‘My experience of being a LGBT Advisor to the Government Equalities Office’

This was nominally about Catherine Mead’s experience of being on the LGBT Advisory Panel, but she couldn’t help telling us all how helpful she had been in helping set the questions for the 2021 Census. Read my tweeps, and weep.

Professor Catherine Meads talks about her experience as a Government Advisor on the UK Government Equalities Office LGBT Advisory Panel.

About this Event

Professor Catherine Meads talks about her experience as a Government Advisor on the UK Government Equalities Office LGBT Advisory Panel. She was appointed when it was set up in April 2019. There are currently nine individual appointees and three representatives of LGBT charities – Stonewall, LGBT Foundation and LGBT Consortium. Since it was set up there has been three different Secretaries of State in charge of the Women and Equalities portfolio. Professor Meads talks about why she applied, how she was appointed and what little they have been able to achieve as a panel since. 

Catherine Meads is a Professor of Health at ARU and senior systematic reviewer. She has published numerous systematic reviews and health technology assessments in a wide range of topics, including music for recuperation after surgery, therapeutic writing in long-term conditions, and in sexual orientation and health. Previously, Catherine was Research Leader at RAND Europe in Cambridge, Reader in Health Technology Assessment at Brunel University, Senior Lecturer at Bart’s and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, and at the University of Birmingham. Her research interests include leading and managing systematic reviews and health technology assessments, systematic reviews in complex interventions and of devices and diagnostics, prognosis, causality and health service delivery.

Catherine Meads has been conducting research into lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) health since 1992 and has published a number of papers, including on sex hormone levels in lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual women, UK educational and training materials aimed at health and social care staff about providing appropriate services for LGBT+ people, and associations between sexual orientation, and overall and site-specific diagnosis of cancer. Recently she completed a best-evidence review for Public Health England on health and healthcare experiences of UK sexual minority women. She has also delivered numerous public lectures, spoken at a Select Committee and All Party Parliamentary Groups, taught undergraduate medical and nursing students, helped develop an e-learning package for GPs and has been on several LGBT conference steering committees. She is currently a member of the UK Government Equalities Office LGBT Advisory Panel.

Event presented to support LGBTQ+ History Month.

Blurb from Eventbrite

Catherine Mead, Professor of Health, was introduced by one of Anglia Ruskin University’s engagement officers. Over a hundred people were on the call. Mead’s pronouns are she/her. Mead told us that she had been research LGBT health since 1992.

The LGBT Advisory Panel to the GEO

Mead gave a straightforward history of her role in the Government Equality Office (GEO) LGBT Advisory Panel. In 2017 the GEO ran a survey about LGBT health which got over 100,000 responses and the GEO decided that an action plan for LGBT health was required, part of which included setting up an LGBT Advisory Panel. This was advertised in November 2018 and Mead was appointed into one of the nine available places in March 2019, for a two year period. Three CEOs of LGBT organisations also got a place.

Mead told us she was interested in using evidence to formulate policy and had worked on a document on the health of lesbian and bisexual women (published 2018). On eyeballing the report the findings seem very bitty and unconvincing.

The 12 members of the LGBT Advisory Panel are (bolded are the Member organisations):

  • Catherine Meads, Professor of Health at Anglia Ruskin University, specialising in hate crime
  • S Chelvan, Barrister at No5 chambers, specialising in international human rights and LGBT asylum cases
  • Ellen Murray, Executive Director of Transgender Northern Ireland
  • James Morton, Manager at the Scottish Trans Alliance and member of the Parliamentary Forum on Gender Identity
  • Jayne Ozanne, Director of the Ozanne Foundation and member of the Church of England’s General Synod
  • Lewis Turner, Chief Executive of Lancashire LGBT with previous experience working on hate crime in local government
  • Marcel Varney, Assistant Director of Children’s Services at Barnardo’s with experience working on adoption policy
  • Paul Dillane, Executive Director of Kaleidoscope Trust
  • Paul Martin, Chief Executive of LGBT Foundation
  • Paul Roberts, Chief Executive of Consortium
  • Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of Stonewall
  • Stevie-Jade Hardy, Associate Professor of Criminology and expert on equalities and hate crime at the University of Leicester

The panel had a strong gender identity ideology presence and also notable is the emphasis on hate crime specialists (three people) and two representatives are from trans-only organisations.

