Sunday, 24 February 2013

"Saint" Vince Cable, loses his halo.

Vince's treatment of the poor, students, the disabled, crime
victims, the elderly deserves better than this.
Today Vince Cable, now a potential Lib Dem leadership contender, especially now that Chris Huhne is on his way to jail, has, rather than distance himself from George Osborne's failure to retain Britain's AAA credit rating, covered himself with the same dirt, in an interview with the BBC.

In an interview that was little more than a rather unprofessional attempt to brush it all under the carpet, Cable argued that losing the triple-A rating was not so important. Suggesting that it was merely "symbolic" he described it as "background noise."

Interesting then that he has been part of a government that has justified extremely severe cuts in public services, including the massive hike in fees for university students that he promised he would never vote for, in order to save the AAA rating. Perhaps Cable could tell everyone when the retention of the rating changed from being "vital" and used as the justification for huge waves of cuts, to being "symbolic" and "background noise."

Will he now campaign to pay back those students who have taken on huge loans, will he now campaign to pay back those disabled people who have had their benefits removed, plunging them into poverty, further illness and in some cases death? Will he campaign to get EMA restored so that those young people languishing without either jobs, education or training can have their futures back?

Justifying cuts on the basis of retaining the AAA-rating was part of his government's excuse for;

  • slashing social services, 
  • lengthening NHS waiting lists, 
  • privatising hospitals, 
  • removing EMAs from the poorest students, 
  • closing Sure Start centres. 
  • making tens of thousands of people homeless by cutting housing benefit
  • cutting police numbers
  • cutting the pay of millions of public sector workers
  • forcing millions into dead-end jobs on poverty wages
  • forcing the unemployed into 'workfare' slavery schemes, which actually cost jobs
  • imposing a 'granny tax'
  • flatlining the economy and driving down productivity
  • plunging hundered of thousands of more children into poverty
...and plenty more besides. You have now heard it from the horse's mouth. According to Vince, much of this was unneccessary. If the downgrade was merely symbolic background noise then many of these cuts were not needed. 

Cable cannot have it both ways. Either the downgrade from AAA was a serious blow or it wasn't. Or to put it another way; either Cable was lying two years ago, or he is lying today. 

Which is it Vince?

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

TERF13: At worst a distraction...

OK so TERF13 has now been announced and TERFs everywhere are preparing for their usual, and highly predictable so-called "Radfem 2013" conference in the backstreet, somewhat hidden-away venue of the London Irish Centre.  A far cry from the gothic, marbled splendor of Conway Hall the conference will feature the usual suspects spouting their usual transphobic diatribes. You have heard them all before they don’t need repeating, we are all to be made a "human rights violation" (Jeffries) and "mandated out of existence" (Raymond), etc. Yes you've heard it many times before like a broken record. The worst and most hate-mongering offenders; Jeffries and Brennan on the same platform... yawn. How the former got to be an academic I don’t know, how the latter got to be a lawyer, I can’t imagine.

But hey-ho, I guess we will never be completely free of ignorant, bigoted people. The best tactic this time however; let them get on with it. Let the world see what they stand for, let the world see their hatred and their bigotry. The rest of the world caught a glimpse of this with Julie Burchill’s infamous transphobic article in the Observer. It is in our interests to allow the likes of Brennan and Jeffries to be heard loudly and clearly by the rest of the world without pandering to their fantasies about a trans cabal. Their hatred, their discrimination, their bigotry cannot be dressed up in any way that can make it seem palatable to everyone else. Their monolithic and ultimately coercive view of gender and indeed the world has probably been responsible for the some of reversals that feminism has suffered in recent years.

An alternative conference, which would be intersectional and feminist, is a good idea and I am glad that some people are actively pursuing this possibility. BTW just in case there are any TERFs reading this; you don’t need an MA in gender studies to understand “intersectionality”, primary school maths, level three, taught to 8-9 year oldswill suffice; Venn diagrams plus a pinch of commonsense/intelligence. OK so I know some of you struggle with both of these but persevere...

So I suggest that trans people get on with much more important stuff; there’s Leveson, there’s equal marriage and there’s #transdocfail and the brave new world of the privatised NHS as well as huge numbers of trans people still being murdered in places like Latin America. There are also young trans people unable to get jobs and being forced into survival sex, young trans people who are homeless, and trans children who are bullied out of school. 

