(Guest Post) #TransStonewall: Uncovering White Trans Laziness

This post was written by Jade Fernandez, who has given me permission to cross-post.


It’s true, I’m a defector. I’m turned in my Racial Badge for a slightly-less-radical badge that reads ‘Unapologetic Stonewall Sympathiser’, and I’ve torn up my Radical Trans ID that I specifically use to get into Radical Trans Events.

I took part in the #TransStonewall meeting, and I liked it. Sue me.

What was refreshing was, to put it lightly, the lack of trans wankery. What, I hear you ask, is trans wankery? It’s the inter-community shitstorm that bubbles up every time we try and organise something even a little bit outside of our comfort zones. Let’s face it, trans people trying to organise something of this magnitude with Stonewall would be like dumping cats into a bag and giving it a kick. With CEO Ruth Hunt’s guidance, oratory skills, and calm professional aura, the meeting was free from drama, ended on time, and we reached some clear, profound points for moving forward at the end. Had a bunch of trans people organised it solely, we would have been talking about the past 25 years of grievances for 25 hours and I would have burst into tears.

There were issues with diversity – of course, there will always be diversity issues within any group of people with one common experience. Intersectionality is a buzzword white trans people like to throw around to impress their equally white mates. Intersectionality, white trans people think, means complaining that no or limited amounts of trans people of colour are present at a meeting, while doing eff-all to improve the situation yourself.

I mean, thank God we’re going to get a separate meeting, because Lord knows that room was a 50-person mayonnaise-fest. It was like walking into a Hellmann’s conference.

But the thing is, the reason why it was particularly creamy as fuck is neither solely the responsibility of trans people, ‘The Trans Community’, or Stonewall. We can’t point fingers at Stonewall while ignoring the fact that white trans people dominate every conversation taking place around trans stuff.

White trans people – lend me your ears: you have a duty of care to make sure trans people of colour are included at all times, and you need to signal boost stuff specifically notifying trans people of colour. Tell your friends. Blitz it out to your social media connections and to your ‘real life’ connections. Make it a numero uno priority. If I see you complaining about trans meetings or events being white, and you didn’t lift a finger to even attempt and make trans people of colour feel welcome, then you can shut your mouth and remove your hands from your keyboard. If I see you pointing fingers at events organisers without first pointing the finger at yourself and asking “Hey, could I be any use apart from using my impressively long repertoire of SJ buzzwords to annoy people?”, then politely go far away from me.

I’ve been transitioning since I was 15. I’m now nearly 22. I’m young and there’s been so much white trans people drama in this small island that I already feel like a battle-scarred veteran of some ongoing bullshit.

You see, white trans people are in prime position to invite trans people of colour to events that are going to be organised and facilitated by people who need some extra help. I don’t think anyone at Stonewall knows about our hidden or closed Facebook groups. Who might know about the perfect people to invite who’d be well up for it, and who are also people of colour. But you – you, my dear white friend – know of these secret communities. Or at least know a friend of a bloody friend, come on.

The result of White Trans Laziness? And now, I’m not letting off Stonewall and the organisers, but this article is holding white trans people to account. But the result of this was that there were four out of fifty trans people who were people of colour. Two of them were afterthoughts. One of them experienced a pretty upsetting racial microaggression on the day. That’s your stat breakdown.

While the consensus from the people of colour who did attend was that it was positive, it was draining and exhausting to be in a space with a load of white trans activists. Though we didn’t talk a great deal about individual experiences and opinions, you just get dragged down a little bit in that kind of space. It was good that a lot of the discussions highlighted that any of Stonewall’s work has to include trans people of a lot of varying diversities and experiences – something that Ruth agreed on wholeheartedly. But you know, I felt like a token. Actually – I was a token. I was there to bring up the diversity quotient. And you know who made me feel tokenised most of all? That’s right: white trans people who did eff-all in the first place complaining that there weren’t more people of colour there, throwing out comments about ‘diversity’ in a smug way like it’s fashionable to point it out.

We’re not fucking elves. Magical people of colour don’t pop up when you say ‘Wow, we (of course, not meaning ME, because I’m a Good White Person) need to do better!’ If you want to magic us up for your conference or event: 1) Provide a spread. Food does wonders. 2) WORK ON IT. PROACTIVELY.

And actually, that’s what Stonewall is doing. Which is heartening. I hope it’s a good one. And free from inter-trans-people-of-colour-community drama, which is ten billion times more upsetting than the paltry Twitter shit white people could ever come up with (‘But that’s none of my business Kermit.jpg’).

