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Archive for October 2008

She has been likened to Marmite: you either love what she writes or hate it.

Outspoken Guardian columnist and radical lesbian feminist Julie Bindel is widely praised by some for the campaigning she has done on the issues of violence against women, and on the way that our legal system responds to women who defend themselves. She is treasured by others for the particular way she reveals her lesbian and feminist influences as a broadsheet columnist.

Yet, on the day when I had long arranged to meet for lunch and talk about these things, Julie was also embroiled in a controversy that had arisen over what she had written and said in the past about transsexual people. This issue was suddenly brought to the boil because she had been nominated for an award as “Journalist of the Year” by the leading British Lesbian and Gay charity Stonewall.

We discussed all these things and hopefully opened doors to dialogue with her detractors over a meal -- though I hasten to add that Marmite wasn't on the menu.

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Falling birthrates, increased life-expectancy and the approaching retirement of the so-called "baby boom" generation mean that the population balance is altering.

In 1998 just 32.4% of Britons were aged over fifty. By 2021 that proportion is expected to have burgeoned to over 40%. What effects will that have on the economy, public health strategy, the planning of housing and infrastructure?

I asked the public for their views and interviewed experts from a group called 50-50 Vision, who have the task of proposing strategies to anticipate and cope with the change.

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Britain's voluntary and community organisations (sometimes referred to as the "third sector") are far more numerous and integral to the operation of society than people often imagine.

The sector involves hundreds of thousands of people and has an essential role in delivering many services that the public and private sectors are unable to provide.

Richard Caulfield is the Chief Executive of Voluntary Sector North West - a key strategic player in seeing that voluntary sector organisations are supported and recognised in a region of 6.8 million people.

We met recently in Manchester and Richard explained about the background of his organisation, the roles that voluntary organisations perform and the challenges and opportunities for the entire sector.

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Back in April this year I interviewed the mother of an intensely gender dysphoric child. She told how her child (now living as a girl) had become increasingly desperate and suicidal as the prospect of a masculine puberty grew larger. Specialists in the UK weren't prepared to medicate in order to delay the irreversible effects her child's body would undergo and, in desperation, she took her child across the Atlantic to Boston instead.

The Royal Society of Medicine convened a conference to debate this issue in October. However, the country's leading specialist Professor Richard Green, was concerned that the speakers selected for that conference were mostly based in the "conservative" camp. In response he organised a pre-emptive conference of his own at Imperial College in London, where specialists successfully practicing puberty delay therapy around the world could present their outcome data and experiences.

I went along to Richard Green's conference at his invitation and recorded interviews with many of the speakers for this detailed feature.

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