Thursday, September 02, 2010

Hollyoaks actress Victoria Atkin to open new GenderShift Centre

Actress Victoria Atkin, who plays Jasmine/Jason Costello a young female to male transsexual character in Hollyoaks, will be in Hull on Sunday 5th September at 2.00pm to open an innovative new support centre for trans and gender variant people. Funded by a £262,000 grant from the Social Investment Business, the GenderShift Centre is the UK’s first single point of access support centre for people facing gender identity and sexual orientation issues.

GenderShift successfully applied to the Social Enterprise Investment Fund in December 2009 and was awarded the money in June this year, beating off competition from thousands of organisations from around the country. "This is an exciting time for us" says Rikki Arundel, founder and director of GenderShift. "Many support services for lesbian, gay and bisexual people focus on sexual health, while support for trans people is often about gender reassignment surgery. We will provide a much broader service."

“We are delighted that Victoria has agreed to open the new centre on Sunday,” says Rikki. “She is playing a very challenging role in Hollyoaks which is bringing much needed public attention to the difficulties faced by people with gender identity issues.” The GenderShift Centre is located at 44 Portland Street in Hull will offer services including in-house counselling, social care, education, befriending, advice, advocacy, sexual health support, volunteering, work placements, social events, movie nights, internet cafe, campaigning, training and meeting space.

The centre will be available to everyone, but especially those needing help and support with gender and sexuality issues, including family, friends, employers and other support agencies. "People will be able to drop in or phone our national help line on 08000 193 195," explains Rikki. "We want to make our facilities as accessible as possible."

The Department of Health who funded the scheme, awarded the grant as part of a £25m budget to fund new and innovative approaches to tackling health issues. They were particularly impressed with the idea of creating a single point of access centre which provides support and advice to anyone dealing with gender identity or sexual orientation issues.

Founded in 2001, GenderShift began tackling atypical gender issues when founding director Rikki Arundel, also founder of the Professional Speakers Association, changed her gender and became 'unemployable'. She set up the organisation to deliver trans awareness training aimed primarily at public sector organisations and now has over 100 leading organisations as clients.

As GenderShift has become more widely known, a growing number of trans people and their friends, families and other support agencies have sought advice support. "We realised that as well as changing attitudes we needed to help people to cope with living with gender and sexuality issues," says Michelle Pindar, also a Director at GenderShift. "We do what we can to change attitudes so that we are more accepted, but trans people are often very isolated. Now we can help to tackle the isolation as well."

Monday, April 05, 2010

Are Christians Being Persecuted

I am not sure if anyone saw the programme on BBC last night, but it seems that a number of Christians believe they are being persecuted and marginalised - especially by the provisions of the soon to be Equality Act 2010.

It's interesting that, following a millennium of persecuting others, they are finally having to face up to the repercussions of that history.

Having watch the programme on BBC last night and on iPlayer today it seems that there are three primary complaints

1. Christian festivals like Christmas and Easter are being taken over by non Christians and renamed. Oddly the presenters of the programme seem to have forgotten that both of those festivals were originally pagan festivals that were hijacked by Christians in order to suppress pagan religions.

2. There is concern over the number of incidents where Christians have recently been penalised for practising their faith publicly or wearing symbols of their faith. Interestingly they seem to ignore the fact that Christians, more than any other faith, have persecuted people who are Lesbian, Gay, Trans, Witches, Pagans and Muslims, to name a few, for practising their lifestyle choices publicly and have for centuries imposed their beliefs on others, often with lethal consequences.

3. Most concern seems to be over the implications of the Equality Act 2010 the provision of which mean that Christians, and everyone else, will be prohibited from discriminating against and persecuting others. Well about time is all I can say.

We live in an increasingly secular state where we have, as a society, decided that allowing one group of people the right to discriminate against another group is unacceptable. It is going to take a while for us to work out in practice what is now being embodied in law, but it really is about time.

On our Trans Awareness workshops we have been slowly modifying the content to reflect the changes that are taking place in equalities law, but more importantly I have been doing a lot of research into the history of homophobic, transphobic and misogynistic discrimination.

The history of misogyny goes back at least to the time of the ancient Greeks. Active campaigning by women over the past century has finally brought us to the point were the law operates in favour of removing discrimination. Yet 40 years after the Equal Pay Act and we discover that in the financial services industry the average pay of men is still 122% higher than the average pay of women. The health sector is not far behind this. Why? well perhaps because we still assume that women do not need as much money as men and that they are less important. And whilst some churches will now ordain women, few allow them to become become bishops and leaders.

