Below is the email correspondence me and Jane Fae have been having with the RCPsych. As I am sure you will appreciate, they do not seem to be that happy to discuss anything with us.
To: efox: natacha kennedy
Subject: Introductions and update
Date: Mon, 4 Apr 2011 10:56:10 +0100
Just to update where i/we are with this. As I mentioned, I think, in my last e-mail, I’ve handed over writing about your conference to Jess, who edits Pink News. I therefore passed on both your quotes and your contact details to her and if she decides to run with this nearer the time, she’ll liaise directly with you.
Last night I spoke to Natacha Kennedy (copied in on this mail) who sort of represents the other side of the argument: well, OK…she and I both agree that the RCPsych conference is problematic, but maybe I’m more of a talker/negotiator, she more of a doer.
I told her that I’d been in touch with you and she said she’d like to speak with the RCPsych too: therefore I have copied both of you in on this e-mail. Like myself, she is concerned about the origins of this conference, emerging from within a body that is broadly seen by the trans community as not exactly aligned with our interests. The analogy I drew before, of a neo-Nazi group organizing a conference on Judaism in the 21st century may be a bit extreme…but only a bit.
That’s because of my second point, in respect of choice of speakers, with Bindel not especially representative of current feminist thinking, but on record as effectively calling for the eradication of transgender in its present form. As you can imagine, that is not something viewed lightly by the trans community and as I also said in my initial conversations, seemed to indicate either that the organizers were courting controversy or hadn’t researched the field too well.
Hakeem is also a bit on the eradication side of the fence, too.
I passed back to Natacha your comment that the organizers were looking for someone to present to the Conference from the point of view of trans experience and…I think that means you are both now up to date with all the conversations I have been having.
No doubt we’ll speak again.
All the best,
From: Natacha Kennedy
Sent: 04 April 2011 16:55
To: jane; Elizabeth Fox
Subject: RE: Introductions and update
Dear Ms Fox,
Now that I have been copied in on Jane's emails with you I would like to raise serious concerns with the way the conference "Transgender: Time to Change" has been constituted. The presence of Az Hakeem being one of the main elements to this,
although Julie Bindel's presence is highly problematic also. I have just read Hakeem's most recent paper and I am preparing an academic response to it. I am particularly disappointed that someone who produces such a low standard of
publication should be permitted to address a conference of this type. Hakeem's paper appears to present trans people as problematic in themselves, which is a proposition that trans people cannot, and will not accept. The kind of
problematisation which Hakeem proposes is in itself transphobic.
As such Jane's description of the conference being regarded as analogous to a Nazi grouporganising a conference on Juadism, or indeed Robert Mugabe organising a conference on Homosexuality is, thus far the way this conference is being regarded by the trans community around the country, and indeed internationally.
The fact that Julie Bindel, who is neither a psychiatrist nor an academic has been invited to speak (and then, as Jane says about a version of feminism which is particularly marginal) has further discredited both the conference itself and the RCPsych. Obviously we are not opposed to people discussing trans people and trans issues themselves, however it is highly problematic that trans people do not appear to have been involved in organizing this conference. So far it appears that there is one (token?) trans person speaking, which is not acceptable, especially since there are plenty of trans academics who could contribute to this conference in a much more constructive way.
However the main problem we have with this conference is not merely that people are talking about trans issues
"behind our back" but that a group so constituted is likely to produce outcomes which we believe represent an attempt to alter the way transgender people are treated by the NHS. This is where Julie Bindel comes in. Julie Bindel's close friend in the US, Janice Raymond, is notorious for working with Republicans to prevent trans people receiving the medical care they need. This would appear to be Julie Bindel's position, now that a Conservative/LD coalition government has been installed. There is no other explanation for her involvement other than as an attempt to change the way trans people are treated by the NHS, and she is doing this because she has a particular ideological opposition to the existence of trans people. By including Julie Bindel in the conference, especially alongside Az Hakeem, you are effectively identifying yourself, by your actions, as an organization that is institutionally transphobic and which is prepared to permit a platform for transphobes and involve yourselves in political action against the interests of trans people.
Indeed even the title of the conference "Time to Change" is perceived as a threat by trans people - Why is it "time" now? Is it because there is a new government which wants to cut public spending, is this conference which is attempting to provide it with an excuse for removing treatment for trans people on the NHS? And why "change"? Change can mean many different things and can mean change in positive terms or negative terms. A conference including these two speakers, as well as another that has been accused of transphobic behaviour, which is titled thus, is of course going to be perceived by those in the trans community,
as a threat and treated as such.
As I am sure Jane has already said, if you want to talk about us, you should talk to us as well. To do otherwise effectively represents a hostile act towards the trans community, and to expect it to be perceived in otherwise would be perverse. This is especially the case since it would appear that Julie Bindel would like to use the RCPsych as a vehicle for her own particular political activities, which have nothing to do with improving treatment for trans people and everything to do with trying to erase trans people; a kind of Heidiggerian cleansing of gender.