I was going to write about how trans people of colour can work with Stonewall in the first instance, but this turned into a rant about white people – which, you know, is kind of relevant. Because if white trans people don’t start pulling their finger out, if we can’t fix the White Trans Laziness in our own little bubble of a world, then there’s really no point of any sort of unity with Stonewall.

Imagining a trans-inclusive Stonewall

“The meeting actually went pretty well, didn’t it?”

I heard a number of variations upon this statement echo around the pub we gathered in yesterday evening, as some 40-odd trans activists digested the day’s work. There was an undertone of incredulity: most of us had managed our expectations carefully in advance of the day. This was due in part to the fractious nature of trans communities, but also stemmed from our difficult history with Stonewall.

Back in 2008, many of us had been present at a loud, colourful demonstration outside the Victoria and Albert Museum as it hosted the annual Stonewall awards. We were there to express our displeasure at an organisation that didn’t simply exclude trans people, but seemed to keep making mistakes that caused harm to us.

A lot can happen in six years. Change has come from two directions: from continued external pressure from trans people, but also from a genuine willingness to reconsider matters from Stonewall following a shift in management in February.

In this post, I outline the themes and outcomes of a meeting held on Saturday to discuss potential options for trans inclusion in Stonewall. I will repeat some of the points made by CN Lester and Zoe O’Connell in their accounts of the day, but recommend you also have a look at what they have to say. For an idea of what is at stake, I recommend posts by Natacha Kennedy and Kat Gupta, as well as my previous writing on the topic.


A meeting with trans activists

The meeting – held in central London – was attended by a large number of trans activists who had been directly invited to the event, as well as three cis attendees: new Stonewall CEO Ruth Hunt, Jan Gooding who is Chair of trustees for the group, and a facilitator (who, incidentally, did a very good job).

A number of us felt that a more open meeting or more transparent means of securing invitation would have been beneficial. I’ve made my own views about this clear (particularly on social media) but in this post I will focus upon what we actually achieved, and what will happen next.

The event was in some ways quite diverse, and in others ways very limited in terms of representation. There were a wide variety of experiences represented, and views from across the political spectrum. There were a great range of gender identities represented, although a particularly large part of the group were trans women. There were attendees from across England and Wales, with James Morton from the Scottish Transgender Alliance present to talk about the situation in Scotland (where Stonewall is an LGBT organisation). The group was overwhelmingly white. There were a number of disabled people present, but not many with experiences of physical impairment.

Several commentators have stated that Stonewall were responsible for the make-up of the meeting, and therefore could have made more effort in terms of inviting a diverse range of participants. This is true, but I feel that trans activists also need to step up and take some responsibility here. Most of our loudest voices are white trans women like myself. We need to keep our own house in order: by reaching out to communities of trans people from under-represented groups, by “boosting the signal” and talking about the work of trans people from under-represented groups, and by ensuring that it’s not just us with places at the table.

It’s worth noting that this event was framed by Ruth as one part of a far wider consultation on Stonewall’s future engagement with trans issues. If you’re trans please ensure that your voice is heard in this. You can do so by writing to Stonewall here, or by emailing: trans@stonewall.org.uk. There will be more about the next steps of consultation later in this post.

The meeting ultimately had two purposes: to move on from the problems of the past, and examine potential options for future collaboration between Stonewall and trans communities.


An apology from Ruth Hunt

The day began with a refreshingly honest admission of fault on the part of Stonewall from Ruth. She offered a point-by-point account of how Stonewall has let trans people down over the past few years, and offered both apology and explanation for these incidents, as well as an account of how these are now being addressed.

This was not the main focus of the day, instead clearing the air from the start to enable a productive discussion. However, I feel it is important to provide a public record of this session: if we are to collectively move on from the past, then we need to remember that Stonewall has demonstrated a commitment to change.

Some of the issues discussed by Ruth included:

  • Nominating transphobic individuals for awards. This was acknowledged as a mistake, and we were assured that nominees are now scrutinised more carefully (not just for transphobia).
  • Insensitive use of language in Fit, Stonewall’s video resource for schools. Ruth explained that the inappropriate section has been removed from the DVD.
  • Stonewall’s campaign with Paddy Power, who were severely rebuked by Advertising Standards Authority for a transphobic advert in 2012. Ruth noted that Stonewall is now using its relationship with Paddy Power feed back on advertising they consider to be offensive (interventions which are not just limited to addressing homophobia) which has resulted in a number of changes being made.
  • Stonewall representatives speaking out inappropriately and/or not speaking out on trans issues whilst lobbying Government and MPs. There’s a long and complex history here that I’m not going into in this post: suffice to say that one aim of Saturday’s meeting was to ensure that this is done better in the future.