But the mistreatment of women is nothing when compared to the way in which homosexual men and trans women have and often still are treated. Still I have people on our workshops arguing that homosexuality is a sin - fundamentally forbidden by god. Yet the references in the bible are few and mostly unclear.

When I looked at the history of the bible it is interesting that the "authorised edition" of the Bible was published in 1611 during the reign James VI. At that time James was encouraging bishops to preach against cross dressing, especially by women and homosexuality or more especially Buggery, was a capital offence. Homosexuality remained a capital offence until 1861 and remained illegal until 1967. There is nothing in the gospels against homosexuality, and often the arguments I hear are based on interpretation of the bible - eg "god made adam and eve - man and woman - therefore homosexuality is a sin"

Yet when we look at nature we see all manner of sexual practices naturally occurring. Of course in biblical times a woman was stoned to death for adultery and we do not do that now because we have moved on. All religious doctrines need to be constantly reassessed against the changing moral codes of current society and that is not happening with homosexuality.

When I talk to Christians about their objection to gay and trans people it becomes clear that the objection is entirely about sexual practice, yet far more heterosexual couples engage in anal intercourse than same sex couples, and of course same sex couples do far more in their lives than just engage in sexual practices.

I think arguments in last nights programme will rage for a while yet and it will be interesting to see how the Equality Act 2010 works in practice, especially if, as currently predicted, we end up with a Conservative government having to implement an important plank of Labour legislation. Interesting times ahead but one thing is now certain - the Equality Act is going to come into law and we are all going to have to learn how to live with each other and reconcile our differences.

Monday, January 25, 2010

News of the world - "I'm 16 and want sex change"

Once again the media circus has lost its way with understanding trans people, this time with a 16 year old trans girl from Hull who has prompted angry comments following revelations in the News of the World that she may become the youngest person to undergo gender reassignment in the world. In fact this is probably not true.

Ria has been referred to the Tavistock Clinic in London for assessment. Once it is determined that she definitely is transsexual she will be prescribed hormone treatments to suppress the male hormones and then cross gender hormones to feminise her body. At some time after two years of assessment she may then be referred for gender reassignment surgery by which time she will be 18.

The first I knew of the story was a phone call from Radio Humberside asking if I would like to comment on the Peter Levy show. Interestingly I had had a conversation with one of Ria’s school friends just last week when I discovered that she had been the subject of an article in Closer Magazine. I have been aware of Ria for a couple of years and colleagues from GenderShift have provided some support from time to time.

At the interview the first challenge was over how she was to be referred. Because the New of the World article had referred to her as ‘Bradley’ and used male pronouns throughout, Peter insisted on doing the same to avoid confusing everyone. I agreed because I was not sure how she wanted to present herself. Had I spotted the video on the News of the World Site earlier I would have known that this was wrong.

Ria clearly identifies as female in the video, uses a female name and pronouns and her mother refers to her as female. The newspapers should have respected that and used pronouns appropriate to her present gender expression. I don’t know if she has changed her name legally – but I suspect so.

Apart from this – two regular issues came up in both the Radio Humberside Interview and the Newspaper articles. The first was “How can someone of 16 know their own mind” and “How can it be justified for the NHS to pay £10,000 for this surgery when there are people who are really ill”.

Well Ria knew she was confused about her gender at age 5 – she told her mum at 12 and has received lots of support – she has been dealing with this issue and the resulting bullying and hostility for 10 years. She has learned to survive on some of the toughest sink estates in the country where the pressure to conform has been immense – yet despite that she is undeterred. I think she knows her own mind. Also she will undergo a minimum of 2 years of assessment and support to help her make sure that this is the right decision. The NHS are paranoid about making a mistake.

On the cost - gender reassignment is the internationally agreed best solution to gender dysphoria. The consequences of not providing this treatment are years of mental health counselling and the very high risk of suicide, self harm and other forms of abuse. This is a treatable condition originating during fetal development and we know what treatment works. Many of the serious illnesses being cited in the media are avoidable, like cancer caused by smoking or heart conditions caused by obesity. We have a health service for everyone and that means we should not discriminate just because a condition only applies to a small community of people.

The good thing is that we are seeing more and more trans children coming out and being supported by parents. What is needed now is better education in schools and for the media to get the pronoun thing – at the moment the tone of articles and their instance in using incorrect pronouns is encouraging transphobia.

At GenderShift we have recently been joined by a counsellor who will be enabling us to provide an extended range of services to support our workshops and drop in services, and start to provide a local first point of call for trans people and their families. I will blog about this later in the week.