Author Archives: Ian

Another year, another consultation on the GRA asking the same questions

You may recognise some of the text from our response to the Government's consultation back in 2018. If the same questions keep being asked, we'll keep giving the same answers.

Response to the Women and Equalities Committee’s consultation on the Gender Recognition Act

Context:

BiCon is an annual get-together of the members, friends and allies of the UK’s bisexual community.

We believe it is the longest-running annual LGBT event in the UK.

BiCon has a large number of trans and non-binary attenders. From its start in the early 1980s, BiCon’s informal policy has been to recognise people's self-identification of their gender for all purposes including access to single-sex spaces and workshops. This became an official policy in 1992.

In the 28 years since this policy was put in place – and before – we have seen no evidence that anyone is harmed by it.

We recognise the similarities between accusations and implications currently being made about trans people (especially trans women) and their rights and those made in the 1980s and 1990s about lesbian, gay and bisexual people with Section 28 and other discriminatory laws and policies.

The Government’s response to the GRA consultation:

1 Will the Government’s proposed changes meet its aim of making the process “kinder and more straight forward”?

They do very little to do that. Indeed, by backing down from the Government’s original version of what the response to their consultation two years ago would be, they have caused distress to many.

2 Should a fee for obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate be removed or retained? Are there other financial burdens on applicants that could be removed or retained?

Removed entirely.

3 Should the requirement for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria be removed?

Yes.

Requiring a diagnosis of gender dysphoria is a medical not socio-legal issue. Not all trans and non-binary people wish to access medical transition.

There are excessive delays for trans and non-binary people in being able to access gender identity clinic services with waits of over 1-2 years being common for first appointments. Some GPs will not refer people to gender identity clinic services and self-referral is not usually possible. Further appointments and access to medical transition treatment take years because of delays between appointments and waiting lists.

BiCon Continuity supports a simple process of self-identification of gender identity (including non-binary gender options) via statutory declaration.

4 Should there be changes to the requirement for individuals to have lived in their acquired gender for at least two years?

Yes.

People's lived experiences are not accurately reflected by paperwork. Ability to obtain, retain and manage paperwork needed for a GRC application is linked with other privileges like education, social class, stability of employment, stability of finances, stability of housing, age and disability. Many trans and non-binary people have additional protected and non-protected characteristics which make dealing with evidence, bureaucracy and health services difficult or impossible.

BiCon Continuity Ltd support a simple process of self-identification of gender identity (including non-binary options) via statutory declaration.

5 What is your view of the statutory declaration and should any changes have been made to it?

Statutory declaration is an existing well recognised legal process which is very low cost and accessible to most people. It has existing and well understood safeguards for fraud and misuse.

6 Does the spousal consent provision in the Act need reforming? If so, how? If it needs reforming or removal, is anything else needed to protect any rights of the spouse or civil partner?

It needs removing, as in Scotland.

No other life or health process (including tattoos, plastic surgery, spending large amounts of money, changing housing or employment) has a system where a person's spouse has to give written consent for that person to proceed with the activity. This provision is cruel to trans and non-binary people and singles them out as people that others need protection from which is not supported by any evidence. Trans and non-binary people are much more likely to be the victims of abuse than the perpetrators.
BiCon Continuity recommend that there is a system in place that allows the trans person to obtain a GRC and if their spouse objects they can file for rapid no-fault legal separation/divorce with appropriate systems for minimising adversarial aspects of this process and protecting any dependants appropriately.

7 Should the age limit at which people can apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) be lowered?

We would not support any arbitrary age limit but, if necessary, look at the individual’s competence to make such a decision.

8 What impact will these proposed changes have on those people applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate, and on trans people more generally?

They are, apparently deliberately, inconsequential.

Some anonymous ministerial briefing was done before they were announced, making it sound like they could have been worse and this had a negative impact on trans people’s mental health.

The actual announcement did not make up for this, and it is particularly insulting that the majority of respondents to the Government’s consultation were dismissed because their views did not fit those of the ministerial team then in place.

What is the point of having a consultation if that is going to happen? What is the impact to trans people’s mental health on having to answer the same questions on the same issues again, as here?

9 What else should the Government have included in its proposals, if anything?

What the majority of respondents wanted, and what we have set out then and now.

10 Does the Scottish Government’s proposed Bill offer a more suitable alternative to reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004?

Should it be enacted, it probably would be. It still has an unnecessary and problematic “living in role” provision, but it is considerably shorter.