TERF13 is a sideshow.  Until the 8th June it deserves to be ignored. On the 8th of June it deserves the best we can give in terms of an alternative intersectional feminist conference to show them up for what they are and deal with real issues confronting all women everywhere. Even then it still deserves to be given the cold shoulder, concentrate on our issues not theirs, fight on our home territory not theirs, link up with our allies, our supporters and our friends.

Monday, 18 February 2013

St Valentine's Day Misogyny

The 14th of February was a very revealing experience to live through this year, and that was not because of a great night enjoying pink champagne and salmon sashimi with my partner. It was the UK mainstream media that made it significant. 

The attitude of the gutter press when reporting the death of Reeva Steenkamp lifted the lid on an industry still intent on plumbing further depths in spite of the Leveson Inquiry. Led downwards as usual by Rupert Murdoch’s papers’ increasingly desperate attempts to attract readers after a good section of the population has clearly decided never again to by the Sun, the ‘sexy’ images of the murdered woman adorned the front page in place of the usual wankfodder. 

Yet that same mainstream media also failed to report at all on the worldwide demonstrations of women against rape and violence against women which constituted the Billionrise movement. This movement, which had originated largely in the 3rd World from the catalyst of the appalling gang-rape and murder of a young student in Delhi, represented millions of women campaigning against the violence and rape which ruins the lives of a billion women worldwide, including transwomen, young girls, married women, lesbians, rich women and poor women of all races. The fact that a third of the female population of this planet is suffering from male-perpetrated violence is a huge issue. It is an issue that makes the other issues of the day pale into insignificance.

Yet it was ignored by the mainstream media (with the notable exceptions of the Guardian, New Statesman and Independent) In particular the BBC failed to report it, preferring to lead with the report of Reeva Steenkamp’s murder. 

So my question is this: which is worse, the treatment of Reeva by an increasingly pathetic and desperate Rupert Murdoch or the deliberate censorship of this issue by the BBC, an organization which should be more impartial and carry stories which go beyond the cosy rightwing misogynistic media consensus of the Mail and Murdoch?

The Steenkamp murder and the Billon Women Rise media event and non-event illustrates how deeply complicit mainstream media is in the oppression of women. One, high-profile example of male violence against women dominates the headlines on a day when millions of women worldwide were demonstrating against violence against women. Yet the media failed to draw any link whatsoever between the two, indeed it is likely that the latter was deliberately ignored as a matter of policy.

This represents a deliberate erasure of women and women’s issues. When the Murdoch news-for-wankers treatment of Reeva Steenkamp is factored in, the episode reveals a concerted policy of oppression of women; not simply a misogynistic culture within the media, not simply institutionalised misogyny, but a deliberate ideology of oppression. The mainstream, rightwing media is, of course, known as an oppressive machine, which exists to impose rightwing political dogma and suppress anything opposed to that, but the lengths to which they are prepared to go to reinforce women’s suppression is quite breathtaking in this case, and certainly very revealing. 

As a trans woman I am used to experience a media-imposed culture which legitimized hate-crime and delegitimizes my identity, this episode demonstrates the lengths this media machine is prepared to go to oppress all women. This is an area where trans people can have common cause with those women campaigning against media misogyny…

Monday, 4 February 2013

Translation of article about Fernanda Milan in Danish newspaper Politiken


"Transgender human rights activist Fernanda Milán from Guatemala was due to be deported from Denmark after refusal of asylum.

But now Refugee Board has changed his mind. It is the first time a transgender person seeking asylum has obtained protection in this country. Fernanda Milán has even been recognized as 'genuine' refugee under the UN Refugee Convention.

Fundamental importance
The Asylum Counselor in the organization LGBT Denmark (National Association for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people) Søren Laursen is no doubt that the decision is of great fundamental importance.

