Reclaiming Stonewall – Redux

I suspect that most people in the LGBT community have heard the name Stonewall, and know something about the Stonewall Riots of 1969, and how they led to the Gay Rights movement which has campaigned for equal rights for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual people across the world. But, to all intents and purposes, the LGB movement has seemingly ignored Trans people, leaving us to campaign on our own. I suspect, though, that not too many LGB people recognise the horrible irony of this.

I’m going to throw two names at you, dear reader and, be honest with yourself, there’s a good chance that you’ve probably never heard of them or know who they are. They are: Sylvia Rae Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. No? Then read on. (Kudos if you really did know).

These two are trans women who, on the 28th June 1969, became leaders in the Stonewall riots, a turning point in LGBT rights, when a police raid on the Stonewall Tavern, a gay bar, on Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, NYC resulted in a series of of spontaneous and violent demonstrations. Rivera and Johnson, both present in the bar, became the first to strike back at the police. Rivera is quoted as saying “I’m not missing a minute of this — it’s the revolution!”

Sylvia Rivera went on to become a founder member of both the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance and, with Marsha Johnson, also formed STAR, Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries. One of the GLF’s first acts was to organize a march in response to Stonewall and to demand an end to the persecution of homosexuals. The GLF had a broad political platform, denouncing racism and declaring support for various Third World struggles and the Black Panther Party. They took an anti-capitalist stance and attacked the nuclear family and traditional gender roles.

A parallel GLF was set up in the UK in 1970 which eventually led to the creation of  the London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard and then to OutRage! and Stonewall.

Sylvia Rivera eventully left the GLF due to a falling out over the marginalisation of trans people by the gay community.This marginalisation was brought to the fore in the 1973 Stonewall Rally when feminist activist Jean O’Leary protested the presence of crossdressers and drag queens, believing they were mocking women. During a speech by O’Leary, in which she claimed that drag queens made fun of women for entertainment value and profit, Sylvia Rivera and Lee Brewster jumped on the stage and shouted “You go to bars because of what drag queens did for you, and these bitches tell us to quit being ourselves!”

This marginalisation continued through the years. Marsha Johnson died in 1992 in mysterious circumstances, her body found floating in the Hudson River. The police ruled it suicide but, with continued pressure from her friends and supporters, eventually reopened the case in 2012. Trans exclusion increased over the years, as attitudes about binary and fluid sexual orientation and gender developed and came increasingly into conflict.

Rivera eventually led a protest march against trans marginalisation in 1994, in response to the exclusion of trans people from the Stonewall 25 march in NYC. Since then, trans exclusion from the LGB community seems to have grown. In the US, the inclusion of transition expenses and surgery costs  was removed from medical insurance cover, in 1980, on the recommendation of the radical feminist Janice Raymond. It also seems that its impossible for US trans people, especially trans women, to perform even the simplest functions, such as using a public toilet, without suffering from some form of harassment. Things in the US, however, are changing slowly. Many states have voted in protections for trans people, equal marriage, and now coverage for transition-related medical expenses (including surgery) from medical insurers.

In the UK, in the last few years, our situation has improved as well. Despite it’s flaws we have the Equalities Act, the introduction of the GRC (Gender Recognition Certificate) giving us the ability to change our birth certificate to reflect the correct gender, and the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act, giving us the legal ability to get married, (the annoyance of the spousal veto notwithstanding).  Our ongoing, (and sometimes problematical), ability to obtain treatment on the NHS, with ongoing support, is something none of us take for granted.

Unfortuantely, some of what benefits us as trans people has been gained as a by-product of changes put in place to benefit LGB people, with trans people often left out of the decision-making process. Everything that directly affects us only, as trans people, has been gained as a result of the work and dedication of trans people, by those at the forefront of activism in the UK. People such as Sarah Brown, Roz Kaveney, Natacha Kennedy, Sarah Savage, C. N. Lester, Fox Fisher and many others.  Every inch of legal protection, every scrap of equality, every ounce of recognition has been gained by trans women and trans men.

Yet, we have been treated, as a whole, like the little sister sitting in the corner that no one has time for, marginalised and left to fend for ourselves by the gay rights movement that trans women helped to start, and the organisation that carries its name.

We need to talk. Things need to change.

I think it’s time we reclaimed Stonewall, don’t you?

Gizza Job, I Can Do That….

