(Un)Safe to be Me?

More bed wetting from the gender-addled gerbils, featuring cast of thousands and Nancy Kelley

About this event

An inter-disciplinary half-day conference exploring the legal, social and political rights of LGBTI people in the United Kingdom

The conference is co-hosted by the Human Rights Implementation Centre (University of Bristol) and Centre for Cultures of Reproduction, Technologies and Health (University of Sussex)

In June 2022, the United Kingdom Government, in its role as co-chair of the Equal Rights Coalition, was due to host an international conference on lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans rights – Safe to be Me: A Global Equality Conference. Announcing the event in May 2021, Lord Herbert of South Downs stated that “…as a global force for good, the UK has an important role to play in leading international efforts to tackle the violence and discrimination against LGBT people which should have no place in the modern world.” The conference, which was cancelled in April 2022, would have taken place at a critically important moment for LGBTI rights in the United Kingdom – with numerous stories of hate crimes, stagnation or retreat on key legal reforms, and a hostile media and political environment in which to advocate for equality based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or sex characteristics. This context raises an important intellectual and moral question: can and/or should the United Kingdom take a leading role in promoting the ‘safety’ of LGBTI communities around the world when, in 2022, it may be increasingly unsafe to be LGBTI in this jurisdiction?

With that question in mind, the Human Rights Implementation Centre(University of Bristol) and Centre for Cultures of Reproduction, Technologies and Health (University of Sussex) are organising a half-day conference on 9 June 2022, entitled (Un)Safe to be Me? Exploring the Rights and Lived Experiences of LGBTI people in the UK. The event, which will take place online (Zoom) from 10 am – 1.30 pm (BST), will bring together academics, advocates and activists from across the UK to explore the legal, social and political rights of LGBTI communities in this country, identifying current challenges and potential options for reform. Each speaker will offer a short, initial contribution on one of eleven substantive issues facing LGBTI people in this country, followed by a moderated panel discussion and a Q&A session. In addition, in partnership with the Oxford Human Rights Hub blog, the conference will be publishing a series of short blog contributions, where participants will expand upon the rights and lived experiences of LGBTI communities in the UK. You can register for the conference using the link above. The event is organised by Peter Dunne (University of Bristol), Maria Moscati (University of Sussex) and Ben Kasstan (University of Bristol).

From the blurb


By Peter Dunne who told us that we would be talking about ‘lived experiences’. So why this conference? In June 2022 current Tory Govt. didn’t do what Stonewall et al wanted to do, so all the LGBT organisations pulled out. The conference would have taken place at an important point. Truss and other MPs are now withdrawing from their previous pro-LGBTQIA+ positions and now the gerbils realise they can’t discuss these things to power. Never mind, they’re happy to hold these meaningless conferences instead. Some academic is writing up a blog post of this event, but nothing will beat this one. Just saying.

Maria Moscati introducing the two centres who have organised the event, which you can read in the blurb above. Crucially a medical school is involved and Moscati talks about ‘intersectionality of human reproduction’. The human rights centre is involved with larger human rights bodies.

Ben Kasstan offering an overview of the day, talking about the agenda. I note that chat was disabled in Zoom.

Kay Lalor – LGBTI Rights and Colonialism

Lalor expresses excitement and puts up a photo of a black woman clad in a rainbow flag. So, why is she talking about colonialism? Included colonialism of Brexit, a quote from American author Toni Morrison and something about the limitations of imagination.

The Safe to Be conference was going to be held on the anniversary of the first ever UK Pride March. Lalor claims that she used to work in the Black Cap as a barmaid and says she spoke to one of the men who marched on that day.

In 1972 the European Communities Act was passed and marked a period of decolonisation. Gender and sexuality was embedded into the British Empire, especially Sodomy Laws. Also idea of nuclear family flourished.

Post-Brexit and the Global British Brand is linked to watering down of LGBT rights. Britain isn’t the only state who is doing this.

Example of British Colonialism

Global South was going to be treated as a junior partner at the Safe to Be conference and would have reproduced history of colonialism. (So presumably it’s a good thing it was cancelled then?)

Where does it leave us, asked Lalor. We have day to day oppression still but we now have more solidarity and can reclaim the past. Safety doesn’t need to rely on formal structures (i.e. we can make our own new structures).

Panel 1

Nuno Ferreira – (Chair), introduced the session.

