27 Sep 2007

Labelling Our Children - Proposals from the Joint Committee on the Human Tissue and Embryos (Draft) Bill

The Human Tissue and Embryos (Draft) Bill is intended to revise the law on assisted reproduction and embryology and to establish the Regulatory authority for Tissue and Embryos (RATE). The Joint Committee on the draft Bill published its report on 1 August 2007 and there is a further short period of consultation followed by the parliamentary stages of the Bill.

There are some welcoming proposals in the draft bill such as the right of same sex couples to use the fast track adoption like procedure in fertility law to become parents of a child born by surrogacy. There is also a proposal in the draft bill to remove the requirement from the law on fertility treatment that it is necessary to take into account ‘the child’s need for a father’. As we know many clinics already offer services to single women and same sex couples and this will clarify the law and will not discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation.

However the joint committee is recommending that the clause be amended to introduce a requirement to consider the need of a child for a second parent. This blatantly does discriminate and stigmatise single parents, the majority of whom are of course women. The committee further recommends that this be put to a free vote in both Houses of Parliament.

The Joint Committee have further recommended that as a matter of urgency the Government should consider the fact of donor conception being registered on a person’s birth certificate. The committee stated that this would “create an incentive for the parent(s) to tell the child of the fact of his or her donor conception and would go some way to address the value of knowledge of genetic history for medical purposes”. The joint committee continued that unlike children “born through natural conception, assisted conception…. involves the authorities and we are deeply concerned about the idea that the authorities may be colluding in a deception.” Not only does this infer that the parent(s) of children born as a result of donor conception may deliberately deceive their children, such a move may deter people from accessing fertility services and could also stigmatise children and breach their privacy.

This issue will be debated at UNISON's LGBT Conference and is obviously of grave concern and if you read this I would ask that you raise it to anyone you know might be interested.

Labour Party Conference

Well I only managed to get there late Tuesday afternoon so watched the leaders speech at home on TV. It was unlike any parliamentary report, I had listened to for along time but then he has only been in office for the past three months. To me, it sounded like a party political broadcast and the launch of the general election campaign which was then echoed by Barbara Follett announcing at a fringe that it is 80% likely that there will be an Autumn election (either 25th Oct, 1st or 8th Nov). I think Gordon should announce the election right during David Cameron's speech to the Tories in Blackpool next week. As the week went on and seeing Gordon appear at Parliamentary Q and A and at fringes and social events, he was so relaxed and confident and in deed appeared to have taken ownership of the party. Perhaps taking away contemporary motions helped with trade unions being won over on this. At first I was quite concerned over this and whilst a little tipsy in Vienna said the same to our leaders. But reasons were given and the idea of issues being debated at the National Policy Forum is appearing a little more attractive - well they have to as contemporary motions are no more. But it depends of course also on who gets elected to the NPF. At least UNISON's contemporary motion got carried.
My capacity this year at Conference was as a socialist society stall holder and this is quite difficult because some how you feel out of it. Conference feels more like a convention but even a couple of delegates said that's how it felt to them this year even on the floor. It did seem quite a congratulatory pat on the back sort of atmosphere but then we are ahead in the polls and who would have thought that this time last year or in deed in May.
The LGBT Labour / Stonewall fringe had a good turnout and Ben Summerskill gave a cracking speech. Barbara Follett also was impressive and there are very positive murmurs about the discrimination law review. colleagues who were able to attend the equalities policy seminar said that the same messages were coming out from there and it might be that there has been that much criticism about the proposals that they will have to be re-written. Barbara actually commented that they are abandoning the Single Equality Act and going for equality for he 21st century! Even though I turned up so late into conference, I managed to get some networking in and attended the Absolutely Equal, UNISON and Co-operative Party socials. A few of us even defected to the UNITE social!! I know they said they would walk out on conference over the contemporary motions well they seemed to be celebrating in style. I suppose for Craig and I, the highlights of our conference was having our picture taken with Peter Hain but also chatting with Ian McCartney who has supported a lot of our LGBT International work with both UNISON and LGBT Labour.

PSI General Secretary Election Result

After much electioneering in a closely fought contest, Peter Waldorff was elected general secretary of PSI beating UNISON's Keith Sonnet by a mere 800, 000 votes.

With a background in local government, Waldorff has been President of HK-Stat, the Danish union for government and public employees, since 2001. He has been a member of PSI’s executive board since 1998 and also sits on the European Federation of Public Service Unions’ standing committee.

UNISON had received some criticism for our policies on Palestine which are believed to have had an effect on the way some affiliates voted.