It seems that job-hunting has taken a step closer to being a full time job in itself, albeit a very badly paid one. The wisdom of Ian Duncan Smith seems to know no bounds, in fact it seems to know nothing at all. First of all there was the Work Programme. A back-to-work programme outsourced to private companies on a payment-by-results basis which was a massive failure. According to the Public Accounts Committee only 3.6% of claimants on the programme were helped back into work between June ’11 and July ’12, despite a target of 11.9%. Coupled with this was the politically explosive “Workfare” programme, which ended up being branded “slavery” and “indentured servitude” and was challenged in the High Courts.

His latest wheeze seems to be another thinly disguised attempt to grab more votage from the working population, and put many of those unfortunate enough to be unemployed on the back foot. This is the announcement of supervised jobsearch, (starting in 2014), which means that anyone who has come off the Work Programme without finding a job, (which seems to be about 95% of us), have to attend a supervised jobsearch programme at a designated centre for 35 hours a week in order to obtain benefits. Yes, 35 hours a week looking for a job. The idea being to get people used to the 9-5 working day, and looking for a job at the same time.

So, how will this work? I have no idea. Will this work? Going on past performance, probably not. I can’t honestly see how sitting in a job centre, with however many other people all trying to look for a job, is going to work. Resources are limited. Space is limited. Patience is limited. Are they going to place all of us in a single room, sharing a number of computers and one person supervising or will there be multiple rooms and multiple staff? Either way, I suspect it will be like herding cats.

A better option would be to ask each claimant to prove that they are looking for work. This could be by means of email application replies, letters from companies, filling in application forms which are then presented to the job centre for confirmation and despatch. Also, responses from potential employers confirming attendance at interview, or application. Maybe place those who seem to have no interest in finding a job under supervision but some of us actually do want to work and are looking for work.

Being a bit of a nerdy girl and really wanting to work, I spend about half my day and much of my evening looking for and applying for jobs. I am a member of upwards of 30 job search sites, I have a constant email feed, throughout the day and night, of new job lists. I can prove every single job application and interview both verbally (from employers) and on paper, but I still do not have a job. I am one of the 96.1% who has left the work programme without one, but why, with everything I do, would I want to sit in a room for 7-8 hours a day, five days a week, looking for a job? I suspect that there are many out there like myself who can search more efficiently on their own than under the supervision of someone who has, quite probably, no incentive to help anyone find a job other than their wages.

Apocrypha and Apocalypse

I took a walk out yesterday and, despite the high temperature and humidity, (having worked in hotter countries, the humidity in the UK still gets to me), it was a lovely day. The sky was pale blue with not a cloud in sight, birds sang, people gathered in the parks to enjoy the sun, children played, the traffic flowed and all seemed well in the world. This troubled me. How come married couples were walking hand-in-hand in the parks and streets, and children playing happily, (well, most of them anyway)? Where were the plagues of rats and mice? Where were the floods, destroying the towns and cities and the terrible diseases to accompany them? Why weren’t husbands and wives murdering each other in the streets, while the children ran rampant and feral, attacking all and sundry. Why wasn’t society destroying itself in an orgy of insane violence?

After all, Same-Sex Marriage was signed into law last week.

Following many of the articles in the online press and reading many of the comments, from the members of the religious communities and the far right, regarding SSM, has been a constant source of both amusement and amazement, frequently at the same time. Many of the early comments focussed on the “Why change marriage when there are Civil Partnerships” argument here in the UK. Others focussed on the ‘death of society as we know it‘ and some just became abusive. Around the world the harbingers of doom came out of the woodwork, (closet-shaped, of course), to proclaim everything from plagues of rats and mice caused by gay people and gay marriage to full on end-of-the-world-in-six-months caused by the defeat of DOMA and Prop 8 in the US. And then there’s the Westboro Baptist Church, but the less said about that lot, the better.

But once again, the predicted doom has not come about. Oceans are not rising up, rats and mice are not flooding into cities and eating the citizenry, there isn’t a sudden rush on storms and tornado’s to destroy gay-friendly towns. There have been two earthquakes this week in China but, since China has no plans on introducing same-sex marriage, I doubt even the WBC could ascribe these to anything other than stress-relief in the Earth’s crust (although they’d probably give it a go).

Nope. All we have is 18 countries where same sex marriage has been legalised (I’ve included the US even though its not nationwide yet). 18 countries where society still flourishes and grows, changes, updates, moves on. This gives me hope that, despite the recent law changes in Russia and despite the problems suffered by gay and transgendered people in Greece and other countries, the human race is moving, albeit very slowly, in the right direction.