There was also significant evidence that Stonewall is undergoing major institutional change in regards to trans issues. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Ruth had emphasised seeking a solution to the organisation’s difficult relationship with trans people when applying for the position of CEO, and that this was viewed favourably by trustees who considered her job application. Trans employees of Stonewall are reportedly more likely to be “out” and feel comfortable speaking about trans issues and concerns.


What’s on the table?

We then moved onto the main point of the event: to discuss proposals for a new relationship between Stonewall and trans people. There were four options for us to consider in group conversations, with attendees also encouraged to suggest any additional solutions that might not have been considered.

The options were:

  1. A fully inclusive LGBT Stonewall, which considers campaigning on trans issues to be a full part of its remit.
  2. Stonewall becomes nominally LGBT, but also funds and provides resources and guidance for the creation of a new, effectively autonomous trans organisation to work on trans campaigns. This organisation will eventually become independent, but can work closely with Stonewall.
  3. Stonewall remains LGB, and provides grants for a number of trans organisations so they can do their own campaigning work.
  4. Stonewall remains LGB, and works to be better ally.

Ruth explained that option (4) was not really favoured by Stonewall, particularly given the appetite for a closer relationship amongst many trans activists. The general feeling of the room reflected this, and we focussed our discussion upon the first three options.

Option (3) was largely rejected also. Criticisms raised included concerns about who would get the money, the impact of competition between smaller trans organisations, about what the conditions might be for such grants, and the amount of money and energy that would be spent by both Stonewall and trans groups on managing the system and applying for grants – money and energy that could be better spent on actual campaigning. Ruth further pointed out that Stonewall doesn’t actually have a lot of money to spare, outlining how money is currently spent on Stonewall’s employees and existing campaigns.  If the grant scheme was to go ahead, then there would likely be a knock-on effect on (for instance) campaigning in schools, and Stonewall might need to apply for extra money from funding pots that are already used by trans groups.

Options (1) and (2) both had great deal of support from within the room. Several groups suggested variations upon an “option 1.5” that sat between the two – proposals included the creation of a “trans department” within Stonewall, and semi-autonomous “sibling” organisation linked permanently to Stonewall.


Outcomes

There was a pretty clear consensus on the following points at the end of the day:

  • Barring the unexpected (e.g. widespread opposition from trans people contributing to the public consultation) Stonewall will become an LGBT organisation, in one form or another.
  • Any eventual solution should provide for joint ‘LGBT’ campaigning on shared issues, such as homophobia and transphobia in schools.
  • Any eventual solution should provide for campaigning on trans-specific issues, such as on relevant legislation (e.g. the Gender Recognition Act and amendments to the recent Marriage Act) and on addressing issues with health care.
  • Future campaigning work must be intersectional, recognising the diversity of trans experience in areas such as gender identity, race, disability and age.

 

What happens next?

  • The public consultation will continue for several months. If you’re trans, please make sure your voice is heard!
  • There will be further meetings held with people from under-represented groups. This is a vital opportunity to address the problem of diversity at Saturday’s meeting. Stonewall are planning meetings with people from a number of groups, including intersex people as well as trans people of colour, disabled trans people and young trans people. If you want to attend one of these meetings, please contact Stonewall: trans@stonewall.org.uk
  • There will be a formal proposal for trans inclusion in Stonewall made in January 2015 in the shape of a report. This will then be consulted upon internally (i.e. within Stonewall) and externally (i.e. amongst trans people).
  • A final decision on the future of Stonewall should be made in April 2015. If this involves full trans inclusion and/or the creation of a new trans group, this will take several months to implement.

It’s important to note that this is not a process that can take place overnight! The process of consultation is lengthy in order to take on board the views of as many trans people as possible. We have such a range of perspectives that there is no chance that everyone will be happy, but the aim is for change to be trans-led, and to reflect the desires and interests of as many people as possible.

Once the consultation ends, its results cannot be implement immediately either. Stonewall may need to revise its priorities and work plans, and Ruth noted that a full-scale programme of training on trans issues and awareness will be necessary for the organisation’s staff.


Personal reflections

I feel positive about the future. There is so much unnecessary suffering amongst the trans population that allies are vital, and Stonewall could be a particularly large and powerful ally.

I believe in diversity of tactics to bring about change, and Stonewall takes a particularly centrist, “insider” approach to this. It is vitally important that Stonewall is never the only voice in LGBT activism, and that other groups continue to take more radical approaches to trans campaigning. It is also important that we remain capable of critiquing Stonewall, and holding it to account. Ultimately though, I’d rather be a critical friend than an entrenched foe.