I know the accusations I am putting to you are rather strong, but believe me they are moderate in comparison to those expressed to me by the majority of the trans community. To be fair, I can understand how you may have come to be at this juncture, not necessarily being a specialist in trans issues nor being aware of the nature of trans/transphobic politics, as such it is your response to this state of affairs that will be crucial. The "About us" section of your website says that you "work with service users". Yet, as things currently stand, service users have effectively been excluded from this conference. Unfortunately your site does not permit me to see your Equality and Diversity section. The trans community already harbours an element of distrust for psychiatrists, adding to this distrust by hosting a conference at which two transphobes are speaking, would appear to be working against this and aimed at actively alienating service users, something which is unlikely to be in anyone’s interests. This conference could not be justified in that it is likely to increase delegates understanding of trans issues, as it would appear to be providing a heavily one-sided view, with little input from a range of trans people themselves. Trans people, to be perfectly frank, are fed up with others
speaking for them, we have the right to a voice also.
I would suggest that, as a bare minimum, you should consider setting up a 'fringe' event at the
conference and adjusting the conference timetable to permit delegates to listen to speakers in that event, perhaps during the lunch break. I suggest this because I suspect that you will find it difficult to find people from the trans community who would be prepared to share a platform, in the main event, with Bindel or Hakeem given what they have written
and what they are advocating, we would not lend them credibility by doing so.
I hope those in positions of responsibility in your organisation are able to consider a way forward to help repair relations
with the trans community and the psychiatric profession and that they will think more carefully about the way conferences about trans issues are constituted in the future. As I said, a great deal depends on the way they respond to this
situation, we are open to suggestions and willing to consider any serious proposal to address the concerns I have outlined above. This could be an opportunity to mend fences and open up a dialogue with the trans community, I hope they are able to seize the moment and respond appropriately.
As I said yesterday, I forwarded your email on to members of the RCPsych’s Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Special Interest Group (SIG). They have asked me to respond to you.
The conference aims to explore the recent academic, clinical and contemporary thinking on transgender issues. The SIG has invited speakers for their differing perspectives, including a speaker to give a personal perspective on transgender issues. The invitation of particular speakers does not mean that the SIG share the speakers’ views on the topic.
In your email, you raise concerns that the conference is “likely to produce outcomes which we believe represent an attempt to alter the way transgender people are treated by the NHS”. The SIG is not aiming through the meeting to reflect, develop or produce any specific statement or policy from the Royal College of Psychiatrists on this issue. They seek only to offer a forum for various, independent views to be shared for discussion.
You also say that the conference is “going to be perceived by those in the trans community as a threat”. The intention is not to cause alarm and distress to the transgender community, and we regret if our organising this event has done so.
From: Natacha Kennedy
Sent: 05 April 2011 16:55
To: efox; jane
Subject: RE: Introductions and update
Thank you for your reply, I understand the points you make but I cannot agree that this is unlikely to be used as a starting point for attempts to alter policy. Julie Bindel would be unlikely to attend if it were not. It is her inclusion and the inclusion of Hakeem, which has caused alarm. As for your point about "Various" views, it would appear that this represents a forum in which a rather narrow range of views is being expressed. Indeed similar views to those expressed in other conferences of psychiatrists which I have been involved with in the last few years. Once again trans people feel that they are being talked about rather than being engaged with over trans and psychiatric issues, it is this which is the problem and it is a problem that your organisation has within its power to do something about.
I appreciate that you express regret at the organising of this conference but as I said, what is crucial now, is how those in charge of your organisation respond to the growing anger within the trans community.
Date: Tue, 5 Apr 2011 13:47:38 +0100
Subject: RE: Introductions and update
RE: Introductions and update
Date: Wed, 6 Apr 2011 15:42:54 +0100
Thanks for bringing me back into the loop.
(Liz: if you don’t object too much, I’d be grateful if you kept me in, since I am likely to be involved in discussions with various groups with views on this matter, so it helps to get info first hand rather than second).
At risk of sounding a tad portentous: I think both the politics and perception of trans issues is on the verge of changing rapidly and radically. The culmination of a decade of organizing, awareness building – not to mention legislation to give the trans community a modicum of rights on a par with others in the LGBT spectrum is just part of that.
One result of that change, it seems, is a refusal to put up with what is perceived as historic discrimination against trans individuals: a second is that a polarization is probably on the cards, with views being taken as to which groups are in the way of progress, which are allies. It may or may not come as a surprise to learn that the psychiatric community as a whole is viewed with deep suspicion – and that a conference of this sort is likely only to entrench hostility further.