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Addendum

I’d started this entry with a whole host of quotes from various different people on the subject of Same Sex Marriage, and my replies, but it sort of changed as I went along, (which probably explains the stilted writing style). I have kept a couple below, along with links to their sources and other information:

One notable comment came from Dr John Semantu, the Archbishop of York regarding SSM and civil partnerships (BBC News 11th March 2012):

“There’s a difference – and people don’t these days want to talk about difference – there’s a difference between a civil partnership and marriage, and that difference doesn’t mean one is better than another, but they’re different.”

I wondered if he realised what the SSM bill was all about. CP’s are different from marriage. That’s the problem. They’re supposed to be equal but one is more equal than the other. (See The Lords of Orwellian Change). That’s the whole point of the government introducing the SSM bill, to make things equal.

Gerald Howarth, MP for Aldershot (my home) was even more off the wall and, seemingly, target as well (Aldershot News 8th Feb 2013):

“Civil partnerships offer virtually all the benefits available to married people. The vote last night will not secure equal marriage as the government suggests; it will create two forms of marriage.”

Um, two forms of marriage? Marriage and, er, marriage? The two forms will be straight marriage and gay marriage which, eventually through the natural evolution of language, will become ‘marriage’. CP’s offer “virtually all the benefits”? From that we can infer that they don’t actually offer all the benefits then.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, however, went down the ‘death of society’ route (BBC News, 4th June 2013):

The traditional concept of marriage will be “abolished” under plans to allow same-sex couples to marry in England and Wales, the Archbishop of Canterbury has warned, ahead of a crunch vote on the issue.Speaking in a debate in the House of Lords on Monday, the Most Rev Justin Welby said that marriage was the “cornerstone of society” and that what was being proposed was “neither equal nor effective”.

The Archbishop denied that his opposition to the bill was a faith issue, insisting it was “about the general social good”.

Hmm, “cornerstone of society”, “the general social good”. It makes me so annoyed that my teeth itch. It’s simple arrogance, coming from the leader of a church that came into existence by an Act of Parliament because a monarch wanted to get a divorce. If marriage is the “cornerstone of society” then society, as a whole, is doomed. The divorce rate was 42% in 2011 and there were approximately 2 million victims of domestic violence according to the ONS, so Justin Welby’s ‘cornerstone’ is crumbling quite badly. Maybe it can be shored up with the addition of Same-Sex Marriage.

In Russia, the leader of the Orthodox Church is claiming that same-sex marriage, having been legalised in so many countries, is the harbinger of the apocalypse:

“This is a very dangerous and apocalyptic symptom… It means that people are on the path of self-destruction.”  

Not really sure where to go with this one. Russia has been recently criticized for its introduction of anti-gay laws and the recent imprisonment of four Dutch tourists for “spreading gay propaganda to children”.

Unleashed, but Barely Alive and Breathing

There’s an old saying in the tech world: “To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer“. Having spent some time reading various articles on the DWP’s Universal Credit system, and having been one of the techies waiting to start work on it, (now not working on it at all due to changes made by the DWP), I sincerely believe that the saying should be modified to read: “To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a government“.

The whole idea of Universal Credit was an admirable one. Collating and simplifying payments to benefit claimants into one monthly payment, linking it into the HMRC system so that there was no need to sign on or sign off when leaving or starting a job, levels of benefit changing depending on the salary received, reducing fraud, all wonderful things promised by a sparkling new system to be in place by October 2013, shiny, new and tested and working.

This isn’t going to happen.

Instead we are given a multi-tentacled, money-sucking monster that, barely alive and breathing, threatens to destroy every benefit claimant that is caught in its foetid maw, and one which will not now be fully unleashed until 2017. Part of the problem has been the ruckus occurring at top management level, with two stepping down and moving on and one sadly passing away.

The rest of the problem lies with the system itself. It appears that there is actually only one job centre testing the system, (“Pathfinder”), in Ashton-Under-Lyme, while the two others, (Oldham and Warrington), are not due to start testing now until the end of August. Apparently they are only using single people, newly unemployed, to test the system, which is a bit like testing a car by driving it around a smooth track at five miles per hour and declaring it safe. What’s worse is that the HMRC real-time information (RTI), system which is supposed to supply the claimant data is still being developed so the Pathfinder rollout has had to be halted while the data is entered manually. According to an article in The Register:

“civil servants have had to do the sort of basic tasks that were originally intended to be done automatically, like data entry and the verification of basic information about a client such as date of birth, address or right to claim the dole – even though a small number of clients with relatively simple personal situations have been chosen to take part.”

