It is almost 3 years since I started working with LAMP, the mental health advocacy charity based in Leicester. However my contract is coming to an end, and I shall be moving on imminently; on Thursday 2 March in fact!
Before those of you who remember my long periods of worklessness between jobs get too worried, I’m very comfortable with this. I feel the time is right for a new challenge So I want to say thank you to my friends and colleagues at LAMP for their support, but also for giving me the freedom to focus on something I have wanted to do for some considerable time. And that is to resource and start up a fully-funded project here in Leicester to support those who have are challenged by questions about their gender identity. Its mission and values will be rooted in the principle that our own experiences of gender identity are unique to each of us, so we should all be free to express that identity in our own unique way.
I am under no illusions about the challenges I face. About 0.03% of the income of voluntary and community sector organisations finds its way to LGBT* projects/organisations. We could be forgiven for thinking that the great British public care more about animals than they do about our LGBT* population. But attracting investment is just part of the challenge; the fact that trans people are more visible, the fact that, in the Equality Act 2010, there is a clearly established legislative framework protecting the rights of those who are perceived to be trans, the fact that there is a mechanism by which those who undergo gender reassignment can apply for an amended birth certificate, the fact that same-sex marriage is available (though I’m not sure how that applies in this instance) have all been cited to me as evidence that things are all alright now. But I’m not convinced. Maybe, if you don’t come from a minority ethnic background or from a family with strongly held orthodox views on matters of sexual orientation and gender identity, if you haven’t got a disability, if you aren’t old, or very young, if you don’t live in poverty, if all these things, and any other factors for which people can be excluded do not apply, then maybe you’re in a better place. But otherwise things are not alright now. They really aren’t! And we are deluding ourselves if we think otherwise. Here’s why!
Today travelling to work on the bus, I read that Donald Trump has rescinded federal guidance issued by Barak Obama in 2016 which was designed to protect trans students in federally funded schools from being forced to use the ‘bathroom’. And I groaned, out loud, so loud that people looked at me as if I was ill. And I groaned for two reasons. I groaned because, for trans people in the USA, this indicates that Donald Trump does not necessarily believe that federal law, as it currently stands, prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. That means trans people in the States can expect a rough ride during the next four years (as if they expect that already).
But I also groaned because, 18 years after the Sex Discrimination Act (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999 established in statute for the first time that it was unlawful to discriminate in the workplace against people because they had undergone gender reassignment, the great British public is still being led to believe that the single biggest issue affecting trans lives revolves entirely around which toilet we use.
Now we know that’s not the case. If that was the case, the Government of the day would not have committed itself in its Transgender Equality Action Plan of 2011 to the lofty goal of “working together to make this the era where we consign transphobia to the past, and build a strong, modern and fair Britain for all” (those words appear above the signature of the then Home Secretary and current Prime Minister), and then it would not have promptly forgotten all about it. If that was the case, the Women and Equality Commons Committee would not have published a 95 page report setting out 35 recommendations to address the multiple issues which they identified in their thorough investigation into transgender inequality in the United Kingdom. If that was the case, I would not continue to hear from other voluntary and community sector organisations asking for guidance in dealing with trans* people who are homeless, or unwell. If that was the case, I would not continue to read policy documents which are completely blind to the inequalities which trans* people encounter, notwithstanding the public sector equality duty to give due regard to those very same inequalities when formulating policy. If that was the case, I would not find myself reading about transwomen taking their own lives in male prisons, or transmen being convicted of sexual offences purely because they failed to disclose their trans history. If that was the case, people wanted to undergo gender reassignment would not be waiting 2 years or more to attend a specialist clinic when the law says they should only have to wait a maximum of 18 weeks, and the NHS would recognise that to argue otherwise would be discriminatory. If that was the case, I would not continue to be meeting every fortnight with trans* people who still experience the same inequalities in their private lives, in the workplace, when receiving services and when out and about in public that they have been facing for year, even though the law is supposed to protect them from that. If that was the case, I would not find myself crying on 20 November when I hear a list of names of trans* people who have been killed during the previous 12 months simply because they were trans*. If that was the case, maybe, just maybe I would be able to walk down Humberstone Gate in Leicester without fear of attack, or someone abusing me, spitting at me or even laughing at me. Hold on; maybe that last one was a little too optimistic!
So forget the lofty rhetoric. Over the last 3 years I’ve had the privilege of working with some fantastic people, and I’ve learned a lot while I’ve been at LAMP, about advocacy, about mental health services and service users, and about the challenges of running a VCS organisation in the current climate. But I’ve been feeling lately that there’s something else I should be doing. And so what I’m saying is that I’ve got the evidence to show that there is room for a service like the one I’m proposing. I’ve spoken with other trans* people about their experiences, and discussed what we can do to bring about change. I hope to be publishing a document soon which explains what the looks like. Then I’ll be looking for people who can help us to make it happen. If that’s you, you know where you can find me.