Wider issues concerning transgender equality and current legislation:

11 Why is the number of people applying for GRCs so low compared to the number of people identifying as transgender?

For one thing, plenty of trans people do not identify as either ‘male’ or ‘female’. The Government’s National LGBT Survey was flawed – by only being interested in the identity aspect of sexual orientation, it underestimated the number of bi+ people – but it clearly confirmed that.

Given the transphobia driven by the prejudices of a few, there is also a completely understandable reluctance by many to be on a government list of trans people. Unless you need one for a specific purpose – and they’re unnecessary for having a passport or driving licence in the correct gender – what is the benefit of paying so much and jumping through the assorted hurdles to get one?

12 Are there challenges in the way the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010 interact? For example, in terms of the different language and terminology used across both pieces of legislation.

What challenges there are minimal compared to the problems in trying to amend the Equality Act 2010: yet more “debate” calling into question the validity of trans people.

13 Are the provisions in the Equality Act for the provision of single-sex and separate-sex spaces and facilities in some circumstances clear and useable for service providers and service users? If not, is reform or further guidance needed?

What challenges there are minimal compared to the problems in trying to amend the Equality Act 2010: yet more “debate” calling into question the validity of trans people.

14 Does the Equality Act adequately protect trans people? If not, what reforms, if any, are needed?

As many disabled people, for example, know it is (deliberately?) not easy to get action under the Equality Act. It takes months of trying for a remedy before court action, and then such action is neither cheap or without risk.

If the Equality Act is to mean something, it needs to be usable by those disadvantaged groups it says it wants to protect.

15 What issues do trans people have in accessing support services, including health and social care services, domestic violence and sexual violence services?

One issue is that a few bigots have been allowed to pretend that such services have, overall, problems with being trans-inclusive. The vast majority do not, but this campaigning puts off trans people from using them and normalises transphobia.

16 Are legal reforms needed to better support the rights of gender-fluid and non-binary people? If so, how?

Obviously, yes.

Simple legal recognition would be a start.

Virtual BiCon 2020 update

From Rowan:

"Having seen some of the reactions to the announcement on the 26th I've decided I cannot take on running Virtual BiCon 2020 and I therefore resign. I also want to say that I'm not turning my back on the BiCon community, and will continue to engage with the anti-racism work we've started to do within BiCon and elsewhere."

BiCon – our BiCon – is now a registered trade mark

The idea of having a trade mark for BiCon has been around for almost as long as the idea of having a company to protect the community's money.

Why?

The name is valuable: people pay in advance to attend just on the basis that it's a 'BiCon'. But although it hasn't happened very often, there have been several attempts from outside the community to call something a 'BiCon' when we wouldn't recognise it as such. That would damage our reputation, built up since 1984.

One such – I think it was going to be run by a sexual health organisation in Yorkshire – was intending to limit attendance to people who defined themselves as bisexual, for example. If you want to run your event like that, you can… but it's not a BiCon. (See #2 of the BiCon guidelines for a start.)

However stopping them calling it one would have been difficult: we'd have to bring an action for "passing off" which would involve proving that we had rights in the name, a reputation for it, there was a risk of confusion amongst potential attendees, and that we'd suffer actual harm etc.

Now, it'd be much simpler: it can be a criminal offence to misuse a registered trade mark in this way, and we'd just point to it and say 'no'.

Why's it taken so long?

For one thing, it needs a continuing organisation as the owner. There'd be little point in any one year's team registering it, for example. Then there's been the need to get agreement to pay the money: £200 for ten years, reduced to £170 by taking a deep breath and skipping an initial phase which would have saved money if the registration had been rejected. That was made possible by spending quite a bit of time learning about the Intellectual Property Office's rules to be sure enough that it wouldn't be.

Oh, and dentures.

Dentures?!?

There's a company called Bicon Dental Implants who applied for a European registered trade mark for the word back in 1998, getting it in 2000.

When you register a trade mark, you have to say what it will be used for, including which of the forty five different categories of goods and services it covers. This means it's possible for two different entities to have the same trade mark in different fields.* However as well as having it in Class 7 ('motors (not for land vehicles)') and Class 10 ('.. dental implants ..' etc), it also covered Class 41 which includes conferences and education – the class we want.

Fortunately, you also have to say exactly what in the class you're going to use it on, and their trade mark is limited to "Education and training in the use of dental implants and related goods; provision of information relating to dental implants and related goods; arranging and conducting of seminars in the use of dental implants and related goods".

