Archive for category LGBT rights

My hovercraft is full of “PC gone mad” scares

Sunday has always been a slow day for newspapers, hence the venerable old tradition of the Sunday document leak. The newspapers find a few fairly uninteresting reports, blow them out of all proportion, and voilà! Instant front page (picture via @JonathanHaynes).

Today’s Mail on Sunday exclusive, which took the joint efforts of both Jonathan Petre and Chris Hastings to write, can be summed up by its over-long headline:

EQUALITY MADNESS: Government spends £30m to discover whether preserving fish stocks harms ethnic Chinese, or hovercraft discriminate against gays

Gays on hovercraft? Chinese fishermen? How mad!

The gist of the article is simple enough: the Mail claims that because of the Equality Act 2010, the government has wasted taxpayers money on “bizarre reports” – supposedly to the tune of £30 million. But how “mad” are these reports, anyway? Let’s go through each of the documents the Mail calls “bizarre” and see.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) paid £100,000 to consultants who produced a report investigating how efforts to boost Britain’s coastal fish stocks would affect minority communities including the Chinese, homosexuals and Welsh speakers.

That refers to this document: Draft UK Marine Policy Statement: Equalities Impact Assessment Screening report. The only time Chinese people, gay people and Welsh speakers are mentioned is once in a piece of boilerplate listing various groups that live in Britain (and yes, that includes white people and men) and asking whether any of them might be affected, with the answer of course being “No”. According to the Mail, “the assessment was a ‘small part’ of the total work by Hyder Consulting, for which it was paid £111,477,” though that doesn’t stop them insinuating that every single penny of that hundred grand was spend ticking one checklist.

Next.

The Department for Transport issued a study this month looking at harassment and discrimination on ships and hovercraft. The report covered a range of groups, including transsexuals.

So it’s ships and hovercraft? Why are you just focusing on hovercraft then, Mail on Sunday? Oh wait, it’s because hovercraft are inherently silly, which means homophobic or transphobic abuse on board them is also silly!

The study itself mostly seems to be dealing with clarifying whether the Equality Act should apply to all British flagged vessels, whether it should apply to all vessels in British waters, that sort of thing. A bit of space is also dedicated to making sure disabled people have access to ships – as you can imagine, ships are often not very wheelchair friendly. Transgender people are only mentioned once, in some standard boilerplate, which, again, is just saying “We foresee no special problems for transgender people using ships, no further action is necessary.

Officials at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport [carried] out a so-called ‘equality impact assessment’ to ensure minority groups are able to take a full part in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations next summer.

This seems to be based on a piece that the Mail got caught plagiarising from a blog last month (the report itself is not out yet). Not sure why that’s meant to be bizarre. After all, The Mail‘s always going on about how immigrants should integrate with British society more. You’d think they’d love the idea!

Read the rest of this entry »

4 Comments

Not-so-searching journalism

(Hat tip to Press Not Sorry and Trans Media Watch)

Not wanting to be left out by recent events in the papers, The Sun has a leak of its own (and by a leak, I mean a document that’s been freely available online since mid-October): prison search guidelines. The rules cover everything from whether or not to search religious clothing, to the proper use of metal detectors, to when it’s appropriate to search a baby’s nappy; there’re any number of angles The Sun could have taken with its coverage. What does it go for?

STRIP SEARCH AXED FOR SEX SWAP LAGS*

The underlying message of The Sun‘s article (and its hastily churned-out sibling in the Daily Mail) is clear: transgender people are supposedly getting special treatment and smuggling weapons/drugs into prison.

The Sun says:

PRISON bosses have been told not to order intimate strip searches on sex swap lags, it was revealed last night.

The new rule has been drawn up by officials working for Justice Secretary Ken Clarke – who has already been slammed for going soft on sentences.

And the “squat” search ban does not only apply to prisoners who’ve had a sex change. Officials have ruled that gender swappers are now exempt even if they haven’t yet had any surgery. Angry prison officers say the naked searches are the only way jails can detect drugs or weapons that prisoners have hidden inside their bodies.

(The Mail’s article is essentially identical – imagine the above put through a de-slanging translator)

Note that they don’t quote any of these “angry prison officers” and that “intimate strip searches” quickly gets replaced by one specific type of search.

The Sun never actually quotes from the “leaked” document, so you just have to take their word that that’s what the guidelines say. Or you would, if prison search guidelines weren’t already freely available online (.doc). The actual advice they give is a little more prosaic:

Where it is suspected that an item has been hidden in or around the anus, a male prisoner must be asked to bend/squat as part of a full search, to enable the officer to visually examine the area more closely.  Female prisoners must not be asked to squat.  The basic principle here is that anyone who is legally a female (from birth or acquired via a GRC) must not be asked to bend or squat neither should anyone who has a vagina (regardless of legal gender).

In fact, search rules for trans people work more or less exactly the same to how they work for cis people. Admittedly, there is an exception – presumably for medical reasons – of trans men who haven’t had GC surgery, but this is an exception for anyone with a vagina, trans or cis; it would be impossible to abuse this to smuggle anything into a prison.