Ben Kasstan – Relationship and Sexuality Education (medical anthropologist)

Sex education and relationships. Huge potential for LGBT equality from this area, especially given the history of Section 28. Framework is compulsory but there is leeway between what must be taught and what should.

Primary education should teach about different kinds of family, which covers a range of families. Kasstan has found that schools are allowed to completely omit same sex families.

Statutory guidance uses the word ‘contentious’ and Kasstan unhappy this is applied to sexuality in some areas. Guidance is full of loopholes, especially at primary level, which means schools may choose not to discuss LGBT issues.

S Chelvan – Asylum (identifies as an activist lawyer and also barrister)

Covering three specific areas. Going to talk about UK policy and how law may develop to make things worse for ‘queer refugees’. Gives legal definition of refugee, but I’m guessing no definition of ‘queer’ (PS: he didn’t). Currently UK in line with international legal standards, including ECHR and the claim to ‘family life’ (e.g. you may be guilty of murder, but as long as you have a kid in the country you never see, you can stay).

There is no definition of gender identity in law. Chelvan’s believes that the Home Office knows what it means.

From the Home Office

Chelvan says that the Home Office recognises gender identity does not necessarily mean chemical or surgical intervention currently.

The proposed UK Bill of Rights will replace current legislation. Concerned that it will completely reinterpret refugee status and asylum claims. Claimants will have to come to UK directly and Chelvan claims that most LGBTQI people are not able to do that.

Sending ‘LGBTQI/queer claimants’ to Rwanda may expose them to abuse and real risk.

Adam Jowett – Conversion Therapy (he/him) (psychologist)

Jowett gives definition of conversion therapy, includes gender identity into that. Talks about Memorandum of Understanding and all those countries who are signed up to something similar. In 2017 the government conducted a survey which revealed that 2 percent of LGBT had undergone it, and 5 percent offered it. Further breakdown revealed that more transgender people were in those figures.

Jowett lead team of researchers on conversion therapy. Most of the evidence they found matched that of international reports and that conversion therapy was mainly faith-based, rather than arising from counsellor or family. Conversion therapy increases suicidal feelings.

UK public consultation initially proposed new criminal offences but was going to leave out those who had consented to therapy. Then Government announces sexual orientation and gender identity would be treated differently. Welsh and Scottish Government are proposing to do a ‘full ban’.

Adam doesn’t think legislation ban is the full solution and believes it is more cultural. To make UK a safe place we need to also address LGBTQ stigma in society.

Sarah Lamble – Criminal Justice – focussing on prison issues (READER IN CRIMINOLOGY & QUEER THEORY)

NB: Drop in cap of sarah lamble’s name

Lamble organises letter writing to prisoners. Says there is a long history of being imprisoned and punished by the state and young people punished for transgender health care.

Many still end up in prison because of discrimination, i.e. that LGBTQI+ people experience bullying and harassment, which means they end up homeless on the street, then become drug addicts which they fund with sex work and then end up in prison. It is even worse for those who are LGBTQIA+ but are also POC or BAME.

Lamble and her organisation (Bent Bars Project) had recently carried out a survey which had shown ‘horrific level of abuse and violence’ towards trans people. The cultural narrative around trans people was enabling their victimisation and they were subject to punitive laws as society regarded them as immoral. Following the decriminalisation of sodomy, gay men faced increased targeting by law enforcement.

Now most of the ‘transphobic laws’ in Britain had been overturned but trans people were now being dubbed as a threat to women in the guise of the mythical trans sex offender. Media were often forced to correct stories post-publication about these men.

The Bent Bars Project campaigns for trans prisoners, it has also published ‘toolkits’

Lamble wailed that anti-trans people had used a very effective tactic of exploiting all the stories in which trans individuals had done bad things and that no one in the wider society wanted to be seen defending such crimes. Particularly galling were people who had focussed on prisons but had had no history of working with prisoners.

Final point, queer people needed more than a human rights framework, needed a queer anti-carceral feminist framework (i.e. prison abolition). Don’t be fooled by ‘clash of rights’ talk.

Flora Renz – Legal Gender Recognition 

Gives brief overview of current gender recognition in UK. In 2004 GRA was found to be in clash with Europe. If you want a GRC now you have to meet four specific criteria, etc, and have to ‘provide evidence’. Rehashes all the myths about it. In 2013 the law changed for marriage remain valid ‘post-transition’. Trans people can now be blackmailed because of the ‘spousal veto’.