In addition, a National Advisor for LGBT Health was also appointed, Dr Michael Brady, who has been closely involved with CliniQ the gender identity clinic at Kings. Mead said she has worked with him closely.

The last two years had been a bit of a whirlwind for Mead, hobnobbing with fellow panel members (a photo of the same was shared), and being invited to speak at City Hall, All-Party Parliamentary Groups and the Royal Society of Medicine. It had also helped her get a Fellowship at the University of Brighton Centre for Transforming Sexuality and Gender, which is nice.

Mead was also part of the consultation on the questions about sex and gender identity for the 2021 Census, which turned out to be the main bone of contention when the Q&A came up (it happened on the day when the Office for National Statistics (ONS) did a sudden about-turn). The main achievements of the LGBT Advisory Panel appear to be influencing civil servants with respect to the Census and reform of the Gender Recognition Act, the latter of which has fallen on its face.

Mead informed us that the LGBT Panel had had no communications whatsoever from Liz Truss, the current minister responsible for the GEO, for several months. Truss’s speech on 17 December 2020 indicated that the government wanted to move away from identity politics towards geographic inequality instead. Baroness Barker, LibDem House of Lords Member, was also on the webinar and posting in the chat.

LGBT data and COVID

Mead had been speaking with Professor Sir Ian Diamond, the UK’s National Statistician and head of the ONS, about the lack of LGBT data for COVID19. Mead bemoaned the fact that there was very little data but the simple fact is that there is nothing about COVID which links sexuality or gender identity to an increased risk of death or transmission. Antiviral medications, if you wanted to look at the risk to HIV positive gay and bisexual men, actually provides increased protection. Mead wanted all COVID19 patients to have their sexual orientation and gender identity recorded.

It’s really the last thing that people need to be asked when they may be very seriously worried about how COVID may affect them, to have to face questions about their private life for a non-sexually transmitted disease. Frankly the vast plethora of identity politics has completely masked that the real victims of the COVID pandemic are the over 65s and those with serious pre-existing conditions who have had to self-isolate for months on end with the worry that a COVID infection would be likely to bring about their demise.

Discussion about the Census

The discussion was confusing because some people were clearly aware of the ONS announcement made a few hours earlier to make the question on sex about legal sex. On reflection I believe that Mead was not aware that the ONS had made this announcement. Regardless she was shaky on the facts that she thought she knew in any case.

Full disclosure: It also doesn’t help that I am pretty confused about the situation either, if you want to read something which does make sense please click here and read MurrayBlackburnMackenzie Policy analysis.

Mead told us the question for sexual orientation was voluntary and the responses included heterosexual, gay or lesbian, bisexual or other (what could ‘other’ possibly be?). Mead said most surveys showed that 90 to 93 percent of people were heterosexual, about 1 percent gay, 1 percent lesbian and 1 percent bisexual. The rest were ‘prefer not to say’ and it was impossible to know what was in this group.

Mead wailed that we needed decent evidence to provide to policy makers and inform plans for the future. It meant that LGBT people could actually be counted. Yeah, funny that.

Mead explained that at the beginning of the Census questionnaire people would be asked if they were male or female as a compulsory question.

(This is the contentious question as the ONS are advising people to answer with their legal sex, so if any man, for example, holds a GRC or has changed their passport sex marker, then they could answer they are female. The question therefore does not pertain to biological sex.)

Mead confusedly explained (she thought that there were two) that an optional question would ask if your gender was different to your sex registered at birth and was dependent on you having answered the sex question. Mead advised that if we weren’t sure how to answer ‘use your legal sex or whichever answer best describes your sex’. Mead encouraged everyone to fill this question in. This was a yes or no question, but also had a free text box where you could add in non-binary, genderqueer, or whatever you like (might go for attack helicopter).

Question and Answer session

Q: Was there any BAME representation on the LGBT Advisory Panel or input from minority faith groups?

Yes there was BAME but not faith groups.

Question from Debbie Hayton: Will it be our legal sex or our passport sex or is it some other sex that we feel we should write in? I am a transgender person and there are different answers to what people will put. My concern is that different people will interpret it in different ways and the data which we need as transgender people will then mangle and become unusable.

Mead agreed this was a good point. The ONS team were very inclusive and wanted to get as many people to complete this data as possible (ha!).

