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Archive for November, 2009

http://justfillingintheblanks.blogspot.com/

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Lobbying for the Equality Bill – We need People Power!

Our email address is:

justfillingintheblanks@googlemail.com

Scroll down for model letters

The Equality Bill shortly will be making it’s 3rd reading in the House Of Commons before proceeding to the House of Lords. There are several issues that affect Gender Variant people that many of us have campaigned on, but only 2 that have had amendments tabled, these by the Liberal Democrats.

They cover:

The widening of the definition for protection in the bill to allow all Gender Variant people to be covered, and not just those currently covered under Gender Re-assignment. The amendment asked this to be changed from Gender Re-assignment to cover Gender Identity. This would give us more of a scope in protection. Some MPs see this as essential, but most do not understand that there is a difference and that Transgender is different from Transsexual…

and

To give protection under harassment for Gender Variant children at school, currently the government does not see this as necessary stating that direct discrimination is enough and that Gender Variant children would never be harassed.

So… What can we do to help?

The next reading is widely rumoured to be on the 2nd of December, so we need to lobby our MPs, and we need people to be willing to do that. To that end some of us have been working on the idea of providing some template letters, that have the bones of what could be used to write to your MPs, and then those could be used to add your own thoughts, or examples, or even if you are happy just the top and bottom bits to personalise it.

We understand that many of you might not want to out yourselves to the public, and to this end one of the templates is designed so that you do not need to do that, it is also designed so that any of our allies who may not be Gender Variant can write too, so that we can try and make as many MPs aware that we would like them to look at these issues, to gain a little bit of knowledge, and to understand how important these are to us.

We have also created 2 other templates, one is for those that would like to share their experiences of the kind of things that have happened to them that these amendments would help combat. The other letter is a longer letter which goes into detail with pointers and links to supporting documentation. This again can be used for those that feel their MPs would be willing to understand more, although as we know they can be busy people.

The letters are below, simply copy and paste them from here to a word processor of your choice and edit them to reflect your own style.

Sample Letter 1: Letter that does out yourself/letter from friends, allies and non Gender Variant people

“Dear ………..

I support the Equality Bill but I am very concerned that it currently leaves some of the most discriminated against in our society without adequate protection.

I am writing to raise two concerns and ask you to support amending the Equality Bill to improve it as follows:

1. The protected characteristic of ‘gender reassignment’ is too restrictive and leaves many of my gender variant (transgender) friends without any protection. Please support widening the protected characteristic to ‘gender identity’ to cover all gender variant (transgender) people. Not all gender variant people permanently change the gender in which they live, many find that they have to live their lives somewhere in-between two genders for a variety of reasons. They deserve to be protected from discrimination and harassment. Surely nobody should be able to be sacked just for being too masculine or too feminine, or be refused access to essential public services such as emergency homeless accommodation or health services just because their gender is unclear to the service provider. Yet these are situations where gender variant (transgender) people currently have no protection. Please support amending the Equality Bill to widen the protected characteristic to be ‘gender identity’ which protects all gender variant people rather than just ‘gender reassignment’ which only protects transsexual people.

2. The Equality Bill currently prohibits school education harassment for most protected characteristics but not all. I am very concerned that this sends the message that the harassment of children and young people from some minorities is considered acceptable. Transphobic harassment in school education can and does lead to truancy and academic failure, low self-esteem and mental health problems, and even self-mutilation and suicide. Mental health issues arising from harassment at school are likely to be long term, extending far into later life. It is inhumane for the Equality Bill to exclude such vulnerable children and young people from the harassment protection it provides to others. Please support amending the Equality Bill to protect gender variant young people from harassment in school education.”

Sample Letter 2: Letter including your own experiences

“Dear ………..

I’m a gender variant transgender person but not a transsexual person. I don’t intend to undergo gender reassignment because…

I’m simply trying to live my life in peace but people discriminate against me and harass me because of my gender identity. I’m not covered by the current ‘gender reassignment’ protected characteristic in the Equality Bill because I’m not transsexual and I’m not perceived to be transsexual. I’m discriminated against because people percieve me to be gender variant or transgender.