Putting the “T” into Stonewall? An important opportunity

LGB rights charity Stonewall has a difficult history of engagement with trans issues. For 25 years the charity has been a powerful voice in the struggle for LGB equality, but ‘trans’ is not included in its remit within England and Wales. Stonewall has been criticised on one hand for this omission at a time when a majority of ‘LGB’ organisations have become ‘LGBT’, and accused on the other of undue interference in trans matters.

After years of misunderstandings and disagreement, Stonewall announced in June that it would be addressing these problems:

“At Stonewall we’re determined to do more to support trans communities (including those who identify as LGB) to help eradicate prejudice and achieve equality. There are lots of different views about the role Stonewall should play in achieving that. We’re holding roundtable meetings and having lots of conversations. Throughout this process we will be guided by trans people.”

I have been invited to a closed meeting that will take place as part of this process at the end of August.

I really welcome the proposal from Stonewall. In this post I’m going to explore why this dialogue is important, outline some of the proposed approaches to working with Stonewall (or not), and outline my priorities in discussing this issue with both Stonewall and other trans activists.

I also encourage readers to leave their own thoughts and feedback in the comments.


The current situation for trans people in England and Wales

I don’t feel it is an exaggeration to describe the current social and political climate as an emergency. Whilst it is true that trans people in the UK currently benefit from unprecedented civil rights, and there is talk of a “transgender tipping point” in terms of public discourse in the English-speaking world, many trans people still face very serious challenges in everyday life.

For instance, trans people are still likely to face discrimination, harassment and abuse in accessing medical services, as demonstrated in horrific detail by #transdocfail. Trans people are particularly likely to suffer from mental health problems, and this is often made worse by members of the medical profession.

For many years now there has been an exponential rise in the number of trans people accessing transition-related services; with cuts and freezes to healthcare spending from 2010, this has meant that many individuals now have to wait years for an initial appointment at at gender clinic. This problem has been compounded for trans women seeking genital surgery by the additional backlogs accompanying the recent resignation of surgeon James Bellringer.

Meanwhile, the impact of the Coalition government’s austerity agenda is being felt particularly keenly by less privileged trans people. With many continuing to face aforementioned mental health problem and discrimination from employers, benefit cuts and the increasing precariousness of employment and public demonisation of the unemployed are hitting hard amongst my contacts (some discussion of this in a wider LGBT context can be found here). Cuts to public services are also felt strongly by groups such as the disproportionate number of trans people who face domestic abuse.

Then there’s what we don’t know. For instance, research in the United States shows that young trans people are particularly likely to be homeless, and that trans women are considerably more liable to contract HIV than the general population. Both anecdotal evidence and extrapolation from international statistics and small local studies pointing to similar problems existing in the UK, but this is not enough evidence to properly address these serious issues.


Activism

I believe that trans people need a campaigning organisation that is up to the task of tackling the above problems. A campaigning organisation with the funding, resources and knowledge to lobby government, conduct research and push for social change.

Currently we rely on the energies of unpaid activists and ad-hoc organisations that are lucky to attract any kind of funding. The importance and achievements of organisations such as Press For Change and Trans Media Watch should not be underestimated, but this is not enough. Whilst Stonewall attracts millions of pounds in funding and wields an impressive range of resources, trans groups staffed largely by enthusiastic volunteers are lucky to land a few hundred pounds in donations, or a temporary project grant. You can probably count the number of trans activists employed to push for change in this country on your fingers.

Under such circumstances, stress and burnout are common amongst trans activists, even expected. Personality clashes are capable of sinking an organisation. The individuals most able to work long hours for free are typically the most privileged, meaning that there is poor representation in terms of race, disability and class.

We have to do better. We need to do better.


Solution 1: a new trans organisation

There will be those who wish to pursue the creation of a new trans organisation entirely separate from Stonewall. From this perspective, a dialogue with Stonewall offers the opportunity to discuss instances where the charity might have overstepped the mark in speaking out in relation to trans issues without this being within their remit. Beyond that, there will probably be a desire to ‘go it alone’.

For some, this will be because of Stonewall’s non-democratic structure (it is not intended to be a membership organisation), corporate links, and past disappointments such as the organisation’s initial refusal to campaign for same-sex marriage.

For others, this will be because of the view that the ‘T’ should remain independent of ‘LGB’. This position can be based upon the argument that the interests and needs of trans people differ to those of lesbian, gay and bisexual people, and/or a recognition that the trans liberation project is significantly less advanced than the LGB equivalent. From this also comes the idea that cis gay activists might not be able to properly campaign on trans issues.

