“He was the only politician who was interested” in transgender rights

I am just back from a lovely afternoon at Transgender Pride Scotland. I hadn’t expected to be there but my plans changed – sadly too late to take place in the march in the biting cold and driving rain and sleet.

By the time I got there, the crowds were happily ensconced in a conference centre near the main student halls complex in Edinburgh. In the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, packed sessions on  such subjects as tackling transphobia, what to expect at school, navigating gender identity issues as a non binary person, speech and voice as well as creative workshops took place.

I attended a particularly interesting one on the history of trans activism led by Christine Burns, one of the founders of the Press for Change campaign back in the 90s. She was so interesting to listen to. I’d have been happy if the one hour session had gone on for the rest of the day.

She mentioned a critical meeting that took place on 27th February 1992 when activists met with someone she said was the only politician who was interested in trans rights at that time.

It was Alex Carlile who, until 2015, sat on the Lib Dem benches in the House of Lords. He advised them to set up a campaign for the rights of transgender people. This came after successive cases had been rejected in the highest courts in the UK and the EU. He told them it would take ten years to win change and he wasn’t far off. It took twelve.

I’ve had my differences with him on issues like secret courts and the snoopers’ charter, to say the least, but you have to love his early work. He was one of the first politicians to champion mental health and his support for  very marginalised groups of people was absolutely to his credit.

After that meeting 26 years ago, the activists went to a tea room on the bit of the corner of Bridge Street and Embankment now occupied by Portcullis House. There, Press for Change was born. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, Christine Burns spoke of Alex Carlile with great warmth. He clearly had a role in the progress that has made life so much better for this generation of transgender people and deserves our appreciation for that.

You can buy the book Christine has edited, Trans Britain, our long  journey from the shadows, here. It has contributions from our own Sarah Brown and Helen Belcher.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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