Be the change that you want to see

I’ve written a lot about recently about Why The Government Is Bad. I’ve said less stuff about what we can actually do about it.

There’s not a lot specifically going on in the trans world right now that I’m aware of (although there is some useful information being added to TranzWiki.net, particularly that relating to the government’s Trans Action Plan). However, we can fight indirectly for trans rights by supporting the anti-cuts movement.

Trans people are disproportionately likely to be unemployed, underemployed or poorly paid. Many of us require specialist medical treatment, which we can usually only access on the NHS There are reasons to also believe that a disproportionate number of us are also disabled (the existing evidence on this is somewhat contradictory, however). As a result of this, trans people are particularly likely to suffer because of the government’s ideological obsession with cuts.

So, what can you do about it? Well, there’s plenty of local groups organising against the cuts. It’s worth looking for them on social media: if you use Facebook for instance, just try searching for the name of your area along with “cuts” and you’re likely to find something.

There are also local chapters of national groups. UK Uncut are particularly brilliant because it’s very easy to take part in their actions against tax-dodging shops and banks. They have a comprehensive, regularly updated list of actions, meaning that you can easily see what’s going along and join in if you’re free. Alternatively, you can organise your own event and add details to the site. The group also provide a fair amount of useful information on their blog and in press releases.

There will also be a massive march in London on Saturday 26th March. The March For the Alternative is being organised by the Trade Unions Congress and will also be backed by student groups and numerous anti-cuts organisations. The bigger the march is, the more we can worry the government. Don’t be fooled by the relatively low rate of attendance pledges on the official website: there are over 16,000 participants confirmed on Facebook and this number is constantly growing

Meanwhile, over 2000 people are planning to occupy Hyde Park following the march. Activists are planning to camp in the park, and use it as a base of operation from which to launch protests around central London. Again, there’s a Facebook event page here.

Obviously, radical protests aren’t for everyone, but there’s always something, bombard your elected representatives with letters, share information with others. There’s plenty we can do to resist government attacks on our public services.

The Lib Dems: A Cautionary Tale

“This is supposed to be the discrimination bill to end all discrimination bills, and yet it will contain quite blatant prejudice. Only protecting people who are considering or have undergone gender reassignment surgery will leave huge swathes of the transgender population vulnerable to what, in effect, will be legalised discrimination. I will do my best to make sure the final legislation offers real protection for people who define their gender differently.”

– Lynne Featherstone (Lib Dem) criticises the Equality Bill in 2008

I feel that I’ve learned a lot from the Liberal Democrats.

In many ways, I’ve always been a natural Liberal Democrat voter. Labour were running the country during my teenage years, and I grew increasingly disgusted with them during their time in power. The UK became increasingly authoritarian as the government made clear that civil rights were not a priority. We became involved in a number of utterly pointless, wasteful wars. Granted, the situation for LGBT people improved immeasurably, but this was down more to shifting social attitudes and a number of important victories in the European courts than anything else.

I understood the way that Labour regarded people like me. I was a socialist but accepted social democracy as a necessary reality, I was a trans person with an increasing number of equal rights. I imagine that, to them, I was a natural Labour voter. I wasn’t, and I’m still not. I won’t forget the ID card proposals, the introduction of tuition fees,  the wars and the arrogance. I won’t forget the way in which Labour representatives claimed time and time again that they’d done all these things for trans rights when pretty much every piece of trans-positive legislation they passed happened because the European courts told them to do it.

In opposition, we had the Conservative party (booo! hiss, etc.) and the Liberal Democrats. Oh, and the Greens, but they never stood the chance of getting anywhere, and I certainly wasn’t interested in the far-fight fringe parties.

The Liberal Democrats appealed to me. I lived in a constituency with a Lib Dem MP who’d done a lot of good, hard work for the area. The Liberal Democrats believed in greater social freedoms and less legal restrictions. The Liberal Democrats opposed war, and spending on weapons. The Liberal Democrats (supposedly) believed in social justice, and stood up for the poor. On that front they were a little too…y’know, liberal, but they seemed to have their hearts in the right place, and it had to be better than the situation under the hypocritical Labour party, right?