There have been numerous attempts to create such an organisation over the last decade (one of which I was involved in, through Gender Spectrum UK) but none have been successful. I propose that one of the most serious barriers here is that of funding: there is so much work to be done and so many problems that individual activists are likely to face in their personal lives, that it has been extremely difficult for unpaid activists to put in the work necessary to launch such a body.

 

Solution 2: adding the ‘T’ to Stonewall

It has long been suggested that Stonewall should follow other LGBT organisations in becoming trans-inclusive. The arguments frequently centre upon an appeal to history, and the similarities of LGBT experiences.

The Pride movement emerged out of alliances forged between sexual minorities and gender variant people; this happened in part because homophobic and transphobic attitudes tend to stem from the same bigotry. Trans people have always been present in the struggle for gay and bisexual rights. Pretty much all LGBT people can talk about ‘coming out’, usually to family as well as friends, peers and/or colleagues. LGBT people often have to tackle internalised shame at some point in their lives, an inevitable outcome of growing up in a homophobic/transphobic world.

Moreover, with a great deal of organisations turning to Stonewall for LGBT equality advice and training, it has been argued that it only makes sense to explicitly incorporate trans issues, lest trans people get left behind. For instance, Stonewall does a lot of work on homophobic bullying in schools – surely it would make sense to also address transphobic bullying, particularly as the two tend to have a similar root cause?


Solution 3: a hybrid organisation

An idea I’ve heard bounced around a little ahead of August’s meeting is a kind of compromise between the two above positions. A trans charity that is linked to Stonewall in terms of sharing resources, information and funding, but remains semi-autonomous with its own leadership and trustees.

This is currently my favoured option. I feel that trans people would benefit greatly from effectively sharing some of Stonewall’s power. We’d certainly benefit from working more consistently together, instead of occasionally against one another. But we have different needs, different priorities. We might want to run our own organisation in a different way, and make somewhat different political decisions.


My priorities
in the dialogue with Stonewall

1) Representation

I was actually a little bit uncomfortable to be invited to the meeting in August. Sure, I’ve been involved in plenty of both high-profile, national campaigns, as well bits of activism in my local area and place of work. Plus, a lot of people read this blog. But ultimately, I received an invitation because I have the right connections. So many didn’t get that chance. I also strongly suspect that the majority of people present at the meeting will be white and middle-class, and that there will not be many genderqueer people present (I’m less sure about disability, because there are a lot of disabled trans people).

I’m hoping that any future meetings will be more open. If it turns out that my suspicions are correct regarding the overrepresentation of privileged groups, I hope that we can take steps to ensure that any future meetings are more representative. It’s the only way we’re going to find a way to create consensus and work on the behalf of all trans people in the long term.

If you’re not going to be at the meeting, I strongly encourage you to respond to Stonewall’s survey so your voice is heard. Also, since I’ll be there in person, I’d really like to know what you think.

2) The creation of a new trans organisation

I’ve pretty much made the argument for this already. We need national representation that can genuinely address the many problems faced by trans people today. A democratically accountable body that reflects diversity of trans lives and experiences.

I hope this is something we can work towards by working with Stonewall. Yes, there will be political differences – certainly I have ideological objections to some of the approaches taken by Stonewall – but I feel the situation is too severe and the opportunity too important to reject an offer of help.

That isn’t to say that a new organisation should overrule the work of existing organisations. I would hope that any new body works alongside existing campaign groups such as Trans Media Watch, Gendered Intelligence and Action For Trans Health without seeking to duplicate their work.

3) Starting with the essentials

I believe that the initial basis for any new trans organisation – or trans campaigns within Stonewall – should be addressing the absolute, basic needs that are not currently being met for many trans people. Housing. Health. Employment. We should be looking out for the most vulnerable, as well as addressing universal needs. This is pretty much a moral duty.

 

What do you think? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!

 

What’s in a consultation?

The media is currently getting itself into a massive tizzy over government proposals to allow gay couples to have civil partnerships in religious buildings. The predictable right-wing wonks are being wheeled out to moan about it being a slippery slope that will end up with any given Christian priest (no-one cares about what Jews, Muslims or (God forbid) Pagans might think, it seems) being forced to marry a couple of scary gay men with Nazi tattoos.

Meanwhile, left-leaning and right-leaning papers are falling over themselves to predict that full gay marriage (and, weirdly, heterosexual civil partnership) will be next, despite the fact that there has been no confirmation of this from anyone in government. I mean, let’s take a look at the actual statement from the equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone:

“Over the past few months I’ve spoken to a lot of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and campaign groups, and it quickly became clear that there is a real desire to address the differences between civil marriage and civil partnerships. I’m delighted to announce that we are going to be the first British government to formally look at what steps can be taken to address this.”

