Friday, 7 February 2014

A call for LGBT unity

The London Pride parade this year will be held on Saturday 28th June 2014 - the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The contribution made by trans people to the Stonewall riots is usually overlooked, but this is a great opportunity to raise the profile of trans people, as we've not had the best representation over the years, both at Pride and in the wider LGBT community.

The Stonewall riots were led by two trans women, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson, a fact that seems largely ignored when talking of the gay rights movement. When the New York police were raiding bars in the 60s and arresting gay people, trans people were often the target, being the most overtly 'gay' and easy to spot. Herein of course lies a problem we so often encounter: that of conflating sexuality and gender identity. Trans people are seen as 'super gay', when in fact our sexuality has nothing to do with us being trans. There are undoubted intersections with sexuality though: there are gay trans people, bisexual trans people and straight trans people. Sexuality is a spectrum for trans people just as it is for cis people.

As much as we educate society about sexuality and gender identity, the two continue to be conflated. Violence against trans people, and particularly trans women, is justified by portraying us as deceivers, there to entice men into having sex with us. We are seen through the lens of sexuality; we are seen as 'traps' (I still can't believe people use that word to describe us). We are just regular men and women living our lives, but as soon as our trans history is revealed then sexuality comes into the mix. We reflect a person's insecurities about their sexuality back at them.

When I was bullied at school for being trans, my gender identity was never considered. I was bullied for being gay. The slightest hint of effeminacy would be swiftly met with such eloquent rebukes as "You f**king poof". Again we see gender identity viewed through the lens of sexuality.

There is homophobia. There is transphobia. It is impossible to separate the two. Without homophobia, we are just men and women dating whomever we choose and not being judged for it. There are so-called academics who question the legitimacy of trans people's identities, judged separately from aspects of sexual orientation, but the violent transphobia that is sadly too common is I believe rooted in homophobia.

With such intersections between L,G,B and T it makes no sense to campaign on behalf of LGB people and purposefully ignore the needs of trans people. After years of neglecting the trans community there has never been a greater need for campaigning, such is the gulf in progress in the LGB arena compared to the overlooked T.

And so to Stonewall UK, the LGB campaigning group who name themselves after riots instigated by trans people, and who steadfastly refuse to even mention trans people in their advocacy. Would it have hurt them to have a poster which read "One of these women is trans, if that bothers you then we still have work to do", or how about "Some people are trans, get over it" as part of their recent poster campaigns? Stonewall is Europe's largest LGB campaigning group; there isn't a trans organisation even close to the size of Stonewall.

To see the effect lobbying can have, consider the equal marriage legislation passed in England and Wales compared to that in Scotland. In England we have the situation where a spouse can veto the application for gender recognition of their transitioning partner. Stonewall Scotland, unlike Stonewall UK, are trans-inclusive and campaigned alongside trans groups on the equal marriage bill. The result: in Scotland the Spousal Veto clause was thrown out.

With the departure from Stonewall of chief executive Ben Summerskill, now is the time to re-examine Stonewall's representation of trans people. Perhaps soon we can properly recognise the contribution trans people have made to human rights campaigning. Perhaps soon the name Stonewall can be used with a true sense of pride in what it represents.

Anne Cognito is the author of Sunlight in the Darkness: my life as a trans woman in the shadows, out now on Amazon and Apple iBooks.

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