Press For Change At Labour Conference 1997

Press for Change was invited for the first time to take a booth in the exhibition accompanying the first Labour Conference following Tony Blair’s landslide victory.
The invitation was sudden, unexpected and practically at the eleventh hour. We had to pay for the stand (about £4,000) and we didn’t have that kind of money so we put out an appeal on the Internet and sat around a table one night in Stephen Whittle’s house stuffing 2,000 envelopes with a hastily printed appeal for cash.
Sure enough the money came in on time and the stand was a hue hit, with many key Ministerial faces calling round and delighted to have their photos taken with us. Even Cherie Blair popped round.
Below is Christine Burns’ account of the event written at the time.
BACK FROM THE CONFERENCE A curious thought wafted through my head as we stood watching the Prime Minister’s speech to the Labour Party conference on Tuesday on closed circuit TV, alongside our fellow exhibitors at the Brighton Conference Centre. There he was, sporting a blue tie, framed against a blue background .. for a regular visitor to Conservative conferences these last five years, it all seemed a bit too disturbingly familiar .. Was this, in fact, a self help convention for Transpoliticals, I wondered ? <grin>
As with transSEXuals, transPOLITICal is a bit of a misnomer, of course. It’s nothing to do with policies, but about convictions and how others percieve you. The similarity ends at that point, however, since transpoliticals don’t appear to lose the right to marry when they transition, and are free to alter all their documentation to reflect their new identity. Even the concept of a Real Life Test takes on a new meaning too .. but then I’m perhaps in danger of forgetting what I’m here for in my enthusiasm to share a rich potential vein of word-playing humour. I’ll turn that thought over to the rest of you now, therefore…
Joking aside, however, it has been a very successful and productive week, and our many thanks to everyone who helped to make it possible .. principally those of you who dug deep in purses and pockets to ensure that Press for Change was able to afford not just the stand, but some smart publicity material to stock it with too. It was a very impressive stand, and will have left an enduring memory about the transsexual community in the minds of the hundreds of people who stopped to talk, and the countless others who looked but didn’t venture.
The conference got off to a very good start on Monday, when Cherrie Booth (aka Cherrie Blair, of course), made a special point of coming to the stand to be photographed and to talk .. the first of several well-known names to tread the same path as the week went by. Cherrie had a success of her own to celebrate the next day too, of course, when the “Grant v South West Trains” case (in which she’d represented the plaintiff, Lisa Grant) received a favourable recommendation from the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice .. in a judgement that referred back to and reminded us of our very own P vs S. Like P vs S, the Grant case recommendation will need to be confirmed by the full court. However this is generally viewed to be a formality and means that, in a very real sense, the campaign by Press for Change for transgendered people’s employment rights has made a significant contribution to the employment benefits of 35 million gay europeans.
On Wednesday, we were twice blessed .. with a visit in the morning by Mo Mowlem, the Northern Ireland minister (who displayed a great deal of interest in the display and pointedly wished to be photographed between three of us, behind our desk) .. and then in the afternoon we were later visited by Tessa Jowell, who has a particular interest in equality issues. When we get copies of the photographs (they ALL wanted to be photographed with us) we’ll display them in a new feature on the web site.
During the week we were also visited by many other less-well-known MP’s, their partners or political advisers .. and page upon page of petition signatures were collected to add to the enormous stack destined for Number Ten Downing Street at the end of this month.
On the Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, Alex and I also grabbed a handful of literature and set off in search of the media centre, tucked away in the back corridors of the conference centre, where we introduced ourselves to the political journalists of all the broadsheet newspapers, and lobbied hard for coverage of the fringe meeting on Wednesday. It’s a strange feeling, these days, to realise that journalists ask “Why, what’s special ?” when invited to attend these gatherings .. a far cry from even just two years ago, when our fringe meeting in the same town, at the same party’s conference, was still guaranteed to draw in journalists simply on its’ freak-appeal. Still, who’s complaining ? The BBC, ITN and Channel 4 were equally unimpressed. Still, as one political journalist from the Guardian commented, “I think you folks are far too polite…”
I wonder if Mo Mowlam is aware of that irony ? .. Dealing, as she does, with people who get attention for their cause by killing and maiming the innocent ? The fringe meeting was, sadly, still not very well attended by non-transsexuals .. though the TS folk and their friends who made the journey to see us and hear Dr Lynne Jones, Michelle Wilson and Susan Marshall speak (in a session ably chaired by our other Christine), certainly made up for the numbers and helped to ensure that those strangers who DID join us got involved in a lively discussion afterwards. Mind you, we had strong competition .. since the other meeting in the hotel that night featured some chap by the name of Blair …(Thank you to our new recruit Ros Mitchell, incidentally, who turned up and gave a passionate speech from the floor, spurred on by her Bristol Council colleagues, who came along to see what it was all about). So, on balance I think the community got a great deal of value out of this week .. enabling us to be seen and appraised by many more people than we’ve ever got near to before.
There were one or two golden nuggets of hope in the conversations we had during the week too .. especially in the comments from the solicitor general, answering questions in public at Jack Straw’s fringe meeting about the government’s intentions to pursue the Sheffield and Horsham case all the way to court in February .. and in the very clear political messages about how we’d come to get a place at the conference in the first place. .. You can, in fact, take it with a degree of trust that some very senior members of this administration are more than just sympathetic to the case we have for change. All in all, therefore, a fantastic week .. and worth every penny of what it took to get us there.
Next week .. Number Ten.
Christine Burns, Press for Change