One of the horrible times I’ve been discriminated against or harassed due to my gender identity was…

I just want to be able to live my life safely as part of our diverse society. I don’t want to have to continue living in fear.

Please will you support amending the Equality Bill to widen the protected characteristic to be ‘gender identity’ rather than just transsexual ‘gender reassignment’ so that people like me who are gender variant transgender people also have protection?”

Sample Letter 3: Detailed Letter

“Dear ………..

I am contacting you with regard to the equality bill currently before parliament.

I welcome the Equality Bill and the many improvements it will bring to equality law. In particular I welcome the introduction of protection for people by perception, and by association with people who are covered by the Gender Reassignment strand. I do however have serious concerns in regard to other provisions within the bill. It is my belief that these undermine the equality of protection from discrimination and harassment for gender variant people. Most notably when compared to the protection afforded to other equality strands. It is for this reason I am writing to you to share my concerns and to ask you to support these amendments during the Bill’s passage through the Commons.

My concerns cover the following areas:

– The scope of who is and isn’t included under clause 7, Gender Reassignment. The vast majority of gender variant people, who do not intend to live full-time in the opposite sex, are excluded. This is extremely unjust. All gender variant people are vulnerable and in equal need of protection.

– Schools must be prohibited from harassing gender variant children. The Bill as published exempts schools from this essential requirement (clause 80).

In short, I would urge you to support amending the Equality Bill to improve it in these two vital areas:

1. Please support the widening of the protected characteristic to cover the gender identities of all gender variant people rather than keeping the restrictive grounds of transsexual gender reassignment.
2. Please support the harassment coverage to be included for gender variant children in school education.

Throughout the rest of this letter I will expand my arguments and concerns on each point but first I will define what I mean by gender variant.

Definition of Gender Variant

A gender variant person is any person who does not identify fully with the gender assigned to them at birth, and/or does not conform or is not perceived as conforming to cultural or societal expectations, or stereotypical assumptions of behaviour patterns or appearance commonly associated with the gender assigned to them at birth, whether on a permanent basis, or on a temporary or intermittent basis. Such people are sometimes collectively referred to as being transgender although the term transgender is also used to describe someone who lives permanently in the opposite sex without surgically altering their bodies.

Dual-role gender variant people are people who sometimes present in their birth sex and sometimes in the opposite sex (such people are often referred to as transvestites or cross-dressers). Whilst there are some amongst the dual-role gender variant population who strongly self-identify with the opposite sex, most dual-role gender variant people identify to a greater or lesser degree with both sexes. There are probably at least one million dual-role gender variant people in the UK, possibly as many as 3 million. Many of these will have families.

Many dual-role gender variant people suppress their needs in order to try to comply with the various pressures from society and family, but it should be recognised that this suppression is due to fear of harassment, discrimination or rejection rather than an arbitrary choice and comes with an associated emotional cost to the gender variant person. Dual-role gender variant people are also rightly worried that their families will become the targets of discrimination and harassment.

Protected Characteristic

I am deeply concerned that the protected characteristic “Gender Reassignment” is too narrow and fails to protect many people who are gender variant and who face discrimination and harassment. It is also an inappropriate name for the protected characteristic. It is a term which already has a meaning in law in terms of protecting transsexual people who undergo a medical process and I believe that using the same term for the proposed non-medically reliant protected characteristic will cause un-necessary confusion. In my view this protected characteristic should be replaced by “Gender Identity” or a similar fully inclusive term.

Throughout the various stages of the consultation process leading up to the Bill’s publication the Government has been erroneously claiming that for most gender variant people being so is simply a matter of a lifestyle choice. This falsehood is deeply offensive. Being gender variant to any degree is not a matter of choice. It is part of one’s core being. Whether the Government’s refusal to protect all gender variant people is a result of prejudice or of reluctance due to misunderstanding their needs I cannot judge. Either way it is considerable well below what we, as citizens of the UK, would expect from Government. It is unfounded, unjust and hurtful to the wider gender variant population. By excluding the wider gender variant population the Government is re-enforcing the stigmatisation and social exclusion of a vulnerable minority group. The most basic equality that other sections of society often take for granted, such as employment protection and access to services, must no longer be withheld from those gender variant people who do not intend to live full-time in the opposite gender.

