25 Mar 2008

More Human Fertilisation and Embryology Controversy

The Human Fertilisation and the Embryology Bill has raised controversy again recently particularly in relation to the creation of hybrid animal/human embryos to aid stem cell research. The Catholic Church has raised it's concerns resulting in pressure being put on the Government to allow a free vote in the House of Commons to enable MPs to vote with their conscience. But where has the Catholic Church been whilst the bill has been progressing through the House of Lords. Obviously the Lords did not win the scientific argument so the Church has had to intervene firstly condemning the practice as one of the new seven deadly sins and then by intervening in the political process.

As a result and respecting the fact that MPs may have a crisis of conscience between their religious beliefs and that of the manifesto on which they were elected or with their electorate, Gordon Brown announced yesterday that the free vote would be allowed on what was said to be the three most controversial areas of the bill.

Disappointingly this is to include the proposals to prevent fertility clinics from refusing treatment to single women and lesbians - under current legislation clinics must take account of the welfare of the unborn child including "the need for a father". The bill proposes to replace this requirement with the "need for supportive parenting" to be considered. Obviously, there may be MPs who wish to retain the requirement for consideration to be given to "the need for a father".

It should be noted that Gordon Brown has indicated that he will support the removal of the clause.

15 Mar 2008

Act to defend lesbain and gay asylum seekers

On Saturday 22 March at 2pm Middle East Workers' Solidarity are staging a protest opposite Downing Street in defence of Mehdi Kazemi, a gay Iranian asylum seeker who the British government plans to send back to Iran on the grounds that if gay Iranians are "discreet about their sexuality", they will not get into trouble. In fact, Mehdi Kazemi's boyfriend in Iran has already been executed for being gay, and the regime knows about Mehdi Kazemi. An Iranian lesbian, Pegah Emambakhsh, who fled to Britain after her girlfriend was arrested and sentenced to death, also faces being forcibly returned after losing the latest round in her battle to be granted asylum.

Saturday March 22nd, 2pm, Downing Street.

Nearest tube Westminster/Charing Cross. More at http://www.union-solidarity.org/. See also http://www.uklgig.org.uk/ You can sign an e-petition at http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/Stopdeportinggay/

10 Mar 2008

You have to be gay or out to face homophobic harassment

That was the judgment of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in the case of Stephen English -v- Thomas Sandersan Blinds.

Mr English argued that he had been subjected to homophoc harassment contrary to regulation 5 of the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003.

Regulation 5 provides:
“5 Harassment on grounds of sexual orientation

(1) For the purposes of these Regulations, a person (“A”) subjects another person (“B”) to

harassment where, on grounds of sexual orientation, A engages in unwanted conduct which
has the purpose or effect of –
(a) violating B’s dignity; or
(b) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B.
(2) Conduct shall be regarded as having the effect specified in paragraph (1) (a) or (b) only if,

having regard to all the circumstances, including in particular the perception of B, it should
reasonably be considered as having that effect.

The Regulations were passed to implement the Framework Directive (No 2000/78/EC). (The Directive). Article 1 of the Directive states its Purpose:

Article 1 Purpose
The purpose of this Directive is to lay down a general framework for combating discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation as regards employment and occupation, with a view to putting into effect in the Member States the principle of equal treatment.

And by Article 2 (3)

“3. Harassment shall be deemed to be a form of discrimination within the meaning of paragraph 1, when unwanted conduct related to any of the grounds referred to in Article 1 takes place with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. In this context, the concept of harassment may be defined in accordance with the national laws and practice of the Member States.”

Mr English claimed a case of harassment that for many years he had been submitted to sexual innuendo by his work colleagues to the effect that he was homosexual. He stated that this course of conduct originated from a manager who learned that he had (a) attended a boarding school and (b) lived in Brighton. Over the years work colleagues had engaged in what was sometimes described as ‘banter’ of a homophobic nature him. The preliminary issue arose on this factual premise; that the Claimant was not homosexual, nor was he mistakenly or genuinely thought to be so by his ‘tormentors’ and that he himself fully accepted that they did not believe him to be gay.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal found that the unwanted conduct was not on grounds of sexual orientation. The homophobic banter unacceptable as it was, was a vehicle for teasing the Mr English. It was not based on their perception nor even incorrect assumption that he was gay. Leave to appeal has been given.

Employment Protection for Trans People

It is unlawful, under the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, to directly or indirectly discriminate against, harass or victimise a transgender person on grounds of their gender reassignment. Section 2 (A) (i) of the act says that transsexual persons are protected where they intend to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone a gender reassignment. Section 82 defines that as "a process which is undertaken under medical supervision for the purpose of reassigning a person's sex by changing physiological or other characteristics of sex and includes any part of such process.

UNISON has recently reported on two recent cases which have cast some light on what this means in practice. Last year, Brighton & Hove council was ordered to pay £34,765.18 compensation to a teacher who was a former employee. The Brighton Employment Tribunal found that a senior manager discriminated against and victimised her on grounds of gender reassignment. In 2003, the teacher registered with a recruitment agency and sought a reference from her previous manager at the council. He initially delayed responding, but when he did he faxed a secret signed memo that disclosed her former name, stated her previous gender and referred to her as both "he" or "she" and "him" and "her". The memo also reported that she had previously started proceedings alleging discrimination, while saying the manager had "no reason to suppose that he or she is any less effective as a teacher as a result of the gender change, unless publicity around the case has caused social difficulties which make effective teaching a problem". He also offered to have a further telephone conversation with agency staff. The case was supported by the Equal Opportunities Commission - since replaced by the Commission for Equality and Human Rights - which recognises that transgender people face the same gender problems as other women and men but often face huge additional prejudice on a daily basis. While some progress has been made on rights for transgender people there is still more to be done to target specific discrimination and victimisation of transgender people, which remains deeply rooted. The other recent case is still going on and concerns a transsexual truck driver who was born a man and formerly called Mike. She is claiming that bosses at a delivery firm called Exel Europe unfairly reduced her shifts and colleagues taunted her when she started wearing make-up and women's clothes and jewellery to work. She started living as a woman full-time in February 2007 and hopes to undergo a full sex change operation on the NHS. She told an employment tribunal that she was very apprehensive about what people would think and her fears were realised when a fellow driver started muttering "queer" and covered his backside with his hand. She also claims that the Blue Arrow recruitment agency, through which she worked at Exel Europe, failed to act on her complaints. She is claiming sexual discrimination against Exel Europe and Blue Arrow, both of whom deny discrimination. A judgment in the case is still awaited.UNISON members are entitled to receive legal assistance if that they feel they are being discriminated against under the Sex Discrimination Act on grounds of gender reassignment. However, it is understandable that many members may feel unable to raise these queries with their branch or region and the union is looking into new ways of having legal assistance cases referred in a more confidential manner.

UNISON National LGBT Committee and the Scottish Transgender Alliance has produced a guide for trade union reps supporting transgender members.

Press for Change is also holding a one day seminar on 8th April 2008 Trans People, Rights, Law and Policy.

Jamaican Gay Activist Seeks Asylum

Gareth Henry, a leading Jamaican gay activist and member of J-FLAG, has gone to Canada claiming refugee status. Henry says 13 of his friends have been killed in Jamaica since 2004. One 22-year-old friend who was suspected of being gay was chased by a mob, Henry told CBC News. The only place he could run to was the harbour. He couldn't swim."Everyone," said Henry, "stood and watched him drown." Full story