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.

Conference,

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

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

So they do, and that canary dies.

As does the third, and the fourth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe we need a spent canaries support group.

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

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

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

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

Don’t get more canaries. Fix the toxicity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On The Equality Act, the report:

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

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

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

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

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

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

On The NHS the report:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Whatever This Nonsense Letter is Complaining About, it is Not Censorship

My attention was drawn this morning to this open letter in the Guardian/Observer/Whatever signed by a long list of notable transphobes and whorephobes, and a few people who really should know better. “We cannot allow censorship and silencing of individuals”, it says.

It goes on to describe a number of examples of this “censorship and silencing”. They are:

  1. The cancellation of Kate Smuthwaite’s gig at Goldsmith’s College last month.

    There was, it is claimed, “intimidation” over this show, which caused it to be cancelled. However, the organiser of the very same show paints a rather different picture, one where they only sold 8 tickets, where the only suggestions of a picket or protests appear to have been manufactured by Ms Smurthwaite herself (possibly in a misguided attempt to generate some controversy and sell some tickets?)

    This is all because Kate has curated a reputation of being a sex work abolitionist, and tends to be quite abrasive towards sex workers who take the view that they’d like to continue their livelihood in safety, without someone trying to coercively “rescue” them, than you very much.

    The show was cancelled because nobody bought tickets, for whatever reason, but in the two weeks since, the student volunteers who run Goldsmith’s SU and their comedy society have been the targets of some abuse as a result.

    It sounds like someone is being silenced and intimidated here, but I don’t think it’s Kate Smurthwaite.

  2. Calls at the Cambridge Union to withdraw a speaking invitation to Germaine Greer.

    I actually know something about this one, because I was involved. The Union Society (an expensive bit of prime real estate in Cambridge City Centre with a debating society attached, known for being somewhere were aspiring political hacks cut their teeth, and not to be mistaken with Cambridge University Students’ Union) did indeed invite Germaine Greer to speak.

    Greer has a long history of transphobic bigotry, and managed to fire herself as a Cambridge lecturer over it. the Students’ Union LGBT+ society, who had a partnership with the Union Society for their weekly socials, felt this was a bit off and wrote to the Union Society outlining their concerns.

    The Union Society noted their concerns by way of reply, and said they would go ahead anyway. In response, the LGBT+ Society and the Women’s Society organised a separate event featuring noted trans feminist writer, Roz Kaveney, at which I also spoke. A couple of students also handed out some leaflets to those going to the Union Society’s Greer event.

    That’s not “silencing” and it’s certainly not “intimidation”. I saw the whole email chain between CUSU LGBT+ and the Union Society. It was all terribly polite and respectful, but the two sides did disagree. That’s ok, that’s allowed.

    The expression of disagreement is a fundamental part of freedom of expression. Shame on the letter signatories for trying to silence it.

  3. Rupert Reed, the Green Party Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Cambridge, recently got into something of a kerfuffle over comments he made in a blog and on twitter, initially about the use of the word, “cisgender”, but later compounded in a clumsy apology where he shot himself in the foot by suggesting there was a debate to be had about whether trans women should be allowed to use public toilets.

    All that I have done is join many feminists in saying that it is up to women, not anyone else – and certainly not me – to decide who gets let into women-only spaces, such as women’s toilets. All women have a right to be involved in making those decisions.

    Reed apologised again, properly this time. I understand some LGBT people in Cambridge who wanted to vote Green wrote to the local party saying they didn’t think they could while Reed was their candidate and … that’s it.

    The letter to the Guardian says, “The Green party came under pressure to repudiate the philosophy lecturer Rupert Read after he questioned the arguments put forward by some trans-activists”, but those “arguments put forward by trans activists” are basically just, “can we use the toilet, please?”

    Regardless, telling a politician that you thought something they said was out of order, and you’re not going to vote for them as a result, is not “silencing” and it’s not “intimidation”. What it actually is is democracy. Shame on the letter signatories for opposing it.

  4. Julie Bindel is no platformed by the NUS LGBT.

    No platforming sounds terribly serious. In reality, it basically means, “we won’t invite this person to our stuff, and we won’t appear on the same platform as them.”

    Given Bindel is known for her transphobia and has spoken publicly in support of trans conversion therapy (remember Leelah Alcorn?), it’s hardly surprising that the NUS LGBT don’t want anything to do with her. The thing is, people are allowed to take their ball and go home, and they are allowed to express opinions about public figures and even protest about them. These are fundamental parts of freedom of expression, and not in any way an attack on it.

Some people around the world are actually oppressed because of the things they want to say. They’re not comedians engaging in publicity stunts, washed up academics getting invited to plush debating societies, politicians getting caught saying something stupid or transphobes with more newspaper columns than I can reasonably count. By signing this letter, you do a disservice to those who are actually denied freedom of expression around the world. Shame on you.

Those who signed and have a history of transphobia and whorephobia know what they’re doing and are being deeply cynical here.

To those who signed it because they were told it was about “freedom of speech” and didn’t research the context, I merely ask to please try to be a bit less credulous in future.

Oh, and maybe try to be a bit less “first world problems” about healthy disagreement, ok?

Thanks.

On “Male TERFs”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

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

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.