It is worth noting that this year the Scottish Parliament passed anti-harassment legislation which contains a very broad definition of the gender variant people which fall under its protection and that the legislation was passed unopposed. So we have the situation where politicians from the different parties have seen the need to protect the wider gender variant population in Scotland yet in England and Wales no such protection is on offer. This is clearly unjust.

Bear in mind also that most gender variant people have families, and by excluding those that are not transsexual from protection the Government is also denying protection by association to their partners and children. It is manifestly wrong that a partner and children of those Gender Variant people that are not transsexual should be denied the same protection.

The Government claim that there is little or no evidence of discrimination against the wider gender variant population. To a great extent this is because most gender variant people are deeply closeted for fear of being abused. There is no doubt, however, that those who continue to discriminate against transsexual people would readily discriminate against any gender variant person if the opportunity arose. The Government’s insistence on proof of discrimination puts gender variant people in a no win situation of either staying deeply closeted or outing themselves publicly and making themselves and their families a target for discrimination. Does Parliament really demand that gender variant people put their children at risk in order to prove something which is obvious to most people?

May I please also direct you to the recent Commons/Lords Joint Committee on Human Rights Legislative scrutiny report which also supports the need for the widening of the definition.

The report is available on-line here:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200809/jtselect/jtrights/169/169.pdf

An excerpt towards the bottom of page 25 continuing on page 26 in particular explains this well:

However, we are concerned that the new definition may be interpreted in an unduly restrictive manner, as a transsexual person will only be protected from discrimination if he or she can demonstrate an intention to undergo a process of gender reassignment. This may leave individuals who cannot yet undergo a process of reassignment, such as children under the age of 16, or those for whom such a process would be of little or no relevance, such as inter-sex persons or those living in a state of gender variance, without protection.

Further detailed information can be found from pages 25 to 28 of the document.

Schools

Most people simply cannot imagine how frightening and isolating it is to be a gender variant child in our society. I therefore give a qualified welcome to the Equality Bill extending protection from discrimination because of Gender Reassignment to cover school education. However, I am alarmed that protection from harassment related to Gender Reassignment has been specifically excluded from the provisions on school education (clause 80). This exclusion means that there will be less protection on grounds of gender reassignment, than for race, gender, disability and age, and implies that harassment on grounds of gender reassignment in these settings is acceptable. I am also alarmed about the absence of protection for the large number of gender variant children who fall outside of the Bill’s definition of Gender Reassignment (the majority of gender variant children) but who are equally needy of protection under the law. Surely transphobic bullying and harassment of vulnerable young people can never be acceptable?

Transphobic harassment in school education can and does lead to truancy and academic failure, low self-esteem and mental health problems, and even self-mutilation and suicide. Mental health issues arising from non-acceptance are likely to be long term, extending far into later life. This has been confirmed in a recent study, available for inspection on-line: http://archpsyc.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/66/5/527. It is essential that this exception be removed.

The recent Commons/Lords Joint Committee on Human Rights Legislative scrutiny report also supports the need for protection from harassment under Gender Identity be included.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200809/jtselect/jtrights/169/169.pdf

The detailed information can be found at pages 44 and 45 of the document.

May I ask that you could look at the above background information, and for you to support the amendment of the Equality Bill to improve it in these two vital areas:

1. Please support the widening of the protected characteristic to cover the gender identities of all gender variant people rather than keeping the restrictive grounds of transsexual gender reassignment.
2. Please support the harassment coverage to be included for gender variant children in school education.

Yours Faithfully”

In the longer letter although the term “dual role” does not account for many non-binary gender identities (such as genderqueer, polygender or agender) it is widely used within Parliamentary discussions on trans issues, hence its presence in the letter. You can of course edit the model letter yourself if you see fit

What we need to stress here is that we want these to be shared far and wide, and to encourage as many people as possible to ask them MPs to support these amendments, the more we can make them aware the better the chance they may support the amendments, and we can only do that with people power.