So it's been possible to get another trade mark for the same word in the same class, by – amongst other things – saying that none of what we do is in relation to dental implants or related goods.**

What's our trade mark cover?

° Education and training relating to sex and sexual health;

BiCon is 'education' as far as UK VAT rules go…

° Provision of information relating to sex and sexual health;

… and it provides information around sex and sexual health.

° Arranging and conducting of events concerning sex, sexual health, and related topics;

This is what each year's team does.

° Information, advisory and consultancy services relating to all the aforegoing;

See the 'for organisers' pages on bicon.org.uk, for example. Our knowledge and skills are valuable – in future, we could offer them for hire…

° Arrangement of conferences for educational purposes; Arrangement of conferences for recreational purposes;
° Arrangement of conventions for educational purposes; Arrangement of conventions for recreational purposes;

… whether BiCon is a conference or a convention 🙂

° Arranging and conducting of games; Arranging of quizzes; Arranging of visual and musical entertainment; Party planning;

Finally, we have a reputation for throwing good parties!

Why 'sex' rather than 'bisexuality'?

The BiCon Guidelines need to say what it is; the trade mark needs to be capable of including what it isn't, and the latter is far more specific than we need to be.

There's a joke which says that, as far as people writing applications for trade marks and patents are concerned, a cat isn't a 'cat' but 'any kind of furry animal'. I'm not claiming it's particularly funny, but the point is that if you have a patent / trade mark relating to 'cats', that's all it covers. If someone does the same thing except with dogs, it is a lot harder to challenge them.

(One real life example is smart cards – one of the people with a basic patent was just thinking about embedding microcomputers in watches, but the patent was written widely enough to cover what turned out to be their real uses. If they'd just talked about watches, they'd be a lot poorer.)

So yes, the aspect of sex that BiCon is primarily concerned with is bisexuality and it's currently primarily a real-life get-together over a long weekend, but the protection should not be restricted to that or tied to that format.

If it was and someone wrote a book which claimed that bisexuality is a con and doesn't exist… and called it 'BiCon', we would still be able to have an action against them for 'passing off', but it'd be a lot harder, less certain of success, and vastly more expensive. Now we could just have it pulped and they'd have to choose a new name.

On the other hand, the scope cannot be too wide. If it's not something that is recognisably what happens now or over the next five years, we risk losing those bits for lack of use.

What about the logo?

If BiCon had a consistent logo, we would have considered having a registered trade mark for that too. But as every single year has come up with a new one, there's no point.

What will change?

You will see a few ® symbols on BiCon websites 🙂 Once you have a registered trade mark, you have to make it clear that it is one rather than a generic term.

Apart from that, not much. Unless and until the community decides to licence the word so that someone can use our reputation for their event or publication or service, it's effectively an insurance policy.

* So until Apple Inc won a court case, The Beatles' Apple Corps company had the rights to 'Apple' in relation to music and Apple Inc had them in relation to computing. Someone else has them in relation to windows, furniture and conservatories etc, and because of restrictions on what your trade mark can be, no-one has them in relation to fruit!

** There's also a UK company that has had BICON as a registered trade mark in four classes related to cables since 2001. But as it doesn't have any in Class 41, we don't need to exclude cable-related conferences.

BiCon Continuity approves Rowan to run BiCon 2015

Most years, it is the Decision Making Plenary (DMP) at a BiCon that approves bids to run future events.

As there had been no volunteers to run BiCon 2015 by the end of BiCon 2014's DMP, the responsibility fell to us to approve any bids.

We are delighted to announce that we have approved the bid of Rowan to run BiCon 2015. This will be Rowan's 25th UK BiCon, and she has been in charge of more of them than anyone else. We have every confidence that it will be at least as good as the other ones she has run.

You can find out more about BiCon 2015 at its website, 2015.bicon.org.uk – we hope to see you there.

BiCon Continuity Ltd becomes a charity!

An email arrives from the Charity Commission, the government department that is the regulator of charities in England and Wales:

We are pleased to tell you that BICON CONTINUITY LIMITED has achieved charitable status and has been entered onto the Register of Charities with the Registered Charity Number 1156331. .. We are satisfied that BICON CONTINUITY LIMITED is established for charitable purposes only for the public benefit.

We're now a company!

BiCon Continuity Ltd is now on the register of companies for England and Wales, registration number 07832986.

Next, the process of becoming a charity…