Public Services International / Education International LGBT Summit

I had the opportunity to be part of the UNISON delegation to the EI / PSI LGBT Summit in Vienna from the 21st to the 22nd of September 2007 in Vienna which was an excellent and rare experience being able to network and listen to first hand experiences of people from other parts of the world who are persecuted because they are lgbt and because they are trade unionists. We heard that neo-liberal and conservative forces are increasingly exploiting anti-gay prejudice to undermine trade union and community campaigns. Juan Carlos Paniagua, of PSI’s Costa Rican affiliate ANEP told us that he was forced to move house after receiving death threats in a government-backed attempt to undermine the campaign against a proposed free trade agreement. He said said "As a union member and gay activist I have been subject to intimidation and discrimination at home and in the workplace, but I don’t feel afraid. I feel brave, which gives me the strength to keep on ghting for human rights, workers’ rights and LGBT rights," he said. Juan Carlos called on all trade unionists, especially those in EU countries, to insist that their governments ensure that trade agreements support human and workplace rights. Juan Carlos was one of the PSI guests to UNISON's LGBT Conference in 2005 which we held in Belfast.

PSI also launched a guide ‘Trade Unionists Together for LGBT Rights’ which is the first international guide to achieving equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered workers.
Penned by Martin Moriarty who has worked on many UNISON publications he reminded us that despite many legislative improvements around the world, institutional discrimination against gays on issues like pensions, taxation, leave and family-friendly policies remains common in most countries. The fear of harassment means LGBT workers in all countries are unlikely to be ‘out’ at work, even if their family and friends are aware of their sexuality.
The booklet describes how recent decisions in international institutions can be harnessed to protect LGBT workers, fight discrimination, and enhance gay rights. It also contains good practice examples of model agreements including UNISON's very own. To supplement the guide PSI and EI have also launched a LGBT website containing details of contacts and resources.

UNISON ran a workshop at the conference which was really well received focusing on changing the culture within your unions.

Back to Blogging............

Summer is usually the time when people have holidays and time to blog. This Summer, I have just been that busy and have also discovered facebook that I have been too busy to blog but have just got back from Bournemouth and feel the urge. But first I will tell you all about what has been happening over Summer.............

Well first of all there was Budapest Pride and I that was an experience and a half. I have provided a link to the media coverage but also wrote an article of my own experience for LGBT Labour which you can read elsewhere. The rest of Summer I spent attending and supporting events such as Nottingham Pride, UK Black Pride, Outburst Black LGBT Pride, Notting Hill Carnival which UNISON won best float in their section. I also attended two UNISON's Disabled LGBT network events and drafted motions, amendments and reports for UNISON's National LGBT Committee. Hence no time for blogging!! LGBT Labour has also taken up some considerable time with two committee meetings, organising events for Labour Party Conference, the new branding and the newsletter LeftOut. One of the main tasks was responding to discrimination law review.

More recently, I attended the PSI / EI LGBT Summit in Vienna and have written separately about this. And last but not least, I managed to get down to Bournemouth on Tuesday for the last two days of Labour Party Conference as a stall holder which has it's restrictions but still had an excellent time networking and attending the LGBT Labour fringe.

Budapest Pride

On Saturday 7th July 2007, I with members of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA-Europe) attended the Pride march in Hungary’s capital, Budapest, accompanied by skinheads and fascists who massed along the 7km (4.3 mile) route. The Hungarian National Front and the Movement for a Better Hungary had organised themselves well and even surprised the police. They threw eggs, smoke bombs, Molotov cocktails and bottles filled with sand at us. Some of them tried to infiltrate the march. "The counter-demonstrators continuously shouted: "faggots into the Danube, followed by the Jews," "soap factory" and "filthy faggots." Not understanding Hungarian, myself and my friends were oblivious to what they were saying and smiled sweetly back in defiance not trying to show how scared we really were.

Unfortunately, it appeared that the police had not estimated the number of counter demonstrators who were going to turn up and were unable to contain them but on a positive note were at least there to protect the lgbt participants. When the march finished we were hurdled into an enclosure where the freedom party was to be held. We had to leave to attend a meeting which was lucky as we hard that once the police left, some of the fascists returned which meant it was not safe for people to leave. We also heard that later that evening almost a dozen gay people were set upon and beaten.The Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky and his political party, The Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), totally condemned the violence, calling the homophobic attackers "intolerant, primitive and cowardly. On these occasions, I consider myself Jewish, Roma and gay," he said. Mr Demszky has been mayor of the city since 1990. ILGA also condemned the actions of the police"We consider the actions of the police extremely negligent as all these crimes could be foreseen, yet the police did not make preparations to prevent them. Violent attacks could be expected in a situation where a provocative extremist group organises a counter demonstration against the pride march.” Budapest Pride was an experience and I now know what it feels like to have to evade a missile because of my sexual orientation or gender identity. It was very frightening but I am glad that I was there in solidarity with my Hungarian lgbt brothers and sisters.