Here is the parliament website that will help you find your MPs contact details:

http://www.parliament.uk/mpslordsandoffices/mps_and_lords/alms.cfm

Time is short, and we know we have not given you a lot of time to get these out this week., this was due to having to react to how things are with the time scale of the bill itself, but if we can get these letters to the MPs this week then we can at least say we have tried to make them see.

We ask one more favour of you, could you possibly drop us an email and let us know who you have sent a letter to MP wise, so that we can build a picture of the number of MPs that were contacted, also it would be of interest if you received a reply, just a mail to say you did would be great.

Our email address is:

justfillingintheblanks@googlemail.com

Many Thanks for your help.

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Transgender Day of Remembrance

via Transgender Day of Remembrance.

YouTube – Transgender Day of Remembrance – list of 2009 Trans Deaths.

 

There have been 101 transgender related murders from January to 14th November 2009.  That is double the rate for 2008.

 

Pray for them and remember them for who they are.

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Nicole Kidman and Gwyneth Paltrow to play husband and wife – Telegraph.

It seems that even Hollywood realise that transsexual people pre-date the 1950s.  It is a shame that Julie Bindel appears not to be up to speed.

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About a year ago, I was one those transsexual women who opposed the nomination of Julie Bindel for Stonewall’s Journalist of the Year award and her continued attack on trans people in her article “The Operation That Can Ruin Your Life” in November 2009 reinforces why. I was not particularly familiar with her writings, apart from her now infamous article published in 2004. I didn’t and don’t consider myself qualified to gauge her contribution to lesbian and radical feminism issues. I do, however, feel qualified to comment on her contributions on transsexual issues.

More than anything, my opposition in 2009 was aimed at Stonewall. Stonewall is an organisation that campaigns on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual (LGB) issues, notwithstanding that the original Stonewall riots were triggered by trans people. There may have been a time when they also campaigned on Trans issues, but nowadays it is adamant that it is LGB focussed rather than LGBT. This is odd because there is a great deal of material on their site in support of trans issues, starting in http://www.stonewall.org.uk/beyond_barriers/ . Anyway, be that as it may, there are many places where LGB issues and T issues overlap and there is a strong history of supporting each other in their campaigns. It is against the background of this history and of Julie’s venomously anti-trans article in 2004 that trans people protested outside the Stonewall awards last year. Trans people felt badly let down by an organisation that they believed to be on their side – it simply did not make sense for an equal rights and anti-hate organisation to offer an award to a journalist who was promulgating hate.

Let me say it, again, lest there be any misunderstanding: the protest was against Stonewall. On this occasion it was not against Julie Bindel. A group was set up on Facebook to coordinate the protest and to give protesters from around the country a central place to air their views on what was happening. Julie Bindel came along to see what was being said about her (I don’t criticise her for that)…and that is when it turned ugly. The group became an extremely uncomfortable place to be, where emotions ran high on both sides. Facebook allowed both sides to engage with each other in a way that was previously not possible and engage, they did, rather brutally. This time it is personal.

Eventually, everything quietened down, apart from the odd rumble, and, as far as I am aware, the year since the protest has been fairly quiet. Until, that is, Julie reignited the flames in her recent article. Her decision to write about transsexual people again would be less puzzling if she showed signs of developing her perspective and of having learned, but it is largely a rehash of what has gone before, a malicious cocktail of inaccuracies and distorted facts. She may believe what she is saying, but I suspect her motive has nothing to do with explaining her position – she has already done, often. I have a hunch that she is simply continuing the feud, for its own sake, or supporting her own position as a prominent radical feminist. It is hard to see any other reason for her most recent article.

But let’s have a look at just some of the things she got wrong:

Julie claims that “Gender dysphoria (GD) was invented in the 1950s by reactionary male psychiatrists”. GD was not ‘invented’ by anyone. The condition has been around for a very long time. In any case, the notion of a reactionary wanting to introduce change or invent something sounds like an oxymoron to me.

