Over recent months the hysteria around transgender women seems to have been growing with each new statement about proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act.
Headlines like PeakTrans, TransCult and Transgender Trend all imply that being trans is a new thing, that the weak minded and sexually confused are jumping on the bandwagon. If being transgender is trendy then I’ve never been trendier. But there’s nothing new about being trans, transgender people have always existed throughout human history — the hijra or two spirit people.
Today mental health issues are still significantly more likely to affect transgender people, and a large contributing factor is the bigotry and prejudice that they experience on a daily basis. The name-calling, the loss of family and relationships, the diminished career prospects, the violence and the legal challenges against their rights and identity.
We all exist somewhere on the gender identity and sexuality spectrums, straight-gay, male-female, and growing up we all come to a realisation about who we are, it’s just that if you’re straight and cisgender, you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth, then no-one notices. It only becomes an issue if you’re LGBT+.
The recent attempt to hijack London Pride by a group of anti-trans activists under the slogan of “Get the L out” was just the latest in a concerted campaign of hate and misinformation being directed at transgender people but a small but vocal minority.
The cries of “we must protect the girls” create jarring echoes for those of us old enough to remember the same child safety concerns being used to justify anti-LGBT laws like Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 which banned the “promotion of homosexuality” on the grounds that it was a direct threat to our children. The connection between homosexuality and child abuse was as disgusting and incorrect as the current attempts to link transgender people and child abuse or sexual violence.
Any attempt to point out the abhorrent and unsubstantiated nature of these slurs is met with the argument that women’s voices are being silenced. It seems strange that a small group of people can make the argument that their voice is being denied when they seem to have the ear of publications from The Times to the Morning Star, and regular opportunities to appear on TV and radio to tell us how their voices are being erased.
They claim to want debate around the issues, yet their language continually denies the identities of those they seek to debate with and claims of “I’m not a transphobe but…” followed by misgendering or using the former name of those they are attacking do not constitute anything other than prejudice. A recent attempt to debate the issues on Channel 4 resulted in anti-trans bigots screaming the word “penis” every time the trans woman on the panel spoke, obviously a deeply considered debating position.
We see claims that trans women are parasitic, misogynistic men dressed up in “woman face” for the purpose of lesbian erasure and yet, living near Brighton and knowing many lesbians, I have never met one who expressed anything but support for transgender people. Stonewall has come under attack from the Get The L Out lobby, despite being having a lesbian chief executive, and Europe’s best-selling lesbian magazine Diva, which is totally trans inclusive, was recently forced to publish a message saying that this group does not speak for all lesbians and certainly not for them.
It’s true that women and lesbians have been oppressed over the years, but so have black women and disabled women and transgender women, and gay men, and working-class people and trade unionists and many other groups.
There is no hierarchy of oppression. Human rights are not a nil-sum equation. To grant one group equal rights does not diminish the rights of others. Black rights do not come at the expense of white rights, women’s rights do not come at the expense of men’s rights, and trans rights do not come at the expense of women’s rights.
There’s a clue in the word, equality: equal. You cannot demand equality for yourself but not for others — for that is not equality, that is privilege.
I am not a transgender rights campaigner. I am an equality rights campaigner. This weekend I will be taking to the streets of Brighton to celebrate Trans Pride, not because I am transgender but because I believe that everyone should be treated with the same respect, the very reasons that I attend Disability Pride despite not being disabled.
We must fight for the rights of all people. We must always stand together, for together we are stronger, and until the day when everyone is equal then none of us are.
Sophie Cook stood as the Labour parliamentary candidate for East Worthing & Shoreham at the 2017 General Election where she increased the Labour vote by 114 per cent.
Sophie recently returned from working with Russian LGBT activists in Moscow. She is a GMB & Unite member and ambassador for the anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out. She is also transgender. Her first book Not Today: How I Chose Life is due to be published in 2018.