BY PHÉLIM MAC CAFFERTY
This weekend I’ll be joining the Stonewall Equality Walk as I’ve done for 5 years to campaign for lesbian, gay, bi and trans equality. I’m delighted that in doing so, I will be able to show support for trans equality, which has only been included in Stonewall’s work since February 2015. That happened following a long-standing discussion about Stonewall’s future. Brighton & Hove City Council under the Greens specifically worked on combating transphobia in the classroom and made that point clear.
Since last month, the Council has received a torrent of hostility and abuse from individuals on the subject of gender identity. Specifically, they were responding to highly inaccurate media coverage that claimed that children were being asked about their gender identity.
Let’s start this discussion with some facts. As it does every year, the council issued a pupil registration form to all parents with children starting school for the first time. As a standard form, parents select their child’s gender. Included on the form, two sentences of guidance from the council encouraged parents to select the option their child identified with, and consider discussing the issue with their school. Let us be clear: at no point were the council asking children, or even expecting parents to ask their kids about their gender identity.
The guidance was aimed at parents of the very small proportion of children who might identify as trans. I know from my work on the subject that from very early in their lives young people often know they are trans or different. By age 4, it is often the case that many parents have identified any issues their children have with their gender identity.
According to the Human Rights Commission, a general rule for determining whether a child is transgender is if the child is “consistent, insistent, and persistent about their transgender identity”. We aren’t talking about kids who don’t always conform to gender stereotypes like for example a boy playing with a doll, we’re talking about young people with “a persistent and authentic disconnect between the sex assigned to them at birth and their internal sense of who they are” .
I wish I could say I was surprised by the level of hostility and vile, abusive comments the Council received. I got a glimpse of what this abuse was like when threatened on my own doorstep simply for speaking out on behalf of the trans community.
Sadly, we know from the work of the Green administration’s pioneering work on trans equality that this is a daily occurrence for trans people. Over 64% of respondents to a 2014 survey of trans people in the city had experienced verbal abuse, and 20% physical violence. That’s one reason why nearly 4 out of 5 trans people have experienced depression and one out of three has harmed themselves.
Many trans people who I have spoken to feel from very early in their lives that they do not identify with the gender assigned at their birth. Sadly, some in our society seem unable to cope with this fact. When fundamental beliefs like this are challenged, rather than accept that their simplistic view of the world may not be completely accurate, many look for someone to scapegoat.
More than a few commentators have claimed efforts at securing trans equality is “political correctness gone mad”. What some see as political correctness I see as creating an equal and inclusive society for all. What some once labelled as political correctness we now know as equal pay, equal marriage, and disabled people being able to access buildings. This is not just a well-meaning liberal agenda, it’s meaningful change so that minorities have the same rights, freedoms and acceptance as every other citizen.
I’m pleased to have been a leading voice on Trans Equality at the Council. I’m immensely proud of the work the Council has done and the very brave members of the trans community who have worked so hard to secure a more inclusive society and address the many issues facing trans people. If the Council guidance on these registration forms means that even just one family are made aware that support is available if they have a child who doesn’t identify with the gender assigned at birth, then it will have been worth it. It could be a light in the dark for a family feeling isolated because they don’t fit the “norm”.
As a city, we in Brighton & Hove are famed for our commitment to forge a more equal society together. Although recent homophobic attacks show we must continue to fight bigotry, for the most part we have established a city where all are able to feel safe, supported and where we belong. The recent media furore demonstrates that transphobia is still considered to be acceptable in too many quarters. This is not a different issue, it’s still about a minority of people who are victimised and discriminated against, and made to feel unwelcome in our city.
We must stand together against prejudice. If you can’t join the Stonewall walk this weekend, there will be another opportunity on 23rd July, when you can join in the city’s 3rd Trans Pride celebrations, to stand alongside our Trans friends, neighbours, colleagues and fellow residents and show our support. I will be proud to walk for equality on Saturday and proud to stand with the trans community in July. Join us.