Yep, there’s certainly a lot in there confirming that gay marriage is around the corner. I’m hoping that it will be (hell, we could immediately take the next logical step and start pushing for legal recognition of polyamory or something!) but have my doubts. After all, the Tories aren’t really that keen on gay marriage. The Liberal Democrats have policy on it and Nick Clegg says that he’s in support, but if you can’t trust the Lib Dems on student fees, trident, detention policies, supporting the poor, the disabled, women or just about anyone else really, then I’m not convinced that you can trust them on equal marriage either.

Moreover, there’s that little issue of the consultation. Government consultations can take forever! I first started campaigning on amendments to the proposed Single Equality Bill (as it was then) back in 2007, and the first consultation was held well before then. The Equality Act eventually emerged in 2010 after being rushed through at the last minute by a desperate Labour party. Ben Summerskill of Stonewall has (for a change) made a pertinent point relating to this:

“If there’s a genuine commitment to making progress in this area, it is painfully slow. Equalities minister Lynne Featherstone has explicitly said she would consult on proposals the government intends to implement in the lifetime of this parliament. If that is to happen by 2015, then consultation should begin now.”

I’d take his word for it: Summerskill knows a thing or two about just how “painfully slow” progress on equal marriage can be.

So this will probably take some time. But it’s interesting that whilst this particular consultation is likely to take ages as civil servants painstakingly gather the views of any given bigot at hand, another important consultation is little more than a formality.

The government is still planning to radically reinvent the NHS despite massive opposition from those who actually understand our health service and care about the welfare state. The “consultation” on this has been minimal to say the least, and health services have already had to start preparing for changes that may have a huge negative impact upon service provision for some of the most vulnerable people.

Funny that the government is so keen to hold a consultation on religious civil partnerships when the relevant law is already there (as part of the Equality Act), but is happy to push ahead with its NHS clusterfuck with as little input from others as possible. Draw your own conclusions.

Stonewall U-turn on award nomination and marriage; demo called off

The annual Stonewall Awards take place tonight in London.  For several weeks it looked like there might be a repeat of scenes at the same awards ceremony in 2008, when a loud, vibrant protest against the organisation’s institutional transphobia took place.  However, the demonstration has been called off by organisers.

A number of important events influenced this decision.  The most noteable include Stonewall’s announcement that they will in fact campaign for equal marriage and their withdrawal of transphobic journalist Bill Leckie from the list “Journalist of the Year” nominees.

Meanwhile, “Fit” writer Rikki Beadle-Blair has offered an extensive apology for the inappropriate portrayal of trans issues on the wall of the Facebook event page for the demonstration.  Stonewall themselves have not offered an acknowledgement of (let alone an apology for) the offence and potential harm caused by the DVD, but Beadle-Blair’s willingness to accept his mistakes and engage with the trans community on such issues in the future is very encouraging.

As such, it was broadly agreed by many activists that the threat of protest has achieved a great deal on this occasion.  By calling off the demonstration, LGBT and queer activists have recognised the successes we have achieved by kicking up a fuss over these issues.  We should, however, continue pressuring Stonewall to revise their broadly inappropriate approach to trans issues.

“Fit” comes under further criticism

Events have moved pretty rapidly since I wrote my previous entry about an inappropriate scene within a DVD produced and distributed by Stonewall.

Natacha Kennedy wrote an article on the Guardian website for Comment is Free, in which she addresses many of the recent missteps from Stonewall.

Interestingly, a user under the name of “Stonewall UK” responded to her article in the comment section, stating the following:

Just to clear up a few inaccuracies in this article:

1) Stonewall categorically does not oppose same-sex marriage. We’re currently analysing the results of a consultation with thousands of our supporters on our priorities, which we’ll be reporting back on. These include tackling homophobic bullying in schools, ensuring gay asylum seekers get fair case hearings, and whether the term ‘civil partnership’ should be changed to the word ‘marriage.’ Civil partnerships offer exactly the same rights and responsibilities as marriage – including the right to have a ceremony in a place of worship (Stonewall lobbied for this in the Equality Act 2010). We recognise there are a range of issues on this subject and we’ll be reporting back on our supporter survey soon.

2) It is untrue to say Stonewall does not allow trans people to join. JessicaReed is right to ask – trans people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual are – of course – represented by Stonewall. Anyone can join Stonewall. As a charity it is our objective to represent lesbian, gay and bisexual people. When we were set up in 1989, there were discussions around whether Stonewall should also represent trans people, and it was decided that, for lobbying purposes, the two issues were separate. In England and Wales, there are very effective trans lobbying and campaigning organisations – including Press for Change and The Gender Trust to name but two – who represent trans people and who Stonewall keeps dialogue open with.
In Scotland, Stonewall represents LGBT people because historically there were gaps in provision for trans people when it was set up. There are of course now several organisations campaigning on these issues in Scotland, which we feel is important in progress towards full equality.