The other rule that The Sun finds “bizarre”?

Male lags who want a sex change can demand to be given a nude search by a woman – while women awaiting a sex swap can demand a male officer. Governors must draw up a “voluntary contract” with all transsexuals before they can carry out a “rub down” or full body search.

And the rules add: “Procedures must be sensitive both to the needs of prisoners and staff and they must remain lawful in order to avoid potential litigation.”

Searches must be lawful? Outrageous!

Anyway, ignoring The Sun‘s mix-up of male and female here, once again all the guidelines actually do is clarify that someone who is legally a woman should be treated like, well, a woman. Since for reasons that should be reasonably obvious, male officers can’t strip search female prisoners, all women must be searched by female officers. It’s not something they “can demand” but a statutory requirement (which means the guidelines go into detail about what effect gender recognition certificates have).

More importantly though, what the guidelines make clear is that it’s important that the prison guards and the prisoner agree if possible, and that the search is carried out with reasonable sensitivity – exactly the same as how a cisgender prisoner should be treated. In other words, trans prisoners receive (at least in theory) the same treatment as everyone else. The Sun and The Mail apparently have a big problem with this.

* “Sex swap”, incidentally, is one of Trans Media Watch’s inappropriate or offensive words to avoid.

,

3 Comments

Stephen Fry is wrong, sometimes

This is mostly just a a collection of thoughts that were too long for Twitter.

Anyway.

In an interview with Attitude magazine, Stephen Fry claimed that women do not enjoy sex, saying “The only reason women will have sex with [men] is that sex is the price they are willing to pay for a relationship with a man, which is what they want“. The evidence he gave to back up his assertion?

“Of course a lot of women will deny this and say, ‘Oh, no, but I love sex, I love it!’ But do they go around having it the way that gay men do?

“Gay men are the perfect acid test. If they want to get their rocks off, they go into a park where they know they can do it.”

Well, luckily, there’s a nice big data set we can use to test Fry’s claims. Recently, the dating site OKCupid performed a survey of its users to analyse the how the dating habits and sex lives of gay and bisexual users varied from those of straight users. Obviously this will not be a perfectly unbiased survey – people who are members of dating sites are perhaps more likely to be looking for sexual partners than average, for instance. Still, it’s a very big sample – 3.2 million people in fact – and the bias should affect gay people as well as straight people.

If Stephen Fry is right, we should find two things. Firstly, that gay men would have way more sexual partners than straight women (and indeed straight men), and secondly that gay women would essentially be celibate. After all, if women don’t enjoy it, lesbian couples have no reason to have sex.

In fact, here are the results. Gay men have had, on average, 6 partners. Straight men have had, on average, 6 partners. Gay women have had, on average, 6 partners. Straight women have had, on average, 6 partners.

There is no statistically significant difference between the sex lives of men and women, nor between gay people and straight people. Stephen Fry’s comments are simply not backed up by the science.

Edit: Stephen Fry claims to have been misquoted. The journalist who interviewed Fry on the other hand has saidhe delivered [the comment] with certainty and it was clearly something he’d thought about.” It’ll be interesting to see who turns out to be right.

1 Comment

Sex lives of the potato lesbians (and everyone else)

Apologies for the title.

“Nosey council chiefs were accused of losing the plot yesterday after applicants for allotments were quizzed about their sex lives”, says the Express today. “A survey attached to the application form asks would-be gardeners about their race, religion and sexual orientation.” Note to “Daily Express Reporter” – sexual orientation ≠ sex life. Knowing whether someone is gay or bisexual or straight tells you no more about their sex life than whether they’re single or in a relationship. Anyway.

City of Lincoln Council bosses are also keen to know if they think lesbians should be allowed allotments, too.

Really? The council was unsure whether or not lesbians should be allowed allotments? Ok, fair enough, if that was true that might be a legitimately scandalous story, though not for the reasons the Express thinks. Of course, it’s not. As ever, none of this story actually holds up to scrutiny.

Read the rest of this entry »

, ,

2 Comments

Some comments on *that* sexuality survey

Most papers today cover news that the Integrated Household Survey found roughly 1.5% of the UK population self-described as gay or bisexual. There’s a nasty undercurrent to most of the articles, although only the Daily Express makes their point explicitly:

But critics have said it raises questions about the importance placed on homosexuality.

Tory MP Philip Davies said: “An awful lot of focus in diversity issues is given to people’s sexual preference and this difference is not quite as widespread as believed.

“That said, I do not see what relevance it is to anyone else. Someone’s sexual preference is a personal matter and it calls in to question why anyone is bothered at all.”

Yes indeed! If we can just fiddle the statistics to downplay the number of LGBT people, then we can just sweep them under the carpet and stop being bothered with such irrelevant things!

So before I go any further, I’d like to point out that even if this survey is correct, and there are just 700,000 gay people in Britain, not 3.5 million, that wouldn’t mean that gay rights would become less important or relevant, as The Express seems to claim.

Read the rest of this entry »

, , ,

2 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 487 other followers

%d bloggers like this: