s right – this person who probably has a restraining order against you, and is threatening to never let you see your children again, and has told all your mutual friends that you’re dead, or have been kidnapped by penguins, or anything to escape the shame of being married to one of them, this person has a veto over your legal gender.

It’s only a temporary veto. If they don’t sign the form and you apply for a GRC, you get an Interim Gender Recognition Certificate. You then have to go through the annulment process as before. Your partner can stall this for a bit by not responding to court letters and hiring solicitors and stuff. Basically, you have to go through the pain of an acrimonious divorce before you can have a Gender Recognition Certificate, even if you’ve been separated for years, probably on account of the stress your poor ex partner will have to go through if they realise that you have a piece of paper in your desk drawer which makes them officially gay.

A note on consummation

It’s not clear what this means for trans people who don’t have the expected genital configuration. If the government don’t tighten this up, expect another hilarious court case along the lines of Corbett v Corbett real soon now.

Conclusion

If the government were to publish a bill that provided for marriage for same sex couples, and then noticed that they got the bare minimal bit of Gender Recognition Act reform thrown in for free, but didn’t decide to actually go out of their way to do a single damned thing for trans people, it would would look exactly like this one.

Shame really – it showed so much promise. We’ve been thrown under the bus again, but it’s what we’re used to, right?

I’d better stop, as I seem to be getting a bit cross.

My Speech to the LGBT+ Lib Dems/Stonewall Fringe

This is the speech I gave as part of the panel in the LGBT+ Lib Dems/Stonewall Fringe at the Lib Dem autumn conference in Brighton.

I want to talk a little bit about the nature of homophobia. This is an area where one has to choose words carefully, but if you’ll bear with me for a minute, I’ll attempt a working definition of homophobia as the hatred of someone who experiences same sex attraction, or who is perceived to experience same sex attraction.

The point about perception is important, because not only do you not have to be homosexual to experience homophobia: bisexual people experience it too, for example. You don’t even need to experience same sex attraction. You can be entirely and conventionally heterosexual in your sexual behaviour and desires, and still be a victim of homophobia.

Indeed, plenty of people are on the receiving end of homophobia before they are sexually active at all – we all know that homophobic bullying happens to kids from a very young age.

Actual sexual behaviour isn’t really a causative factor in most homophobic abuse. I have experienced homophobic abuse in public, and I, like most people, don’t actually have sex in public. As an elected representative of the people, that sort of thing is frowned upon.

So when someone screams “faggot!” or “dkye!” at someone in the street, what are they actually keying off that triggers that homophobic reaction? What is it about certain people that homophobic bigots decide to home in on? Gay, lesbian and bisexual people are just like everyone else, apart from the sex thing, right? Right?

Well, no. Spend even a short amount of time in LGBT circles and it becomes pretty obvious that there is something different, not about everyone, but about a lot of people.

I’m going to suggest that what a lot of people are picking up on, and reacting with homophobia towards, is something they perceive as transgressive about the target of their abuse. It could be the way they look, or the way they talk, or the things they’re doing, or whatever. I’m going to further suggest that the apparent transgressions that are being picked up on are, in fact, perceived transgressions of gendered behaviour.

About gay men, homophobes use words like, “mincing”, “flamboyant”, “limp wristed”, “camp”, “ducky”, “effeminate”. Jokes about airline stewards and their handbags are often made. If you’re a lesbian woman, as I am, you might get homophobes telling you that you’re ugly, that you need to shave, that you should get back in the kitchen, that you “wear comfortable shoes” (I do actually wear comfortable shoes – life’s too short not to). If we have short hair or don’t wear any makeup, they pick up on that.

So I’m going to say something perhaps a little bit controversial here. Much, probably most, homophobia which gets directed at people is about what we might call non cisnormativity. Most homophobia is, in fact, rooted in and emergent out of, transphobia.

So what’s transphobia? I’ll attempt a working definition again. Transphobia is the hatred of people who identity, or who are perceived to identify, in a way that is commonly associated with a gender other than the one they are assigned at birth. You don’t need t be trans to experience transphobia. Someone just has to decide that you are not meeting their standards of what a real man, or a real woman should be.