I hear what you are saying, Liz: I can imagine that many of the organizers have acted from the best of motives; may well have no idea of the suspicion with which this event is being viewed. But I’d add also that I am fairly cynical of platitudes now that we have reached this point.
The proof is in the eating. Furthermore, the battlecry of the disabled community – “nothing about us without us” – is also pretty relevant here.
What I think I am trying to say is: you are putting across a point of view that would probably be acceptable were it not for the long history of mis-treatment of the trans minority in the UK. But that history exists: a view of the Psychiatric position already exists.
You are fire-fighting: but it feels like far too little too late.
That means that if the perceived solution to criticism from the trans community is to continue organizing without input and without consultation, then that, itself, becomes a very loud message going out to all those who view this event with alarm.
That is not meant to be arm-twisting. Merely to suggest, from my long years as someone who has worked in political lobbying and providing advice on PR to political groups, that something a bit more radical than fine words is what is needed now.
At this junction, the RCPsych has a choice: to throw open its doors and engage in real and meaningful dialogue; or simply to seek to manage criticism. How the Psychiatric profession is viewed over the next few years is likely to be influenced greatly by how this conference is organized.
At the end of the day, I really, really hope that the answer will be: positively. My fear is that the outcome will be the exact opposite.
From: Natacha Kennedy
Sent: 08 April 2011 17:36
To: jane; Elizabeth Fox
Subject: RE: Introductions and update
I was, to say the least, somewhat disappointed to receive your reply to my last email. As a transgender person I have grown accustomed to such responses worded in PR-speak, which essentially mean "We do not want to talk to you."
So, once again I would ask that you put your bosses in contact with me and/or Jane, we are trying to discuss serious issues regarding a conference which is causing a great deal of anxiousness in the trans community. The tone and content of your response is only serving to make matters worse. as Jane has said, trans people have grown very suspicious of the psychiatric establishment and the continued refusal to speak to us is only serving to increase that suspicion. Indeed it seems to me that your employers are behaving in a highly unprofessional manner in not engaging with us on this issue.
This is compounded by what appears to be institutional transphobia, since the RCPsych website states the following about lesbian and gay people;
""The Royal College of Psychiatrists believes strongly in evidence-based treatment. There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish.
There is now a large body of research evidence that indicates that being gay, lesbian or bisexual is compatible with normal mental health and social adjustment. However, the experiences of discrimination in society and possible rejection by friends, families and others, such as employers, means that some lesbian, gay and bisexual people experience a greater than expected prevalence of mental health and substance misuse problems.
Good Psychiatric Practice (3rd Edition) clearly states: 'A psychiatrist must provide care that does not discriminate and is sensitive to issues of gender, ethnicity, colour, culture, lifestyle, beliefs, sexual orientation, age and disability' (page 12, point 13). The Royal College of Psychiatrists expects all its members to follow Good Psychiatric Practice. "
If the RCPsych has a policy that homosexuality is not "treatable" and that such treatments create an environment of discrimination towards gay man and lesbians then it is surely hypocritical of thr RCPsych to provide a platform for a speaker who advocates such treatment for transgender people. The inclusion of Az Hakeem in this conference is contributing to an environment in which transphobia can flourish. Your statement is also clear that being LG or B is compatible with normal mental health and social adjustment, yet you are inviting someone to speak who is trying to associate transgender people with personality disorders. It is the transphobia spread by such people that is responsible for the discrimination by society and rejection by friends, families and others resulting in greater substance misuse and mental health problems.
I can understand why your employers do not wish to engage on this matter if they are fearful of having to deal with charges of hypocrisy, transphobia and acts of deliberate discrimination, which the RCPsych appears to be involved in. Their continued silence on this matter speaks volumes. Given that they also tell us that they "work with service users" and are still unwilling to engage in any kind of dialogue, it is becoming apparent that these charges might actually be sustainable.
There is a saying, with which I am sure you are familiar; "When you're in a hole, stop digging." I would suggest your employers take heed of this. In this case silence is the shovel.
Date 12.4.2011 15.01
to Natacha Kennedy
I am contacting you in my capacity as Director of Communications at the College. Liz Fox passed your enquiry to me as you had asked that it be referred to her line manager.
I note that considerable email discussion that has been ongoing since your initial enquiry. We have passed your enquiry to the organisers of the conference as you have requested, although I cannot guarantee that they will be willing to continue this debate.
The College is involved in organising numerous conferences about a wide range of issues. Any opinions expressed by individual contributors at these meetings are the personal opinions of those contributors and cannot be taken to represent the views of the College.
I feel that the previous correspondence from Liz Fox clarified the College’s position on this issue and that nothing further can be gained by continuing this debate as we have nothing further to add.
Director of Communications and Policy
Royal College of Psychiatrists
17 Belgrave Square
London SW1X 8PG