The Liberal Democrats not only spoke about LGBT rights, but seemed to know what they were talking about. Labour talked about civil partnership, and the Lib Dems talked about equal marriage. They actually got the issues, and they understood that bi people exist, and they understood that trans people exist, and – shockingly – they even understood that the trans spectrum encompasses more than just recreational cross-dressers and “primary” transsexuals.

I was a natural Liberal Democrat voter. I voted for them in two general elections and one local election. I voted Green once in a European election, but I was feeling terribly radical that day.

I now, of course, realise that my trust was utterly misplaced. The Lib Dem betrayal has been almost absolute.

I mean, they – like Labour before them – are still talking the talk. The Government Equality Office is pushing some kind of trans action plan that probably will actually make a difference in some areas, and hence genuinely help people (you can contribute to it here, if you manage to get your head around the bizarre contribution process). But, on the whole, the Lib Dems are obeying their senior coalition partners in a way that’s going to cause a lot of people a whole lot of harm.

The tuition fees sell-out was arguably the most high-profile instance of Lib Dem duplicity, but you just need to look at, well, everything that’s wrong with the current government attitude to see where the party is letting down the minority groups that they claim to speak for.

The cuts are hitting the poor, the young, the elderly and the disabled hardest. A disproportionate amount of trans people tend to be poor and disabled (funny how massive amounts of discrimination can do that, huh?)  Support services are failing left, right and centre as funding dries up. Trans charities such as Gender Matters, which struggled to find funding at the best of times, are going under. The restructuring of the NHS is already hurting trans people in areas that are withdrawing funding for treatment: I suspect this will only get worse if the proposed new system is implemented.

There’s no point in having all these wonderful new proposed laws in place to help trans people if there are no real support structures in place any more because the government has destroyed them all. The Liberal Democrats are totally complicit in this disaster, and it’s only going to get worse.

This is why I have absolutely no sympathy for the Lib Dems’ plight in the wake of yesterday’s dramatic Barnsley by-election result. The party’s candidate came sixth in the polls, behind UKIP, the BNP and an independent as well as the Labour and Conservative candidates. Quite frankly, it serves them right. I genuinely hope that this the beginning of a process in which the party will destroy itself, or at least totally undergo a thorough re-invention process. I’m not sure what will have to happen before I can trust them again though.

I used to think that the old adage, “never trust a politician”, was an unhelpful cliché. I now feel that to make any kind of meaningful change, we need to take power into our own hands. We can’t rely on some well-spoken, well-meaning, well-groomed young thing with a brightly coloured rosette to do the work for us.

We must unite behind the student movement

You may have noticed that UK students are pretty damn angry right now.  Protests over rising tuition fees and massive cuts to education budgets for both further and higher education have taken place across the country during the past few weeks.  Thousands of school children, college students, university students, teachers and lecturers are taking to the streets.

The student protests demonstrate the vast power held by ordinary people.  It shows that we have the power to set a media agenda, to shut down the streets of a major city, to pressure our elected representatives, to outwit brutal police set on violence, and to cancel a conference before it even takes place.  The education cuts are just the tip of the iceberg, but the student protests show that we can fight back against ideologically-driven attacks upon our public services.

As trans people, we are very much at risk from the cuts.  We cannot possibly organise on a scale comparable to the student movement: we are too few, too scattered, too divided.  But what we can do is unite with the student movement and other anti-cut alliances.  We can call upon our elected representatives on a local level and our trade unions to take action.  We can petition, we can write letters, we can attend meetings and protests.

Mostly importantly, we can be a part of the student movement.  I’m involved as a student myself, but I’d contribute even if I wasn’t currently studying.  The movement welcomes all support from those who wish to protest in solidarity; in return, it offers the possibility of defeating the government itself.  This is an unlikely outcome, but one which is becoming increasingly possible as the Liberal Democrats buckle under pressure.

If you want to safeguard treatment for transsexed people on the NHS, defend police attempts to actually enagage minority groups rather than treat us like dirt and beat us up, support public sector measures to ensure equality and express solidarity with other minority groups who will be disproportionately impacted by the cuts, support the student movement.  A victory for the students is a victory for us all.