GRA revolutionised rights as it moved things from sex to gender. Legal framework now needs to be reworked, especially with regards to non-binary people and the need to have medical treatment. This is very pathologising.

Reforms didn’t go through because there was a consultation in which there was an organised transphobic response. The government reduced the fee [down to £5] but no other changes made.

Another report came out which recommended self-identification and removal of the ‘spousal veto’. Again things have stalled. Scotland is going to try to make these changes.

Other countries have self-ID and they’re fine.

It’s so sad that the consultation asked women about their rights, as if they were separate to trans women. In fact this fuelled the perception that these were two different things. Need to return to solidarity-based politics and minorities should campaign together.

Discussion arising from Panel 1

Question about prisons.

Lamble wants non-reformist reform i.e. reduce the number of prisons and prison places. Does the letter writing project to create personal relationships with prisoners. Prisoners mainly there because it’s not their fault.

Queer feminist response to clash of rights in prison

Lamble: Dismantle oppressive systems and embrace identities as brave and stunning and in need of emergency housing, etc.

Question on conversion therapy – the High Court and people consenting to conversion therapy

Jowett: Ban is not the full answer and difficult to know if it is effective. Doesn’t think many prosecutions will come.

Question to Flora Renz – how to bring people together.

Focus on gender inequality together as feminists. Says projects which aren’t that robust gain funding against those which aren’t (literal snort for the Future of Legal Gender project Renz involved with, funded by EU).

Why don’t we treat skin lightening of dark skin the same as conversion therapy?

Jowett hadn’t really thought about that but we should try to investigate internalised hate.

Robin White jumps in and says the US and UK have a different set of medial ethics. In the UK they wouldn’t remove your leg, but in the US they could.

Threats to women has been exploited by terfs (or How we clearly frame women’s safety as benefitted by decolonisation and de-heteronormalisation rather than threatened by it?)

Lamble wanted to come back to feminist anti-carceral approach, i.e. the belief that nut jobs should be let loose in society, and that people behave badly because they are portrayed as bad and live up to expectation. What does safety mean? Economic prosperity.

Lalor thought this answer was brilliant and almost fell down a rabbit hole hearing it. Safety was relational and reciprocal. Reframing has already been done by feminist scholars and we should just push this more. Danger/safety is a dangerous binary.

More moaning about counter activism against LGBTQI+ activism what can we do?

Robin White says that is what his talk will address so to leave it there. Roundly ignored as follows:

Chelvan says the problem is First by the Post electoral system. Believes there is more damage if no litigation is bought but it is two steps forward, one step back.

Renz thinks there needs to be more literacy and that factually untrue statements are being made, for example HRT supply chains shortages was due to Brexit, not trans women.

Lalor upset that the UK have a good record on LGBTQI rights (I don’t suppose she, or any of them, can explain why people are applying for asylum here and not they other way round).

Chelvan felt that the Home Office policy towards trans refugee was very progressive and didn’t ask for a GRC equivalent from the origin country nor for ‘transition’. On conversion therapy, explorative therapy is not a bad thing, but it is not understood that the MoU states that. We need to continue to point this out.

Panel 2

Sen Raj – (Chair), who likes glitter, introduced panel 2.

Zowie Davy – Trans Healthcare (sociologist)

Facing sustained attack on trans healthcare through co-ordinated networks. Says he watched Helen Joyce in her video and Davy careful to say that he thought she sounded like a eugenist to his ears (clearly had followed the exchange with La Hines and Joyce on Twitter).

Attacks also in the media part of larger assault on gender equality. People who want it are infantalised.

Goes deep into gender woo about cis heteronormativity and trans normativity. We need to investigate cis/trans binary. Historically trans people had been infantalised. Healthcare is couched in ‘adultism’. In paediatric cases ‘adultism’ is often used as an excuse to protect children.

Indigenous society was richer and didn’t have gender binary. Medicine needs to understand this and gatekeeping is not ethical. Changing your mind and transitioning back should be regarded as normal. Chemical and surgical transition should be considered as a private affair and own therapy.

Mitch Travis and Fae Garland – Intersex 

Two legal academics. Pair of fools. Recently published a book on this topic.

They prefer the term intersex, but acknowledge there is also DSD and VSD, etc.

Intersex is absent from Law and Policy and therefore as a people they are invisible. Particularly concerning is that NHS has an ad hoc approach to them (erm, that might be because there are over 40 different conditions).

