Far from being a niche cause, trans rights affect all sectors of society. It's time for us all to stand up for themby Sophie Cook / July 25, 2017 / Leave a comment
“Freak! Pervert! Show us your c**k!”
The words were spat in my face, the hatred and disgust evident in every strained sinew of the man’s neck.
I looked him in the eye, registering his animosity and continued along Victoria Street to my meeting in Westminster.
For transgender people experiences like this can be a daily occurrence: bigotry, prejudice and lack of education confront them on all sides.
When I was selected as the Labour Party candidate to contest the previously safe Tory seat of East Worthing & Shoreham in this year’s General Election, I was told, quite bluntly, “this isn’t Brighton”—the implication being that I shouldn’t expect the same degree of openness to diversity that our neighbouring town is famous for.
And yet, in the space of five short weeks, we achieved the seemingly impossible: increasing the Labour vote by 114 per cent. With one of the biggest swings in the country, at 19.8 per cent, we turned constituency into a near marginal.
The voters had proven that my gender identity wasn’t relevant them when they were choosing who they wanted to represent them and protect their rights.
The labour movement needs to recognise trans rights
The fight for the rights of minorities, all minorities, is very close to my heart and I hope that the same is true of everyone within the Labour movement.
One of the most important aspects of socialism for me is solidarity: we speak out for those that are denied a voice; we are stronger together.
Many people wonder why transgender rights matter, even within the LGB community. After all, the logic goes, LGB is about sexuality, and the T relates to gender identity.
There are those that campaign to remove the T from LGBT—and this includes a number of transgender people.
But to question the relevance of the fight for trans rights as a distraction is to turn a blind eye to prejudice. Why should the rights of trans people be any less important than those of any discriminated minority? Transgender people exist in all areas of society: there are trans people of colour, trans engineers, trans bus drivers, trans people on benefits and one day soon, hopefully, a trans MP.
Being transgender also crosses the class divide. It’s not an affectation of the metropolitan liberal elite; it’s just that working class transgender people are much more likely to be denied a voice. This is why the fight for trans rights is one that I would urge all members of the Labour movement to support.
The fight for trans rights is a fight that we should all respect and support—not an afterthought.
Gender recognition matters
Transgender people face abuse, violence, discrimination and an establishment, both medical and governmental, that demands invasive proof of the commitment to their identity. No other group in society has to go through such intense interrogation to prove their very existence.
The Gender Recognition Act in its current form forces people to jump through hoops and undergo deeply personal and intimate examination of their life, including medical evidence—and, if you’re married, a declaration from your spouse—in order to gain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).
Many transgender people, myself included, don’t have a GRC.
Despite being my true self and living my life in my true gender—my passport, driving license and all other documents identify me as female—under the current law my rights could potentially be in danger because I do not have a GRC.
This simple omission could have serious consequences. There have been several cases of trans women losing their lives because the lack of a GRC placed them in harms’ way, most notably inside our prison system.
What Labour is getting right
In a recent speech at the PinkNews Summer Parliamentary reception the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn said that he will support the Conservative Party’s efforts to improve transgender rights in the UK.
As a Labour Parliamentary Candidate and a trans woman I fully support him in his cross-party approach to this reform, protecting people’s rights should transcend party politics.
We now have the most diverse parliament ever with 45 LGB MPs—and yet there is still not a single transgender one (although I came close). It’s time for Parliament to recognise the challenges that transgender people face and work to eradicate bigotry in all of it’s forms.
In the Labour manifesto, we recognised that the legislation was out of date and pledged to update it. I’m pleased to see that the Tories have taken that on board, and are proposing a new Gender Recognition Act.
Rather than medical evidence and panels, the individual must be able to self-identify. The new legislation, proposed by Equalities minister Justine Greening, would see more recognition of non-binary people—those who identify neither as male or female.
The fight ahead
Everyone should have the right to self-identification and no doctor, judge or politician should presume to know more about an individual’s identity than that person themselves.
In the 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, we’ve seen great strides taken to improve LGBT rights and to fight bigotry, but the prejudice against transgender people continues to this day. This legislation will help to redress some of the legal disparity.
What it won’t do, though, is eradicate transphobic hate crimes—and that is why we must all stand together. Until the day comes when a transgender person can walk down the street or use social media without fear of abuse or violence, then the fight isn’t over.
There is no hierarchy of prejudice: fighting for trans rights does not diminish the fight for women’s rights, or the fight against racism or Islamophobia.
We must fight together to protect the rights of everyone, regardless of their gender identity, sexuality, race, religion, gender or disability—because until everyone is equal, then no one is.