"Now it has been established that people who are persecuted in their home country because of their sexuality or gender identity, need the same protection as other groups," says Søren Laursen.
Fernanda Milán herself was almost disbelief when she got the message. "Finally justice, I thought."
Since she was little, she felt that her body was wrong, so even at the age of 14 she began taking female hormones. She has experienced persecution and violence in her homeland, where police have threatened her – but also because she went public and openly fought for transgender people's rights.
In Guatemala, trans people have few opportunities but to earn a living out of prostitution. Fernanda left the country and ended up in a brothel in Jutland in 2009, and after a police raid she came in contact with the organization's Nest International – but even in Denmark, life has not been easy.

Fernanda Milán has talked about humiliation and abuse committed by other asylum seekers in asylum center Sandholm.

Rare refugee status
Shortly after the rejection of asylum in September LGBT Denmark wrote to the Refugee Board arguiing that Denmark protects sexual minority asylum-seekers far worse than many other countries.
People who are persecuted in their home country because of their sexuality or gender identity, can have an equal need of protection as other groups

Søren Laursen, Asylum Counselor in the organization LGBT Denmark said "Already in Denmark, in certain cases there have been gay, lesbian and transgender people who called protection. But refugee status under the UN Convention, which gives more rights, had never been granted.

The answer came in a letter, in which the Board found that "LGBT people will in their view be recognized as belonging to a particular social group and thus covered by the Refugee Convention." Since the new message is Fernanda’s refugee status has become a reality.
She has here been strongly supported by grassroots organization T-Refugee, and according to spokesperson Stine Larsen also that transgender future easier could get asylum - because now the Refugee Convention in the back.

The long and torturous case demonstrates in Stine Larsen's view, however, that "it can be completely random who gets asylum '.
"But we are pleased that it pays to fight alongside people like Fernanda. Many strings were pulled, and it is a testament to the fact that Denmark, after all, is a democracy. "

Lawyer Gunnar Homann, who has led the proceedings before the Refugee Board, is in no doubt about the importance of the Decision. "It will probably also lead to homosexuals being able to claim the status of UN refugees," he said.

The decision of Fernanda Milan's case came in November, but the support group has not publicized it until now because Fernanda did not feel well at the time. She tells Politiken that she has been exhausted after all this struggle.
"But now I have to make me a future and find jobs. And I will continue to work for justice for transgender people and others whose human rights are not recognized. ""

Translated from Danish by Natacha Kennedy

Fernanda Milan: Activism Works!

 “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Said Alice Walker, that has always been something activists bear in mind when they work for change.

On the 14th of August last year, a Swedish friend of mine posted a newspaper article about a Guatemalan trans woman who had been through a terrible ordeal trying to seek asylum in Denmark from persecution in her home country.  After I read it, I felt so angry that the Danish Asylum Board had decided to send this woman, Fernanda Milan, back to Guatemala, on the 17th of September, barely 5 weeks later, so I decided to translate the article into English and it was picked up by the LGBT Press around the world, even being retranslated into Spanish.

Various forms of activism both online, offline, through personal contacts using the new technology of social networking, the old technology of email, and positively antediluvian technology of the telephone, took place during that time. There were demonstrations in Copenhagen, in Madrid and here in London. The demonstration we held outside the Danish Embassy in Knightsbridge was effective. Denmark doesn’t get many demonstrations outside its embassies; indeed the last one anyone can remember was Muslims demonstrating against cartoons in a Danish newspaper in 2006. Our demonstration made it into EkstraBladet, the largest circulation tabloid in Denmark.

At the eleventh hour a message was received that the Danish Asylum Review Board had decided to grant Fernanda a stay of execution. Her case was reexamined and new representations were made. Information was collected from studies by the UN, the Organisation of American States and Oasis, the LGBT rights organization for which Fernanda had worked in Guatemala. They all confirmed how trans people in Guatemala are systematically murdered, and that Fernanda herself had had death threats from the police.

A few weeks later the Danish Asylum Board announced that it would now recognise as valid reasons for seeking asylum, persecution on the grounds of gender identity and sexual orientation. A couple of weeks after that on the 27th November, they granted Fernanda Milan permanent leave to remain in Denmark, protected under the UN refugee convention.

