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Technological Tiny Steps

Over the past two days we have seen two major technological launches.

The first was the Google so called Superphone (http://www.google.com/phone) and Microsoft’s ‘slate’ PC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8444672.stm).

I watched the Google launch on its live web stream. My first thought, supported by comments being made in the chat room accompanying the stream, was that anyone who managed to stay awake was doing quite well. Fundamentally, what was being described was a touchscreen smartphone and, as with many of the smartphones in the market, someone is going to be disappointed, if only because the will only be available on a network that they don’t use.

Nothing new here, then.

Today, it was the turn of Microsoft to unveil its ‘slate’ PC. In other words, it is a tablet. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft boss, was suitably loud in his presentation, but he didn’t have too much to say. His biggest selling point was that it could run Kindle (Amazon’s books reader) and that we could buy, from Amazon, books for it.

Whoopee do.

Nowadays, it is generally accepted that if you haven’t hooked your audience within 10 seconds, you may as well go home. These guys should probably have thought twice about getting up in the morning. It doesn’t look to me like they advanced their respective causes, at all, and quite possibly have simply added fuel to the fires that dream of seeing the dominance of these two giants broken. We all root for the little man – it’s in our blood.

I expected better of Google, if not Microsoft. Well, maybe not.

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Are you sceptical about climate change? – Telegraph.

Like the vast majority of people, I have neither studied nor researched climate change and, just as importantly, don’t have access to the raw data.

I do however have some understanding of people and scientists are not immune to the lure of empire building and personal glory nor to the temptation of selling out to the powerful commercial lobby.

What I have, then, is great mistrust of what is being said by usual culprits.

The only way to dispel the mistrust is to place all the raw data (processed data is no use for this exercise) into the public domain, alongside the ‘expert’ judgements and let us make up our own minds. �The more �attempts that are made to control the debate by fair means or foul, the greater the degree of public scepticism.

My own experience with ‘experts’ in a number of fields gives me little reason to look up to them, by and large.

The issue of climate is far too important an issue to let men lock horns over it. �What we need is open and most of all genuine co-operation and mutual respect.

It is time for men to leave the school playground behind.

via Are you sceptical about climate change? – Telegraph.

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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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