This morning I’ve found myself reading a new Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) research review about “identity-based” bullying in schools (as you do!) The report summarises statistics and qualitative data from research into racist, sexist, disabilist, homophobic and transphobic bullying in British schools. Yep, you read that right: the “T” word is very much in there. I suppose all that hot air from government departments and quangos about “equality strands” has to be good for something.
To my dismay, the section on transphobic bullying was tiny. Not because the EHRC didn’t put any effort into it – I’m pretty certain they were giving it their best shot – but because there was so little for them to write about. My heart sank when I came across that that classic phrase…
“there is little existing literature”
“Transphobia is an understudied area and there are very few UK-based studies which have explored this, especially in relation to transgender young people”
“In terms of preventing and responding to transphobic bullying, there is little existing literature highlighting particular issues for transphobic individuals”
further research is needed to help identify young people who may be most at risk of experiencing transphobic bullying and the specific support needs they may have.
This is how it always goes. It doesn’t matter if the research is about bullying in school, access to health care, access to employment and/or benefits, experiences in the street or in the home: it almost always boils down to “further research is needed”. This is the case in pretty much any field (how else would academics gain gainful employment, after all?) but so much more the case with particularly marginalised groups, including travellers and asylum seekers as well as trans people.
There are a few utterly fantastic pieces of research out there dealing with trans experiences of discrimination and harassment, but in the broad scheme of things there’s very little for activists and public sector bodies to draw upon when trying to get a realist picture of what’s going on.
The thing is, there’s very few people doing trans research, and even less people prepared to fund it. With government-backed research councils being massively scaled down because of the cuts, this is only going to get worse. This is pretty disastrous if you’re trying to get public bodies to tackle transphobia, and even more disastrous if you’re trying to get the government to pass trans-friendly legislation. For instance, the Labour government refused to budge on the exclusion of non-binary gender identities from the Equality Act because there was “no evidence” of such people even existing.
Research reviews are all very well and good, but we’re being told over and over again that there isn’t much to say about transphobia: not because it doesn’t happen, but because not enough people have looked at it. It’s time for organisations such as the EHRC and NHS to put their money where their mouth is and actually back some thoughtful, in-depth trans research projects.