A lot of the abuse that gets hurled is the same as for homophobia, because really transphobia and homophobia are two sides of the same coin. Trans women, for example, will often get called “ducky” and “sissy” and “faggot”, just as gay men will. Trans men will often have “dyke” hurled at them by an abuser. We’re all basically being abused for the same thing – that is we are transgressing what someone regards as acceptable gendered behaviour.

I’m not stopping here though, because I think transphobia itself is a manifestation of a deeper gendered neurosis in our society, and that is misogyny – hatred of women and the feminine.

Think about it: if someone comes out as gay at work and gets abused as a result, a lot of the abuse will centre around whether they are the one who takes on the so-called “female role” in sex. To be penetrated is to have sex like a woman, and that is degrading and not something a “proper man” would permit himself to be subjected to.

It’s similar with women who have sex with women, and indeed with trans men. Both groups are seen as trying to “better” themselves in ways that they aren’t really “entitled to”. Lesbians are derided as never being able to truly satisfy a woman. Only a proper man can do that. We just need to experience the real thing, so the story goes, and we will be straightened out into well adjusted heterosexual women, barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

I’m reminded of a sketch on the Catherine Tate show. You know the one – she plays a passive aggressive woman who gets into a trivial situation and starts screaming, “Man! Man!”. In one episode there is a slight twist. Her car breaks down, and she starts her usual mantra. A woman comes along and offers to help and once again she starts yelling for a man. The other woman says, “it’s OK, I’m a lesbian”, and proceeds to fix the car.

Comedy like this reflects society’ attitudes towards LGBT people. We’re a bunch of men who taint ourselves with the effeminate, and a bunch of women who try to shed what’s seen as pathetic femininity to be proper people, i.e. men.

Homophobia is rooted in transphobia, and transphobia is rooted in misogyny, and if we are to challenge any of this we desperately need to engage in joined up thinking. There’s a school of thought that LGB people will gain acceptance if we can convince the homophobes that we’re just like the rest of them, apart from what we do in the bedroom. For some of us, that might be true, but for a lot of us it isn’t. I think this approach to try and address homophobic bullying and abuse is largely futile because it doesn’t deal with the core problem. Some people will always express behaviour which is seen as not gender normative. Our message needs to be that there is nothing wrong with that, and furthermore there is nothing wrong with femininity either.

We need to get our own houses in order. When we see transphobia in the LGB community, we need to challenge it. When we see misogyny an sexism in any part of our community, we need to challenge that. Every time a drag queen refers to women as “fish”, every time the LGB establishment turns a blind eye to transphobia in its own ranks, we serve to further the attitudes that underly homophobia bullying. We need to get this right ourselves, because if we don’t, who will?

Policing The Land – in honour of #LDConf

Sound the blues and twos, eh boys and sound them far and wide!
Liberals want to congregate, but don’t let them inside!
We know they passed a motion; it’s pathetic that they tried.
Conference is not for these people.

The land! The land! Don’t let them on the land!
The land! The land! Inside the Brighton Grand.
Your name’s not down, your face don’t fit. Just tell it to the hand.
Conference is not for some people.

Hear the baffled voices on the left and on the right.
Liberals are just awkward sods, why do they have to fight?
It doesn’t affect me and mine, so it will be alright.
Conference is not for such people.

The land! The land! Don’t let them on the land!
The land! The land! Inside the Brighton Grand.
Your name’s not down, your face don’t fit. Just tell it to the hand.
Conference is not for some people.

Clear away the protestors, they don’t look very nice.
If they won’t go, then kettle ‘em: squeeze them like a vice.
Their leaders shouldn’t make a fuss; not fighters, more like mice.
Conference is just for nice people.

The land! The land! Don’t let them on the land!
The land! The land! Inside the Brighton Grand.
Your name’s not down, your face don’t fit. Just tell it to the hand.
Conference is not for some people.

Security theatre marches on, all hail the corporate state!
Contracting with G4S, securing your debate!
No liquids, flags or dissent please. You’re trans? Whatever mate.
Conference is not for the people.

By Sarah Brown, @auntysarah