In 2020 there was a change in approach to these issues. Lack of knowledge about them up until then. LGBT space is not the right space for them but does give them an opportunity for engagement with government.

LGBT 2018 Survey showed that intersex people had poorer experiences of public health services including mental/sexual health services. GPs found to be unsupportive and not knowing where to send them. Medical health records being withheld and couldn’t be changed to record their ‘intersex’ status.

Travis acknowledges that all survey participants were self-identified, and that many thought chose intersex as they thought it meant non-binary. Nevertheless the results proved that intersex people were being mistreated and resulted in government including them in an action plan.

Garland refers to ‘schisms’ in the intersex community. Travis recalls how excited they both were when there was a call for evidence by government in 2019. Never received outcome of this. UN committees have asked for these results too and no one knows what is going on with intersex infants being operated on (they aren’t, it is no longer NHS policy to do this unless clinically necessary).

GRA consultation in 2020 had asked intersex people specific questions about conflation to non binary identity. Analysis of outcomes showed there needed to be more research and the need for the intersex equality.

Malta is very progressive and has intersex rights, but was more like a bolt-on to trans rights.

Evidence of the failure to support intersex children

Garland said that there was a failure of MDT teams and hierarchy to look after intersex people. They had to make FOI requests to find this information (i.e. they had to send emails to the organisations, how traumatic).

Travis briefly mentioned a proposed clinical commissioning policy which had stalled. Not a lot happening right now, ergo intersex injustice stalled.

Sen Raj congratulated them on being a great double act.

Robin White – Equality and Human Rights Systems 

No one had mentioned Karl Marx yet, so he did. A quote about women. His focus was on T and on people who were against T. He had to be careful what he could say because – you know- he was involved in some cases currently running (namely the Allison Bailey vs Stonewall trial).

Transitioned 11 years ago. Then he came out and it was very easy to see him then (just like that). That what when there was a coalition government and now it was Boris era. Could be pessimistic but areas for change categorised into four strands, one was politics.

White has done a lot of disability work. (Flicks hair.) Goes into full bar room bore mode. We only have to wait ten years for the young people to grow up for things to be completely sorted. Employers really appreciate their trans employees.

Healthcare – gender dysphoria no longer considered a medical condition but a normal variation.

Courts – justice is blind, especially to politics. Talks about Jaguar case. Cane case with passport. Latest important case Free-Miles(?) national veterinary college, group of nurses stealing animals from farmers, decision just in. Close to boundary of Forstater and quite sympathetic to our (i.e. his) side.

Where has it gone wrong in politics? Mumsnet said trans people were to blame for global warming. The T issue irrelevant to local elections. There was a tag team of articles by senior leaders in government being unpleasant to trans people but Tories still got rubbish result.

Green shoots are move to the Celtic fringes (i.e. funnily enough the one positive review of his book lives on a Celtic fringe). A trans hostile researcher at Holyrood suggested Scottish Government await Cass Review but they were roundly ignored. Ha ha ha.

Andrew Powell – Family Law (he/him)

Specialist in child law, including parental disputes and child trafficking.

Feels it is aptly timed discussion and to talk about LGBT+ issues in the family court, especially trans issues. Family Court often place where you can observe change in life and society.

LGBT+ family cases over three decades were mainly discriminatory (i.e. lesbian and gay parents) and that the view it would be harmful for the child.

(Just looking at the clock, it’s 12.50pm, seems like there will be little time for Nancy, their star turn to speak, nor there to be discussion when it ends at 1.20pm for closing remarks.)

Biggest issue now is trans parentage – what happens then? Case in 2017 involving a ‘trans woman’ who had fathered five children and was previously a practising Haredi Jew. The application was that the father should have no contact with the children and that in the context of the Haredi community it would lead to their ostracisation. Court was sympathetic to father but upheld ostracisation argument.

Also questions around birth registration – Freddie McConnell wanting to be recorded to as the father. JR claim confirmed she could only be mother, as did Appeal Court. Powell feels that more needs to be done with regards to this. Section 9 in GRA says you will be recognised as your legal sex but Section 12 says you won’t with regards to parentage. Powell feels that if children are born subsequent to ‘transition’ then those children should be affected by the legal certification the parent holds – i.e. to be true to the parent’s ‘lived experience in law’. This was so the trans parent might not be outed unnecessarily, especially when crossing borders.

