Fight transphobia in any way we can

The least we can do is to take all the opportunities we can to say that we support, love, and will protect trans people.

Last week I was planning to write about the motion I submitted to Full Council last week which talked about the importance of Edinburgh council reaffirming our support for reform of the Gender Recognition Act, and committing to exploring how services for trans people can be improved.

“Edinburgh should be a welcoming and safe place for trans people, where they are able to access employment, education, housing and healthcare, and live their lives free from discrimination and fear.”

Since then Brianna Ghey, a trans teenager was murdered. Elsewhere, a high-profile trans woman had a drink thrown over her in a bar on a night out. Both crimes have been met with outrageous levels transphobia, trans misogyny and outright hatred.

So what does it matter that the council passed a motion, repeating things it has already said?

It matters because in the face of hate, the least we can do is to take all the opportunities we can to say that we support, love, and will protect trans people. That trans people are not an ideology, but our friends, family, neighbours, constituents.

It matters because there were those in the council who wanted to soften this motion. To ‘note’ the passing of the GRR rather than welcome it, to introduce the dog-whistle language of single-sex spaces in a motion about the increase in hate crime against trans people.

It matters because groups came to speak against the motion. They spoke against the rise in young people openly identifying as trans and queer as though it was a sign of evil ideology at work rather than welcome progress towards empowerment and acceptance.

They spoke about the silencing of women and the shutting down of debate, and they did so while being heard in the Council Chamber of the capital city of Scotland. They questioned the legitimacy of organisations working for equality, and the motives of those speaking out for trans rights.

But what matters more is that the motion still passed, and the council’s position on support for trans equality is unambiguous. The council leader will be making a statement of support for the trans community using the communications channels of the council.

Trans people will be welcomed into the chambers to talk about how the council’s services – housing, education, sports, cultural institutions, public space – can enrich their lives, not present barriers to involvement, and these services will change in response.

It also matters because – in amongst submitting the motion and discussing it with other parties – I also met with an 11 year old trans boy last week to witness the statutory declaration to enable him to change his legal name.

Being too young to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate, this declaration was just one of the statutory hoops he has had to jump through over the past four years of living his true self – this time to apply for a passport in his real name.

It was a surprisingly touching moment, sitting in our office as he filled out the forms, repeating his name the myriad times they ask for it, asking his dad not to say his old name out loud, adding the signature he had clearly been practising.

As he left, he said he would never forget that moment. Later I got an email from him:

You have really helped me along my journey, and I show endless gratitude for that. What you did for me is so important to me, thanks to you I will be one step closer to my true self (and I won’t get funny looks in the airport). I can’t express how grateful I am for what you’ve done for me.

He gave me permission to share this (and said I could use his name as well, but having experienced the internet, I won’t be doing it).

This message, for me, encapsulates why trans rights matter. The value of being your true self, juxtaposed with the chipping away of the practical barriers which impact on everyday life.

I also asked his dad for permission, who added these thoughts:

I think it’s important for people to understand why, as a parent, the polarised debate has been particularly difficult. I’ve been called a child abuser and fingerpointed by people who don’t know me and don’t know my son. What I would like these people to understand is how difficult and emotional it is to see your 5 year old child threaten self-harm and not wanting to live because they were not comfortable about the way people viewed their gender.

My decision to support my son in his choice is because over 60% of trans people who don’t have support around them self-harm, attempt or complete suicide by the age of 30. As a parent my primary concern is his safety and I know I’m right. He’s no longer at risk because he thinks those close to him may not accept his gender and he’s growing to become a confident teenager. He’s top of his class at school, he was elected house captain by his peers.

We’re taking steps to make the change permanent even though he’s only 11 because it matters, and although we get frustrated by the administrative hold-ups, we take them with a smile; at least we can do that.

As I read “He is no longer at risk” my heart knows the lie in this. He is at risk. The support from his family lessens this. Public statements of support for trans people lessens this. Visible, vocal calling out of transphobia lessens this. But he is at risk.

Protect trans kids. Remember Brianna Ghey. Fight transphobia.

Alys Mumford is Green councillor for Portobello & Craigmillar, and Co-convenor of Edinburgh Council’s Green Group.