What I said at the Lib Dem Autumn Conference 2015: On Trans Health

The second of four times I spoke at Lib Dem Conference last September was on the issue of the transgender and intersex health charter. As this motion debate happened the morning after news of the Prime Minister’s schoolboy antics regarding porcine necrophilia was broken, everyone in the Conference was dying to make jokes about it. Thankfully, this was the first motion of the day, so I was able to speak first on an uncontentious debate.

“The Government seek to safeguard the nature of marriage as an institution for opposite-sex couples. We do not believe that it is acceptable to create even a small category of same-sex marriages.”

That was David Lammy, the Minister for Constitutional Reform, speaking to the House of Commons on 25 May 2004, over the issue of allowing trans people in marriages to stay married. Our own Richard Younger-Ross called Labour’s policy “cruel and un-Christian”. The good doctor Evan Harris took it to a division and Labour imposed a three-line whip on the issue. The amendment fell 94–303. As a result, two hundred loving couples were forced to divorce so that they could access a right that the European Court of Human Rights forced Labour to provide, so that Labour could segregate gay people from history’s oldest and greatest social institution.

It’s easy to change your name. You can wake up one morning and decide to be called Daenerys Targaryen, and get that on your passport in a matter of days. But to change your gender? First you need to have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria – so if you’ve got some intersex condition, you’re out of luck. Then you need to be “living as your new gender” for two years. If you’ve had kids? You’re out of luck. Then you need to get permission from your spouse, if you have one. If you’re estranged, then you’re also out of luck. Then you pay £140 to beg a panel – which doesn’t need to have people qualified in trans issues sitting on it – to accept your application to change one letter on your documents.

This, we’re told, is normal. And even then, we’re not afforded the full rights that a cisgender person would be allowed. In equality law, it is explicitly legal to sack a trans person or refuse them access to single-sex services or sheltered accommodation. Corbyn’s Carriages, however well-intentioned they may be, might end up being a recipe for transphobic crime, especially if certain train-owning SNP donors who supported Section 28 have their way.

Sadly, this is not new when we’re talking about gender transition. The waiting, the costs, the jumping through hoops – we have to deal with that every time we go to the doctor. This is despite the NHS’s own guidelines saying that gender healthcare is subject to waiting time standards. In Newcastle, a patient being referred in 18 months time will need to wait 12 years for their first appointment. Not weeks. Not months. Years. As far as we know, that’s the longest NHS waiting list in the country.
This is not the fault of the clinics themselves; they literally don’t have the money. When PCT budgets were under threat, mental health, and with it gender healthcare, faced the cut first. Thank God we have Norman Lamb to push for parity of esteem.

For some people, though, it’s too late. On July 26th, Synestra de Courcy died just days before receiving a referral letter for NHS transition case. Faced with GPs obstructing her, she turned to sex work to afford her hormone replacement therapy. She was raped, robbed, and she turned to drug use to find solace, which ended up killing her. She was 23.

We just want the rights of everyone else. We want quick access to world-class health care, free at the point of service. We want to be free from discrimination. We want to be able to change our names and our genders without unnecessary bureaucracy. We want our friends who don’t identify completely as either male or female to be recognised. And we want our doctors to stop mutilating children just because their bodies look strange.

Lines 67, 68, and 108–111 talk about the unethical and unnecessary medical treatments performed by doctors and surgeons upon intersex children. Lines 75–83 talk about the right of non-binary and intersex people to access healthcare. As important as the whole motion is, these are incredibly important. Very few people in politics stand up for either community. The government even think that non-binary people don’t suffer any detriment despite not being covered by the Equality Act. I want to change that. I want us to be reactive to LGBTI+ equality. I want us to be a safe place for trans and intersex people to lobby for their rights. I want us to be the party of equality, now and forevermore.

We can’t rely on the other parties. Look at Labour, saying that only they can deliver equality, when their student wing actively tries to block representation so they can have Pizza Express. The Tories, with their ham-fisted attempts to claim credit for Lynne’s same-sex marriage bill while defending the spousal veto to the hilt. UKIP, the only employer to sack people for their beliefs on same-sex marriage. Or even the Greens, who will stand posh bigots target seats as long as they give the party a few thousand.

We are proud of being the only major party that fully supports human rights. This party has people in every part of this country willing to stand up for the most deprived people in society. Let us go forward, together, with a strong and concise message. Vote for this motion, so, as every membership card says, no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance, or conformity.
Thank you.

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