Nancy Kelley – LGBTI Civil Society

Nancy on top form. Had blessing of listening to everyone first and was going to edit her material to stop duplication (a line she thought up well in advance). Wants to focus on trans people. Starting point was to look around us and look back in time. Understand the anti-gender movement. Anti-trans organising creates blue mist and allows situation in which human rights laws can be ignored.

Origins of anti-gender movement was in 1990s and came from the Pope/Vatican. Religiously motivated and linked to American evangelical right. Enormously well funded – look at research. Pursuing regressive goals around gender, reproductive rights and trans rights. UK leading example of this.

Civil society is enormously outgunned and Stonewall is only third biggest organisation in the world but only has about 150 employees and not that stable. Hard to network. Difficult to get funding to fight regressive policy. (Metaphorically getting the begging bowl out.)

Chase Strangio rang Nancy and asked for help the other day (so not that hard to network).

Need to be standing in solidarity with gender diverse siblings. Keep strong connection to human rights norms and other multilateral institutions. Unilateral pulling out of the Safe to Be Me conference example of that.

Not true Stonewall strong-armed the decision. Shared intentions with others, asked them to do it at the same time and left it at that. (Bollocks. As if there wasn’t a shit ton of phone calls and leaning-on which went into it.)

We often compare to 1980s and Section 28. What is difference now is what the general public thinks. In the 1980s the majority of people thought same-sex relationships were wrong. Now transphobia is now a minority view and most people are accepting but particularly women.

(Now 13.10 – there is going to be no time for discussion. What a shame.)

The same people who are homphobic, are exactly the ones who are also transphobic, it had been found. Kelley ends with quote from Audre Lorde and says it’s time to fight. Sen Raj agrees it is a messy situation but also there were lots of shared common goals.

Discussion arising out Panel 2

How to engage with intersex issues, when you don’t know anyone who is

Rccommends Intersex Equality UK (i.e. an organisation being rung by one person). Don’t use intersex issues to use as a trump card in arguments about trans issues (yes, don’t). Engage with the intersex community.

How do we help allies speak on our behalf, without them fearing they will be attacked for getting it wrong

Robin White gave his 451th talk to employees on transgender awareness training yesterday – he reminds people it is a safe space to ask anything. White rainbow top now in view.

Davy we are used to people getting it wrong and we can tell if it is meant the wrong way. Even as a trans person himself Davy has got it wrong. We’re an open bunch of people.

Kelley – Do it with kindness but people are responsible for their own learning. It is not particular to gender but also racial justice and disabled justice. Google is your friend. Kelley doesn’t accept that the feelings of the questioner are more important than those they are defending. (Good grief woman.)

How to deal with hate online

Kelley is fine with it. People need to speak up against it. Majority of VAWG organisations are trans-inclusive but won’t speak about because they are scared about being trolled online. Has her tweets locked permanently and is very happy as it upsets anti-trans people (does it?). When things get particularly spicy she starts knitting and posting photos of crochet blankets. (Okay, I admit I do find that annoying, that and the dogs.)

White was part of panel of legal people at a big meeting and had a post-it note on his laptop, as a reminder to himself, saying ‘don’t be the nutter’ and someone after told him that was exactly how he came across (I think White meant to say he was told ‘you weren’t the nutter’, well let’s hope).

(Another thought: Imagine if Maya Forstater went on a webinar and said she had to use post-it notes to remind her not to be the nutter. The troons would dine out on that forever and a day.)

Travis send DMs to people and reminds them they can block people and the bots.

Davy: Always remember it is just a small minority of people and it has only been bad in the last few years. Don’t engage with them, they are mostly bots, and you just make them seem bigger than there are.

Garland just avoids Twitter completely and leaves it to Travis.

Concluding Remarks (Peter Dunne and Maria Moscati)

Thank you’s to expert knowledge and expertise today. Been so rich and enjoyable. Sorry it wasn’t that interactive but had to be like that to preserve the ‘dignity and safety’ of the panel. So much work needs to be done. Complains that the Safe to Be Me conference didn’t happen.

Stay connected and we will publish the blog from the event (which I will link when it is disseminated).

Have a lovely afternoon!

The Lies They Tell concluding remarks

What a waste of time. Going over such old news. It’s clear they have no real direction and no real arguments to back up their claims that gender identity should trump biological sex. But there again, if you aren’t allowed to discuss biological sex, how can you develop any of these arguments? They are stuck in their own Catch 22.

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