Now the guidance for the sex question up until 2001 had no guidance for the sex question, now what they realise is that most people have been filling it in as their gender identity, so rather than legal sex it’s actually what their gender identity is. And the reason for doing that way round, if you use the male/female question and also the second question ‘has it changed from that at birth’, then combining the two can you give you much more consistent information than if you try to use legal sex and just a single question.

Catherine Mead, Professor of Health and Senior Systematic Reviewer

Hayton responded that it would be much clearer if the question was about biological sex at birth to make clear that biological sex was recorded and thus make clear which people aligned themselves with a gender identity in the later question.

Mead responded that ONS had done consultations which suggested if they asked about birth sex then this would ‘piss a lot of trans people off’ (and who cares about the 99 percent of people who do not subscribe to this ideology?). Mead said that it was felt that this meant that trans people would not go further than that question and that asking about gender identity separately meant more people would answer the question from the trans community. Alas, said Mead, this put non-binary people in a terrible position as they don’t see themselves as male or female! Hopefully in 2031 things will be better for non-binary people, said Mead.

Question from Lesbian: I wondered about if it would actually be better to have separate questions about homosexuality, i.e. are you a lesbian as one question, are you gay as the other, so that it could be recognised that lesbians are different from gay men? Can you also clarify if you understand that lesbians have specific needs?

To say that Mead looked triggered when this question was being asked would be an understatement. The quivering of her bottom lip was visible and she looked noticeably agitated, eyes darting, as she worked herself to deliver her very big FUCK YOU answer.

I fully agree with you. Now what they’re planning to do the sexual orientation question is combine it with the sex question, so for gay and lesbian, the gay will be gay men and the lesbian will be lesbian women. What I am not sure is whether they will combine it also with the gender identity one, because obviously you can have trans lesbians. So how we’re going to make sense of the data I’m not entirely sure, but I am trying to support the ONS Census people who are going to start to analyse the data and hopefully the interaction with us should mean they are going to come up with something sensible.

Professor Catherine Mead, Professor of Health and Senior Systematic Reviewer

It was pointed out by the questioner that under the Equality Act a lesbian was defined as a woman whose sexual orientation was towards the same sex. This is was the legal definition. The typical bun fight when anyone asks any kind of critical question ensued in the chat area with accusations of transphobia being chucked about.

Mead responded people could define themselves however they wanted and that identities needed to be respected.

I find it staggering that a lead researcher would freely admit that it would be impossible to interpret data. The only way you can identify these distinct groups is if you know what sex they are in the first place. What a mess!

Q: What do you think about intersectionality? How do you improve trust in answering sensitive data questions, especially with regards to ethnic minorities?

Mead said it was important to reassure people but there was a lot of distrust in the community because of the historical legacy of Section 28 and the laws on sodomy. Mead told us she wouldn’t ever dream of being a Tory but she was happy to work with the government if it helped the community. Which I think we can all agree is very big and brave of her.

Q: Can the LGBT Advisory Panel comment on other issues other than health?

Mead went all supercilious and said that she could comment on her own opinion but she was not able to share private conversations that she had had with a Minister. She said that as a group they were all activists and always will be activists, however if a Minister chose not to hear what the Panel advised then there was nothing they could do about it. What Mead was doing today was her own personal work, and she was not there under the auspices of her Panel work.

The questioner innocently pushed her again if they discussed issues other than health. ‘Ooh I’m not sure I should answer that one,’ said Mead.

When we meet on our own and not as part of the official Advisory Panel with the Government’s Civil Servants, we can talk about whatever we like. When we are talking as the Advisory Panel with the Civil Servants, they set the agenda and we give them advice.

Catherine Mead, Professor of Health and Senior Systematic Reviewer

It was basically a very long winded way of making very clear that the Advisory Panel had discussed all sorts of political topics at the buffet table before the meetings started.

Q: Woman expressed concern that there was an absence of BAME people on the Advisory Panel and would this be rectified?

Mead responded that they did have a BAME person on the panel and that as the Panel was likely to be disbanded there was no way to rectify this. Faith groups was represented by the CoE person. As the Panel was only 9 members it was not possible to be inclusive of everyone.

Q: Man acknowledged that the membership of the Panel was limited to 9 members, but felt that it would have been better to have more BAME people on the panel. One token BAME person was not enough. Disappointment in Mead’s previous answer was made known. Should be heavily skewed towards BAME, as BAME find it most difficult to come out.

Mead had to double down and say that she did agree that BAME people need the most support. If they choose a new Panel she would advise them to include more BAME people.