The support organization, hastily put together in Denmark, called T-Refugee Project, to support her was, of course very happy with this result but they were still angry. In answer to why they are only announcing her victory today Stine Larsen of the T-Refugee Project said;

"We are very relieved that our struggle, together with Fernanda, ended in her being granted asylum. But it has been a soul-destroying asylum process with an initial refusal which was then reversed just three days before her scheduled deportation on 17 September 2012. Fernanda has needed time and space to recover from this ordeal. That's why we are only publicising the good news now."

Fernanda added; "I am very grateful to all the people who have helped me to fight, because in the end I could not have done it on my own."

Activism works, solidarity works. Trans people are now able to obtain asylum in Denmark, but the story does not end there. The reason Fernanda had problems was that she arrived and claimed asylum in one of the three countries that had opted out of the EU agreement to recognize persecution on the grounds of gender identity as a valid reason to claim asylum.  The two other countries to opt out of this agreement are the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. So far the UK government seems to have made no clear declaration either way on the issue of trans refugees. It is time they clarified their position.

If Fernanda Milan had been deported to Guatemala on the 17th September, it is highly likely she would have been one of the 265 names we read out at the Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony on Nov 20th.  There are no transgender people in Guatemala over the age of 35, they are all murdered by then, either by vigilantes, the police or because, excluded from education or work, they have to resort to sex work, which puts them in vulnerable positions. In the 6 weeks leading up to the 17th September there were four recorded murders of trans people in Guatemala, in a population only around one and a half times the size of London. With the Guatemalan police looking for her, there is little doubt that by now she would have been a charred or dismembered corpse in a remote roadside ditch. Instead she is alive. She is only alive because of activism by trans people and their supporters.

It looks like the activism is not going to end there; the last word on this from Fernanda;

”I have been a transgender person all my life. And I have been fighting against prejudice as long as I remember. I had to flee from Guatemala because I was fighting for human rights. Now I have the chance to live my life as a woman and an activist. Now I want to keep on the fight for a better world, where everybody can be educated, work, create families and live a dignifying life regardless of their gender identity,”

Press Release from T-Refugee Project, Denmark

Press Release by the T-Refugee Project, Copenhagen, Denmark, Embargoed until;

First transgender person granted asylum in Denmark

In the Autumn of last year Transgender woman Fernanda Milán from Guatemala was refused asylum. But after protests from an asylum Initiative; the T-Refugee Project, and a number of individual campaigners, her case was reexamined by the asylum board and she was granted indefinite leave to remain in Denmark as an official refugee on the 26 November 2012, recognised under the UN Refugee Convention.
The T-Refugee Project is delighted that Fernanda Milán has now been granted asylum, but is angry that she was forced to go through lengthy and gruelling proceedings. Fernanda Milán was granted asylum on 26 November 2012, but did not want to publicise the news until now.
Stine Larsen, of the T-Refugee Project says:
"We are very relieved that our struggle, together with Fernanda, ended in her being granted asylum. But it has been a soul-destroying asylum process with an initial refusal which was then reversed just three days before her scheduled deportation on 17 September 2012. Fernanda has needed time and space to recover from this ordeal. That's why we are only publicising the good news now. "
Fernanda Milán added
"I am very grateful to all the people who have helped me to fight, because in the end I could not have done it on my own."
Even before Fernanda was granted asylum, there were signs that the campaign by asylum activists was going to succeed. Following a request from campaigner Søren Laursen the Refugee Board sent a letter stating that the Board will from now on consider persecution on the grounds of gender identity and sexuality relevant factors in any asylum case.

Søren Laursen believes that this case casts doubt on earlier refusals of asylum to trans people:
"Looking at the big picture, I am very pleased that there was so much focus on this case. As transgender asylum seekers are a highly overlooked group. There have only been a few trans cases before the Refugee Board the last twenty years, and they were all rejected. From what we know of them, I think there is reason to question those decisions. It is therefore very satisfying that there is now a case that has received a thorough examination and which has been successful. "

Fernanda at the forefront of the struggle.
With the success of Fernanda's asylum case, it has been determined that new policies in this area can permanently benefit transgender and LGB asylum seekers.
Stine Larsen says:
"Fernanda has been fighting from the front. She has been fighting for her own survival, but she has also fought for transgender asylum seekers who will come after her. We hope Fernanda's case means it will be easier for future transgender asylum seekers. "
"Fernanda was granted asylum according to the UN convention on refugees, because the decision in this case emphasised that she was individually and specifically persecuted on the basis of her gender identity.
"Fernanda Milán's own case afforded us a grim insight into Danish asylum policies. And she knows that asylum seekers can not necessarily count on fair treatment.
"UNHCR Refugee Convention status for other refugees is not necessarily guaranteed in the future, because I have been granted asylum. The Refugee Board's new policy was a step in the right direction, but I think it is important that activists hold them to it in future asylum cases, " says Fernanda Milán.