Aversion therapy was once used to be a treatment for lesbians and gays to stop them being sexually attracted to their own sex. I think Julie Bindel needs to explain how she arrives at the conclusion that transsexual surgery is the modern aversion therapy – how does it some men and women fancying their own sex? This is probably a good time to remind people that sexual orientation and gender identity are unrelated. Some trans people are gay or bisexual,while others are straight. It would be a strange therapeutic approach that considers aversion therapy for both gay and straight patients. While I am about it, let me kill another myth – aversion therapy is not effective in changing either a person’s sexual orientation or their gender identity. Reparative therapy is also singularly ineffective and often results in long-term damage to clients.

She describes the surgery as “brutal”. I don’t agree with her, but if she were right, then it would make one wonder all the more why transsexual people feel the need to put themselves through it. There might be a clue in the findings of the Engendered Penalties report which showed that around one third of transsexual people had attempted suicide at least once as the alternative. She describes the results as far. from perfect, yet there is only a 3.8% regret rate (Landen 1999). Another study (Smith et al, 2005) found that no patient was actually dissatisfied. OK, this may not be perfect, but it is pretty darn close. Does surgery make transsexual people happy? Usually, yes. A study (Weyers et al.2009) on outcomes in transwomen, showed that they function well on a physical, emotional, psychological and social level. On face of it, this seems to indicate that surgery has a remarkably good outcome.

Julie also worries about the lack of rigorous definitions, saying that according to some, a girl who played football could be described as transsexual. She seems to imply that because the definition is so vague, it must be worthless. It is odd, then, that she seems happy to use expressions such as man or woman. I have yet to find a definition for man or woman that fully includes everyone. Definitions can be based around genitalia, or reproductive organs, or chromosomes, or hormones or even behaviour – and they can all fail. Happily, most people tick the same box for each class of definition, but about 1% of the population tick a different box in at least category. These people could be described gender variant in some way. These people are part of nature’s rich diversity. Professor Milton Diamond is quoted as saying: “Nature loves variety. Unfortunately, society hates it.” Julie’s articles transsexual emphatically demonstrates this hatred.

She says that there is a number of transsexuals who regret surgery and she trots out Claudia McClean as her example. Again. It is strange how it is always the same dissatisfied person who is brought forward whenever someone mentions regret. One dissatisfied person, of course, is one person too many and this is what the Standards of Care for Gender Identity Disorders are there to try to prevent. A significant percentage of those who embark on the care pathway do not proceed to surgery. If the level of patients regretting surgery were truly an issue, I would have imagined that it would not be difficult to find examples other than Claudia. In fact, it is very rare to find someone who regrets gender surgery, as the satisfaction figures demonstrate.

Julie Bindel’s approach to transsexual people is selective and contains many inaccuracies.

So if the article is not intended to be a balanced, well-researched, informative piece for public consumption, I find myself looking for her real motives.

Could it be a grudge match? She gives some examples of the vitriol she has endured and taken it personally. She says that she has been ‘no platformed’ by National Union of Students Women’s Campaign and that several organisations are too frightened to invite her to speak, for fear of trans lobbyists. I am truly sad that she seems unable to see that gender variant are fighting for the same rights that any oppressed minority in history has fought for – the right to be themselves, to be respected and to enjoy the same rights as everyone else. Sadly, history shows that these campaigns are often hard fought and violence and aggression is by no means unknown. From the suffragettes to black power to gay liberation, violence has been seen in all these fights. It is not something to be proud of, but sometimes it has been seen as the only way to be heard. I am not aware of gender variant people resorting to physical violence (although they have suffered and continue to suffer a great of violence), but they are nevertheless fighting for their very right to exist, in defiance of the bigots..

Julie does a lot of good work for other vulnerable groups including prostitutes and careleavers and I know that she is not an uncaring person. That is why I find it unbearably sad that she cannot rise above the acrimony and see the potential harm that she is trying to do to thousands of people. It was not that long ago, historically, that lesbianism was in a similar place to where gender variance is now. Where Julie might once have been able to claim to belong to an oppressed class, now she plays the oppressor of gender variant people.

She doesn’t want equality.

And this is at a time when homophobic attacks on gays and lesbians seem to be on the increase, reminding us all how fragile society’s acceptance seems to be – the homophobic murder of Ian Baynham in Trafalgar Square.

Shame on you, Julie Bindel.

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The owl and the puddytat

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