Stonewall UK and trans people

As regular readers of this site will know, I have written to Stonewall UK in the past asking about the way they have treated trans people, I received a response at the time but to be honest it was just a long winded fob off and it annoyed me too much to publish.

Ben Summerskill stood down from the position of CEO earlier this year and in the aftermath I was aware of trans people speaking in hushed tones about whether Stonewall would change their view of the T in LGBT.  I decided to write to the new acting CEO, Ruth Hunt an email to send out the feelers and try to gauge her reactions about the trans question. She called me yesterday and we had a long chat about Stonewall UK’s future and I was pleasantly surprised  by her position.

Ruth was keen to say that she and Stonewall do not want to act on the trans communities behalf, from the sounds of it they are not going to suddenly hire some token transgender people and call themselves an LGBT organisation. They want to draw a line under the past, move on and open up a conversation about how best to enable the trans fight for equality, allow us as a community to continue leading this process and actually listen to our concerns.

This seemed to me to be genuine, I told Ruth that this sounded like a very well thought out position but I that can’t speak for anybody else. In my experience holding grudges only causes more harm than good, Stonewall UK have changed their leadership and their new CEO sounds like a breath of fresh air. I’ve included my email to her below.

What do you think? How should the trans community react?

 

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Dear Ms Hunt,

As a somewhat militant trans woman I felt I must write to you for three reasons, first it would be rude not to congratulate you on your new role. I have never met you but a person has not got to where you are now without being passionate about the same rights and equality issues that are close to my heart, so you have my respect and best wishes.

I must say that these views are my own here and that is because we must have a frank and honest discussion about Stonewall UK of the past and how the future is looking too. There is no point going into details but I have felt let down and ignored by the organisation. Admittedly I identify as a trans woman who is pansexual and don’t fit into the three LGB boxes which have defined it in the past, even though men and women are some of the people who I’m attracted to.

The second reason is to ask for some understanding, compassion even. Just like the LGB community, trans people are only bound by something which they have no control over, something they are born with and each live individually and as such have vastly different views. Many feel aggrieved by Stonewall UK of the past, some are hurt and some are angry and this has led to all kinds of strong words and actions in times gone by. These feelings may take some time to subside so please, take some time to understand just how much previous policies have impacted on the transgender community.

In America last year, as I’m sure you’re aware, the Lesbian and Gay Alliance Against Defamation formally changed their name to GLAAD, stating that they felt their work had expanded beyond fighting defamation to changing the culture. It was inclusive of their work both with allies and on transgender issues. A Greek philosopher once said that nothing endures but change and this is especially true for the LGBT equalities fight, even ten years ago the landscape was completely different from how it is now. There have been so many small successes over time, all adding up to a huge step forward for acceptance and equal human rights.

But for people whose gender identities and sexual orientations don’t fit into a binary, time feels like it’s passing slower than for everyone else almost like they’re being left behind. Only a small percentage of people in this world identify as LGB and an even smaller percentage of those are transgender or define themselves outside of the binaries, some trans people are straight, but they shouldn’t be excluded either.

When trans people shout about injustices it is difficult for our voices to get heard in the right places, even if it’s over similar issues which have happened in the past with the LGB community, nobody seems to listen. Transgender organisations just aren’t well funded enough to raise awareness on a wider scale, when a person transitions and their employer realises that their equality training doesn’t cover transgender issues, it’s that vulnerable person who suffers.

Which brings me to my third reason for writing this, I’m asking you to be more of an ally to trans people, can Stonewall UK move forward, evolve even, to be more inclusive? Allies are so important, especially when you’re part of a tiny minority within an already small community, The Vice President of America recently said that transgender discrimination is the human rights issue of our time and from my perspective, there is never a truer word spoken.

Our links may be tenuous, gender and sexuality are different things but our fight for acceptance and equality are so similar and to be honest, the trans community need all the friends and allies we can get.

Sarah.

Trans Activism, Cerys Matthews and me

I’ve noticed that there are two ways to approach trans activism, every time a trans story hits the headlines and generates discussion across the community there is always one section who are shouty, issuing rallying cries for direct action, boycotts and more. I’ve written passionate blogs in the same vein, hell, I’ve even taken part in protests and called for people to be fired from their jobs. I do this because it works.

The second theory of trans activism is often talked about on social media and follows the idea that all trans people are activists in a sense, these people argue that the most effective way of gaining acceptance and educating the cis masses is by just living your life with quiet dignity, getting on with it by interacting with the people they meet in their lives, winning them over one person at a time. Again, this works too as some of the most surprising acceptance stories in my personal life have come from people I meet in everyday life.

The problem I have though, is that both sides always seem to be absolutely certain that their particular brands of gaining acceptance, of activism, are completely right. Conformation and commitment bias run rife and sometimes there is friction between the two camps.

Recently someone brought my attention to an issue about a trans woman being talked about on the radio who had transitioned more than 40 years ago and is a successful musician. The presenter, Cerys Matthews used the wrong pronouns to describe this woman and when I listened back to the show she seemed confused in general about how to address her. A discussion followed about how to respond to this with one side literally braying for blood, saying that enough was enough, she should be sacked and it’s time to start fighting fire with fire. Maybe it was all those years of walking to school in the morning, blissfully listening to Catatonia but this time I couldn’t bring myself to go all out on the attack over this.

I decided to send Cerys a tweet, no shouty shouty, just a calm message and see where that took me. I didn’t really expect a reply, I just like to speak my mind at randoms on Twitter, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

To my surprise, she answered me and we swapped a few tweets and Direct Messages…

And it concluded with:

I think we can call that a success.

As usual when two opposing ideas clash, neither of these theories are one hundred percent right or wrong. I had a very strict rules and regulation based upbringing and have always delighted in the idea that there is always an exception to the rule. Hard and fast ideologies are weak to the fact that every situation is different and deserves to be judged accordingly and we as a community need to realise that in general, people just aren’t educated enough about trans people. They don’t have the vocabulary to describe transgender issues like we do, remember that we’re are all human, we make mistakes occasionally.

What makes a person is how they respond to their mistakes and kudos to Cerys Matthews for admitting it, apologising and promising to learn from it. If the shouty shouty crowd had been listened to, there is a chance that the outcome would have been completely different.