A victory for Danish activism
As well as being a victory for Fernanda's case and for transgender refugees, the positive outcome is also a victory for activism in Denmark.
Stine Larsen says:
"I do not think the Refugee Board would have granted Fernanda asylum if neither Søren Laursen, eminent researchers and other groups and individuals hadn't argued for asylum for transgender and gay, lesbian and bisexual people who risk persecution in their countries of origin. I think the change in the board's decision in Fernanda's case was due to the hard work of many different activists have put into the campaign for Fernanda. "

An international victory
The Refugee Board's policy change is also a victory for cooperation between activists across national borders. And it is a victory for international human rights bodies and groups like ILGA Europe and the UNHCR.
The T-Refugee Project believes that the other European countries that are lagging behind UN recommendations on asylum for gender and sexual minorities, ie. The UK and Ireland, should follow Denmark and change course, and extend their asylum criteria to include gender identity and sexual orientation.
"Now we hope that the door Fernanda has opened in Denmark will mean that the UK and Ireland also realise that persecution on the grounds of gender identity and sexuality are valid grounds for seeking asylum. We will keep closely watching what happens in the two countries in the future, "said Stine Larsen.
Natacha Kennedy, a campaigner for trans rights in the UK said "Fernanda's case shows clearly that activism works. Trans activists in the UK are particularly pleased with this result. Many trans people and trans allies supported Fernanda with action in the UK. Now the UK government needs to clarify its position on trans refugees."

Fernanda's future
Life is difficult for asylum seekers in Denmark. And transgender asylum seekers are some of the most marginalised. Fernanda once said that encountering Denmark was the worst 'blind date' ever. Now she has been granted asylum and is going to live her life in Denmark.
The T-Refugee Project is a group campaigning for Denmark to comply with Refugee Convention recommendations on gender and sexuality.

FOR more information

T-Refugee Project: t.refugee @ / / trefugee
Facebook: T-Refugee Project / Save Fernanda Milan

The Refugee Board's response to Søren Laursen:

Demonstration in Copenhagen: 'Asylum for Fernanda Milán' manifestation

Demonstration in Madrid:

UNHCR: Refugee protection: A Guide to International Refugee Law p 43

UNHCR: About the concerns of LGBT asylum seekers in the beneficiary states:


The UN Human Rights Committee: About LGBT conditions in countries of origin:

Press photos can be purchased from the T-Refugee Project photographer.

Fernanda Milán fled Guatemala after including being attacked and threatened by the police. She has for many years lived as a transgender person and worked for transgender rights in Guatemala.
In protest against the initial rejection of Fernanda's asylum application by the Refugee Board, activists formed a support group called the T-Refugee Project. In September Stine Larsen, one of the activists in the T-Refugee Project said that the Fernanda Milan asylum case was full of errors:
"Fernanda Milan's case does not take sufficient account of the fact that her work for transgender rights means that she is in imminent danger of being individually persecuted in Guatemala."
According to information from the T-Refugee Project there have previously been three transgender asylum-seekers in Denmark. They were all  refused asylum, like many homosexuals.

UNHCR (the UN refugee commission) recommends member states, and thus Denmark take into account that gender identity can be a cause of persecution and thus criteria for asylum. Until September 2012, Denmark did not adopt these recommendations but the positive outcome of Fernanda's asylum case demonstrated that gender identity and sexuality can now be recognised as an aspect of the legal acknowledgement of this social group.

Being transgender means to have a gender identity that does not match the body you were born with. For example, Fernanda Milán identifies as a woman, but was born with a male body. Being transgender is not a sexual orientation like hetero- or homosexuality. Transgender people's sexual identity be both eg hetero- or homosexual.