The LGBT Trans-formation
It’s widely seen that there is equality (mostly) for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual people. The legalisation of same-sex marriage here in the United Kingdom, and the United States, represents a major step forward.
And while it is important to recognise these achievements, we mustn’t forget those in the community still struggling to gain wider acceptance, our transgender friends.
I recently had a chat with the co-chair of the York LGBT forum, Lisa Kelly, who also happens to be transsexual. She explained some of the problems she believes currently face the trans community, and how there’s been talk of some division.
“There have been calls in some areas for the LGB to drop the T. Just drop the T. ‘We’ve got equality why should we bother about trans people.’ Thankfully it’s only a minority.”
Lisa also said it’s understandable as the others are all sexual orientations, whereas being transgender isn’t. But she also said there are trans-people, who also identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual.
She explained how the trans movement was largely pushed aside in the 70s and 80s, while people focused on the other parts of the community, and only recently has begun to draw some attention back on itself. “About time too” remarked Lisa.
It’s important to remember that Pride, often just one day a year in most cities, was started to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall riots. And who started that? Trans-people. This is where the fight for equality began, so the community owes T quite a bit.
The Equality Act 2010 was arguably the first piece of legislation that was all encompassing in protecting people from discrimination. This combined with a renewed focus from Stonewall on trans issues, as well as the emergence of public figures as role models such as Kellie Maloney, Stephanie Hirst, and Caitlyn Jenner, has meant things have changed for the transgender community.
The World Health Organisation has also recently announced it is considering reclassifying the transgender identity from its current position under the label of “mental illness” to “sexual health”. If this is carried out it would be significant step forward.
But while these changes are happening, Lisa has been taking action herself. As leader of the trans subgroup in the York LGBT forum she’s started a series of health and well-being workshops designed to offer help during the staggering four year wait between going to a GP for a referral and signalling you wants to start transitioning, to actually starting that transition.
According to Lisa a lot of people wait till they’re desperate before even seeing the GP, and in the time between the referral and the first meeting at a gender clinic need help to get through each day without resorting to extremes.
“It’s bit like you’re entering a great big black hole where there’s no speck of life,” said Lisa. 84% of transgender people contemplate taking their own life. 48% go through with it, or attempt it.
With figures like these it’s easy to see the significance of projects like Lisa’s. Thankfully the NHS in Leeds have taken notice and are looking into taking these workshops on across the Northwest before seeing if it could work nationwide.
The benefits of this would be open to all. Suicide rates could go down, there’d be less strain on the NHS, and the problems transgender experience mentally and emotionally would be dealt with, which could make sure transgender is definitely moved label by the WHO.
But there are still other challenges opposing trans-people. Transphobia is still a major problem. On an event, again organised by Lisa, same-sex couples walked through the centre of York holding hands, with the objective of monitoring any reactions from the public. All couples made it through without incident save for one, a trans couple.
A strategically placed marshal noticed one woman pointing and laughing at said couple, and even worse, doing so in front of her child. “People need educating,” says Lisa in regards to what to do about this kind of problem. “Trans-people are just normal people like everybody else just trying to live their life. All a trans person wants to do is live their life.”
As with lesbians, gays and bisexuals, others simply need to become more familiar with transgender people. This will come from high profile public figures, representation in the media and people being more open about themselves.
The drama unfolding in the US over the so called ‘bathroom bill’ is an example of a growing awareness of trans-issues by the public. Lisa said this greater awareness could be a problem, but there will always be conflict where there are strong and ingrained conservative attitudes.
“Equality means nothing on paper if the public aren’t at the very least tolerant and preferably accepting,” Lisa said rather cynically. And while actions certainly speak louder than words, if those words are statutory laws it’s harder to ignore.
We’ve got pretty much equality for LGB, certainly not for T, we’re a long way off for T,” is Lisa’s conclusion. She’s not wrong either. It is important that we gather around our transgender friends and make sure their voices are heard as clearly as others. In the wake of the Orlando shooting people have grown defiant in the face of tragedy.
Orlando has drawn focus back to the LGBT community and issues that still exist. It has also brought with it a host of new allies and support giving greater momentum for change. What we need to do now is use it for good and make everyone understands it is ok to be yourself, and that it is safe as well.