Under no circumstances should this software have been allowed out into the real world in this condition. Entering data by hand on a live system, data that, if entered wrongly, could threaten people’s already precarious financial stability, is ridiculous. If the HMRC RTI system isn’t ready then don’t roll out UC until it is. Using such a simplistic approach and such basic data, probably in the hope that all would work well and the politicians could hold it up as a shining example of government IT, is idiotic in the extreme. I could understand if this approach was for comparison purposes, ensuring the data from the HRMC matched the claimant, but it isn’t.

You rarely see this level of idiocy in a business setting.  It’s yet another case of government touting something wonderful without knowing whether is can actually be delivered on time and within budget. Universal Credit will now be added to the ever-growing list of  huge government IT projects that have, along with the NHS & Child Support, ended up as bloated, over-budget embarrassments which could have been delivered properly had the government listened to the right people.

Sorry, rant over.

Human Rights? Yes, But Who’s?

The death of Margaret Thatcher has, of course, dominated the news. This has pushed many news stories into the background over the last two days. I was thinking of writing about her and her policies but a little nugget of news caught my eye while I was digging through the papers (online of course), being the news junkie that I am. It concerns an issue of human rights abuse, perpetrated by Her Majesty’s Government, against a certain Mustafa Abdi, formally of Somalia.

Mr Abdi arrived in the UK from Somalia on the 7th May 1995, and immediately claimed asylum. His claim was rejected but, being the kind souls the government are, he was granted exceptional leave to stay until February 2000. Mr Abdi repaid this kindness by committing the most heinous criminal acts, namely rape and indecency with a child, for which he was convicted on 23rd May 1998, and sentenced to eight years in prison.

On the 22nd May 2002 the Home Secretary authorised Mr Abdi’s detention until a deportation order could be issued. 2nd July 2002 saw Mr Abdi appeal against the deportation order and make a fresh claim for asylum. These were denied and his appeal right exhausted on 4th December 2003. Earlier in 2003 a probation panel interviewed him and found that he was unsuitable for parole on the grounds that during his time in prison he had received fourteen charges relating to offences against prison discipline. Six of these offences involved fighting. Moreover, he was assessed as presenting a high risk of sexual offending and a medium risk of general offending on release.

In September 2003 Mr Abdi’s release became automatic but, because of the Home Secretary’s authorisation issued in 2002, his detention continued until a deportation order could be issued. This was issued on 5th April 2004 and also contained a paragraph authorising the continued detention of Mr Abdi until his deportation.

Unfortunately, in August 2004, the last carrier willing to take “enforced returns” withdrew, meaning the government could not deport anyone without their permission. Carriers were willing, however, to take anyone provided they went voluntarily. Something that Mustafa Abdi was not willing to do. In 2005 he made another application for asylum which was refused. Bail was also refused by the Chief Immigration Officer.

In 2006 the government reached an agreement with African Express Airlines making enforced removals to Somalia possible. By this time, Mr Abdi was given leave to apply for a judicial review of his case. In 2007 his case went before the Court of Appeal who ruled that his detention had been lawful because he could have returned to Somalia voluntarily. He was release on bail in 2007 but was returned to prison in April 2008 due to breaking his bail conditions. He has now taken his case to the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that his detention until 2007 violated his Article 5 rights:

“1. Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law: … … …

(f) the lawful arrest or detention of a person to prevent his effecting an unauthorised entry into the country or of a person against whom action is being taken with a view to deportation or extradition.”

His attempts to include Article 3 were dismissed. However, the ECHR have upheld his appeal on the basis that monthly review by the government, during his incarceration, were not carried out.

I know this has taken a long time to explain but it seems that it was needed. This is a simplified version. The full case can be accessed here.

This, then raises the question:

Why is it allowed that a criminal, convicted of a crime so serious it is just short of murder, committed against an under-age citizen of  a country he himself is not a citizen of, can raise a legal challenge against the government of that country over his lawful detention?

It appears that this case solved no useful purpose other than to gain this man approximately £7,000, and possibly set a dangerous precedent, opening doors up for similar cases. This man is still in jail awaiting deportation, therefore I very much doubt that he did this as a crusader for his fellow illegal immigrants. No, the government and the courts, in allowing this spurious case to go ahead, have possibly allowed a crack to appear in its ability to detain illegal immigrants, into which a good lawyer can put his legal jemmy and prise open. I may be completely wrong about this and, if I am, then I apologise but, it does seem to me, that this case is one that should never have been allowed to be put to the test. I can see others now looking at their detention and whether their monthly reviews have been carried out to the letter. Its not a case of whether illegal immigrants who commit atrocious crimes should be protected by the Human Rights Convention or not, but whether those rights should be placed over those of of their victims.