Q: What is the rationale behind the Panel not continuing beyond March? Would there be an announcement about it?

Mead said that the Panel had not been consulted so they did not know what was going on. There had been no talk of continuing, but they had also not been told definitively that the plug had been pulled. Mead said she and the other panel advisory members would say something if it the group were discontinued, though it could be that the Panel would be revamped. They just didn’t know.

Question from trans identified man who stated they worked for the Canadian government, but was ‘not speaking on behalf of government’: Would standardised data sets be available across governments and would the Panel be able to make recommendations?

Mead described that she was ‘lobbying the ONS and other bodies to do a sensible data collection’ but had to repeat that the government had stopped seeking the Panel’s advice, and they had to go other ways, like talking directly to the National Statistician or talking to people in the NHS, or other bodies. ‘We have to do it that way.’

Q: Who is challenging the government on discrimination if the advisory group is disbanded?

Mead – the Press is challenging them, Stonewall and other charities are doing their bit. Mead told the webinar that there was a consultation at the moment on single sex toilets. Mead was very worried that people would respond to the consultation in terms that the government would relate to, e.g. money, public health concerns, individual concerns, then it would work better for the LGBT mob, rather than focussing on protected characteristics, which was not of so much interest to the government anymore.

Mead explained that she had never understood multiple occupancy women’s toilets and why the loos and the sinks were divided. She wanted a single room to use which incorporated toilet and sink.

Q: Had there been any conversation about including asexual identities in the sexual orientation question in the Census?

Mead said that being asexual was ‘similar to non-binary and intersex’ and that the ONS had not quite got that far yet. Hopefully with a bit more lobbying we’ll get there. (Imagine a Professor of Health breezily conflating a varied group of health conditions with gender identity and sexual orientation, it must be 2021.)

Q: Do you represent lesbian interests specifically as separate from gay men’s interests?

Mead: When appropriate and when I can. Issues within health are different between the two. Mead said she did a systematic review that showed that lesbians are more likely to get asthma than heterosexual women but added she had no idea why this was. (Her own report documents higher rates of smoking in lesbians, but perhaps she never read it properly?)

Q: Was progress being made in LGBT health?

Mead thought the work Michael Brady was doing was excellent and progress was being made ‘behind the scenes’. Progress was likely to include services tailored towards LGBT people, better data collection and staff would be better trained and ‘wouldn’t put their foot in it all the time’. But ‘Don’t get me wrong, some staff are very good.’ (Giving me the strong impression she was talking about receptionists, porters and the other low paid workers in the health service, and not the big brainy professionals like herself.)

Pride in Practice (a sort of Stonewall programme for GPs) had had good results. Of course, Rainbow Badges was reaping results, but had got mixed up now with the NHS rainbow. (Everything is an effrontery.)

Question from gay man: Earlier in the call I felt that there was an invalidation of the trans lesbian identity. Will there be an effort in the upcoming Census to avoid invalidating people?

As the questions set as they are at the moment, somebody could say that they are trans lesbian or trans gay. I don’t think there will be much of a difficulty. Politically some people may not agree with that as an identity but as far as I’m concerned if people identify in that way then that’s how they identify.

Catherine Mead, Professor of Health and Senior Systematic Reviewer

Mead then invited Baroness Barker to speak.

Thank you very very much for all your work, and thank you for doing this in your characteristically wonderful way. I just want to say politically it is clear that Liz Truss and this government are rowing back from where Theresa May was. Some of us are sticking in there and trying to keep up the pressure but in the current transphobic atmosphere it is difficult to just get anything in. Those of you who are allies within the community anything positive that you can do to help would be greatly appreciated.

Baroness Barker, House of Lords

A young woman who described herself as trans, thanked Baroness Barker for what she said ‘because there has been some very transphobic language going on in this chat’. This was because women in the chat box had dared to say that lesbians are same sex attracted and that men, by definition, could not be trans lesbians. That was the outrage they had suffered. Nothing more.

Anyway, it was interesting that Mead was so candid about her involvement in the Census debacle and admitted that the data would be difficult to interpret. So much for being a Senior Systematic Reviewer. I also wonder how she gained her specialism in hate crime when she is a Professor of Health. Mead is definitely someone who has been promoted well above her own level of competence.

Hopefully Truss will be disbanding this group of activists, who are supposed to be impartial advisors.

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