For Transgender Awareness Week

This week has been coined Trans Visibility Week. It comes round each year, just before the annual Trans Day of Remembrance, when we honour those who lost their lives in the previous year just for being trans.

So, what’s happened in this Trans Visibility Week?

There’s been an almighty row at the BBC, and Vice has reported that LGBT+ staff are leaving in droves. There have been a couple of fiery meetings between the BBC Pride group and management, and in one of them, Tim Davie (the Director General) reportedly said he was worried about the perception that the BBC is transphobic. Well, Tim, I think it’s way beyond a perception.

We’ve had those opposed to trans equality appear on programmes like Wednesday’s Politics Live. We’ve had an appalling piece a couple of weeks ago, which framed trans women as predatory sex offenders – a piece which had to be amended when one of the three contributors not only admitted to predatory sexual behaviour herself but went on to call for the lynching of all trans women. Note – amended, not withdrawn – despite a letter with over 20,000 signatories being sent to the BBC. And we had a BBC podcast attempting to smear Stonewall, seemingly for no other reason that it campaigns for trans people.

When I appeared before a parliamentary inquiry into trans lives in 2015, I noted that certain BBC programmes couldn’t portray trans people without being slightly incredulous about them. In 2017 the BBC tried defending a documentary which was trying to rehabilitate a Canadian doctor who had been criticised for essentially carrying out conversion practices on trans people. Earlier this year, I complained that the Today programme was using the term “biological males” when it meant trans women – and was met with the response that, yes, the phrase did mean trans women and, no, it wasn’t transphobic and didn’t deny trans women their lived experience. Excuse me!

So, Mr Davie, you shouldn’t be worried about the perception. You should be addressing the reality.

In Parliament we’ve seen opportunities taken in the House of Lords to again peddle misinformation about trans women. Essentially their argument boils down to “trans women are really men, and so women need to be protected from all trans women because we cannot tell which trans women are dangerous”. Look back 30 years and you’ll see exactly the same line taken when discussing lesbians.

Of course, what’s striking in this “visibility week” is the complete absence of trans people. Instead we had to rely on folk like Sal Brinton and Brian Paddick to do the heavy lifting in the Lords – which they did superbly, as they always do.

The net effect – well, we see that in the numbers for the Trans Day of Remembrance. While murders of trans people in the UK are infrequent, they still happen. But killings of trans people across the world are at an all-time high. Normalising language that demeans others always results in increasing violence against those others.

The news you may have missed? Well, a couple of weeks ago, the United Nations Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity released a report which called the so-called “gender critical” arguments baseless, essentially saying they did not respect trans peoples’ human rights. And on Tuesday, the International Olympics Committee said that sports bodies should adopt trans inclusive policies, stating that there was no evidence of trans women having physical advantage over other women.

Why does this affect Liberal Democrats? I think that we, as a party, should be building a society where, to quote Paris Lees, “everyone feels safe, valued and respected”, not one that is giving in “to visceral prejudices”. Freedom to be yourself is at the core of liberalism. Without that, we have nothing to offer.

* Helen is a Wiltshire Councillor, and fought Chippenham in both 2017 and 2019. She is also currently the chair of the trans advocacy organisation TransActual.

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