3) FIT, Stonewall’s anti-homophobia film for schools, has in fact already been sent to every school in Britain (in February this year). This is public knowledge. It’s also public knowledge that this is an anti-homophobic bullying resource, fitting in with Stonewall’s charitable objectives to tackle homophobia and campaign towards equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. We, of course, support equality for trans people and we beleive the trans campaigning organisations are doing very effective work on this, which we fully endorse.

A pretty damn good response to this can be found here on the Why The Silence blog.

I find it pretty telling that in point three, Stonewall don’t even really address the criticisms made by Natacha.  Yes, the DVD has been out for some time (given the issues with it, that’s not necessarily a good thing), and yes, it’s focused on homophobia.  So why have a trans bit at all?  Why “support” our equality and undermine it by being stupid and Othering when talking about our issues?  Why state that trans organisations are doing very good work in the area when – if you had a clue – you’d realise that they have barely any funding at all?  We’re weakened, not strengthened by being divided in this way.

To be perfectly honest, I feel the inappropriate part of the DVD speaks for itself:


 

Stonewall inappropriately address trans issues in anti-bullying DVD

Stonewall and its representatives have been taking increasingly bizarre decisions in recent months.  I recently wrote about the furore caused by Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill’s surprising comments at the Liberal Democrat party conference, where he argued against campaigning for equal marriage.  Since then, a number of heated exchanges have taken place between the organisation and its critics: a good summary of some of these can be found in the Why the silence Stonewall? blog.  Meanwhile, the charity’s attitude towards trans issues has been questioned once again after the organisation nominated a transphobic journalist for its Journalist of the Year award (hmmm, this sounds familiar), whilst at the Labour Party conference Summerskill claimed that Stonewall has been in talks with ministers and officials about potential amendments to the Gender Recognition Act in relation to civil partnership.

This last point is particularly strange.  Why are Stonewall – an organisation who are so very keen to exclude trans people and remain LGb only – involved in trans lobbying?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m in favour of any move towards Stonewall becoming an LGBT organisation at the very least (more on that later), but surely if they’re engaging in this kind of deeply important, high-profile lobbying on our behalf then they should damn well let us be a part of their organisation and officially campaign on our behalf.  Otherwise, who knows what the heck they’re saying?  For that matter, what right do they have to speak for us?  Shouldn’t we be able to speak for ourselves?

It may well be the case that the “large” trans organisations (which, in the broad scheme of the third sector, really are very small) don’t have the power to push a trans-positive agenda on the scale they’d like to and have somehow managed to rope Stonewall into helping us out.  For me, this is a perfect argument in favour of a united LGBT alliance, rather than separate groups where the LGb inevitably gets the power and the T ends up left out in the cold, despite our ultimately similar interests.

This brings me nicely onto the main subject of this blog: another instance of Stonewall deciding that they’re going to speak out about trans issues.  On this occasion, they demonstrate how attempting to speak for someone else can backfire magnificently.

Earlier this year, Stonewall sent out a copy of “Fit” to every school in Britain as part of a wider campaign to tackle homophobic bullying in schools.  On the whole, the DVD – like the rest of the campaign – is admirable in its aims, scope, and general thoughtfulness.  This is something which they’ve (almost!) done really well.  However, for some incomprehensible reason the people who put together the DVD decided that it would be appropriate to include a brief discussion of trans issues.

The main content of the DVD consists of a story about sexuality, identity and bullying, involving a fairly large cast of teenagers who attend a 6th form college.  This central narrative is split into a number of smaller stories, each focusing based around a particular character; the brief discussion of trans issues takes part within one such story.  In this scene, Lee – a tomboy who has previously discovered that her best friend is gay after following her – attends a gay youth group for the first time.  Whilst she is there, the following discussion takes place:

Male 1 [is talking about his mother]: “She keeps saying: ‘but you don’t look gay’. I think that she wishes I was a tranny, so then we could be girlfriends.”

[group laughs]

Lee:  “What’s a tranny?”

Female 1:  “It’s short for transgender.”

Female 2:  “I know this one! Transsexuals are people who want a sex change, tranvestites are people who dress up as the opposite sex.  Drag kings and queens – well they dress up for a living!”

[group applauds]

Lee:  [looks confused] “I need to take some notes, has anyone got a pen like?”

[Lee is given a pen]

Lee:  “So what’s a transsexual?”

Female 3:  “Boys who feel more like girls and girls who feel more like boys.”

Lee:  “Transvestite?”

Female 3:  “Well, they feel content with their born gender, but prefer to wear the clothes of the opposite sex.”

Lee:  “So am I a transvestite?”

Female 2:  “No. Lots of girls are tomboys when they’re young, then they grow out of it.”

Female 4:  “I didn’t! I’m a total boy and I love it!”

Female 2:  “…and I’m not a boy, I like being a girl.”

Female 4:  “…and that’s fine too! Look, there’s as many way to be a girl as there are girls.”

[The conversation then turns to the issue of gay marriage. The group seems to be broadly in favour, and they think civil partnerships are an unfair compromise.]

[Edit: the inappropriate scene can now be seen here on Youtube]

In a different context – let’s say a random TV drama – this scene would make me cringe a bit but I wouldn’t think much more of it.  After all, general cluelessness about trans stuff is pretty much par for course, and in the broad scheme of things this particular instance isn’t so bad.  Within the context of a DVD that seeks to tackle homophobic bullying, however, this is completely out of order.

“Fit” handles homophobic insults and the common negative use of words such as “gay” in a pretty nuanced manner, putting all kinds of nasty language into its characters’ mouths and then carefully demonstrating how this impacts the beliefs and actions of others.  At the same time, you learn how gay teenagers might think and feel through empathasising with gay characters.

By contrast, the tokenistic discussion of trans issues takes place in a setting where there are apparently no trans characters (Lee remains a tomboy of sorts throughout the narrative and her sexuality is somewhat ambiguous, but at no point is it seriously implied that she identifies as trans in any way because of this).  We are portrayed as an alien “Other”, a topic of discussion  which cis characters claim they know all about even though they get it wrong.  And no-one addresses these mistakes at any point.

To the trans reader, said mistakes may be pretty obvious, but this might not necessarily be the case for cis readers.  As such, here’s a brief low-down of some of the issues:

1) “Tranny” is very much a contested word.  It’s commonly used as an insult by tabloid newspapers, idiotic bloggers and random arseholes on the street: as such it has a similar sting to words such as “faggot”.  It’s a word with a lot of power to cause pain: something that simply isn’t acknowledged when a character in “Fit” blithely asserts that it’s “short for transgender”.  Which it isn’t, anyway…it can be levelled at pretty much any given trans (or trans-looking) target, although transfeminine individuals tend to suffer from this most commonly.  There are trans people who reclaim “tranny” as a positive identity.  I personally support this, although I wouldn’t do so myself. However, I think it’s always important to be very aware of context when such words are used.  Putting them randomly in the mouths of cis characters in this way is pretty damn inappropriate.

2) “Fit” demonstrates the complexity of sexual identity, showing how gay (and straight!) people all look different, act differently and have different interests.  It even acknowledges (a little) that bisexuality exists, which has to be some kind of achievement for Stonewall.  However, the brief descriptions of trans identities are incomplete, insufficient and somewhat inaccurate (try telling a trans guy that he’s a girl who feels like a boy and he’ll probably tell you to where to go).  Moreover, these descriptions are binary-centric and fail to account for the further complexity of transness.

3) Where are the trans characters?  As previously explained, this discussion pretty much consists of cis people talking about trans people…in complete contrast to the rest of the DVD, which is all about allowing the voices of gay people to be heard and their experiences to be seen.

I’m very much in favour of Stonewall becoming an LGBT organisation.  LGBT people have many differences (and that doesn’t just refer to trans people being different to everyone else: gay men and gay women have some different issues, bi people have different issues again…) but there is a lot that brings us together.  We have a shared history, and broadly shared experiences of discrimination and “coming out”.  Looking at some of the other materials from Stonewall’s anti-bullying kit, I saw how easy it would have been to build in trans issues.  Like gay children, trans children in schools are often bullied for appearing to subvert gender norms, are likely to feel isolated and alone and have difficulty explaining their identity to others when seeking help.  Gay, bisexual and trans issues in school really are often quite similar, and we’d surely be better off pooling our knowledge and expertise to work on resources such as that produced by Stonewall rather than having separate LGB and T packs (on those very rare occasions where a trans organisation can afford to produce such a pack, that is).

What I’m certainly not in favour of is the kind of nonsense found in “Fit”.  What gives Stonewall the right to exclude trans people from their organisation and then turn around and decide that they’re going to campaign ineffectively and inappropriate on our behalf, without our input?

As such, I’ll be demonstrating against Stonewall duplicity in London on 4th November.  If you’re free and can make it to the protest, I hope you might be able to do so too.

(demo link for those who don’t use Facebook)