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31 July 2015

Trans pride is great but it’s not enough to camouflage discrimination

Transgender people in Britain are still some of the most marginalised in society, which is why we need trans pride now more than ever.

By Helen Thomas

If you live in Britain, you probably know at least one person who is gay. In 2014, the Observer carried out an anonymous online sex survey which found that 8 per cent of the 1,052 sampled identified as being gay, lesbian or bisexual. Far less visible is the relatively small number of transgender people living in the UK, loosely estimated to be between 300,000 and 500,000 (GIRES, Reed et al, 2009) although fierce discrimination and fear of being “outed” makes data collection on the community extremely difficult.

On Saturday 25 July, Brighton held its third annual Trans Pride march starting at the Marlborough Pub and Theatre and culminating round the corner at Dorset Gardens, where trans activists, charity workers, poets and musicians addressed the crowd. Support groups like Stonewall sold t-shirts and gave out leaflets, whilst Unite the Union spoke about the importance of representation. “You need a union because we are the last minority that is still picked on and marginalised in the workplace… You find out what your boss is really like when you’re transitioning.”

The footfall of the day reached 3,085 with over 2,000 unique visitors. Sussex Police estimated that over 1,000 people took part in the march. It was a free, public event, that promoted acceptance and sold out of vegan donner meat. Phoenix Thomas from the organisational committee told me that although some local political parties had asked for stalls at the event, their applications were turned down. “It’s really important to us that trans pride serves the needs of the trans community, and is not exploited as a commercial or party-political platform.”

Trans sk8ers rule

It’s estimated 1,000 people took part in Saturday’s march.

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But even in Brighton, the utopian liberal Britain of 50 years’ time, it would appear that people can still be bigoted arseholes. At 20:50 Sussex Police reported a transphobic hate crime that had taken place on the beach. When one trans person heard a group of men apparently making offensive comments believed to be aimed at the Trans Pride event, they challenged them, resulting in a small fight. The men who allegedly made the comments were then given a notice to leave the area.

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It’s painfully depressing that on a day which should be about equality, trans people find they still can’t live their lives peacefully. What is even more uncomfortable is that these reports are such a common occurrence, they don’t even make the headlines. However, LGBT liaison for Sussex Police Rory Smith was keen to point out the positive message which should be taken from the incident. “We are really encouraged that people connected to and part of the Trans community feel confident in reporting this kind of incident to the police. Although no further action could be taken by police as no-one felt they were a victim, words of advice were given to all those involved.”

A participant in the march holds a sign saying "Queer Trans Muslim"

Intersectionality is important for the organisers of Trans Pride Brighton

Serge Nicholson from the charity Galop told the Guardian in 2014 that “A third of trans people in the UK go through transphobic abuse every year. That’s the second highest of any EU country. Yet only a few hundred transphobic crimes get recorded by the police each year. That has got to be a tiny fraction of the true number. As much as 80 per cent of transphobia is not reported.” These statistics are hardly surprising when the LGBT liberation movement itself was born out of the Stonewall riots against police action, led by trans women of colour. Building trust between LGBT peoples and the police is a long and challenging process that will not happen overnight.

The value of Trans Pride Brighton’s safe space is incalculable for a body that so frequently experiences discrimination, social isolation and marginalisation. The Trans Mental Health Study for 2012 showed that 55% of trans people had been diagnosed with depression whilst another 33 per cent believed they had experienced depression but had not received a formal diagnosis. 53 per cent of the respondents admitted to self harming at some point. I wondered that night how many of the participants in the march were going to be forced back into their gender normative clothing on Monday morning, and how important events like Trans Pride are for the mental wellbeing of this community. Finally they find themselves in a place of expression, love, and crucially, visibility.

Trans people are some of the most marginalised in Britain.

I also got the impression from attendees and organisers, that Trans Pride Brighton was providing a peaceful, free alternative to the American Express sponsored Brighton Pride, where tickets cost £25 and Tulisa is a headline act. Beckie Fox, trustee of Sparkle, the UK’s largest transgender celebration, told me that “’full on’ LGBT prides who charge for entry have little choice but to engage with the corporate world – the cost of putting on events is massive… It’s important to remember that LGBT needs allies – larger more corporate Prides appeal to the wider non-LGBT community and this has to be a good thing, bringing better equality and understanding. This is something the smaller non-commercial Prides can’t reach on a large scale.”

On Monday the Women and Equalities Committee announced they would be launching an inquiry into Transgender Equality. Co-creator of the event and founder of My Genderation Fox Fisher commented on the inquiry.

“It’s exciting to be part of a wave of change in trans awareness, but it can be exhausting and overwhelming at times, as so much support is still needed. The burnout rate for volunteers in the rapidly rising trans community is so high, it’s important for policies and awareness to be in place all over the UK, to support trans people wherever they may be and at any age.

“Celebratory events like ours help people to feel better about themselves and their situation. Individually, we have unique stories and identities, collectively we are united in feeling different to the gender we were assigned at birth and it’s so important for trans people to feel connected and supported.”

NUS LGBT at Trans Pride Brighton

NUS and LGBT charities all took part in the Trans Pride march.

I met one trans woman late in the day who talked about why she had come to Brighton Pride by herself. “I was invited on holiday with my family but they told me I had to wear boys’ clothes. I don’t see that as an invitation. I told them I would have my own holiday in Brighton. I wanted to get photographed as much as possible today to piss them off.” Others were not so keen to have their attendance documented.

It is clear that attitudes towards anonymity and expression vary massively between different trans individuals and their personal situations. However, Kate O’Donnell, the chanteuse and MC told the assembled audience at the start of the day, “I have found that the louder you are and the more fabulous you are the more it scares off the transphobes.” That night, a projection over the City Hall showed the faces of trans people living in Brighton to address the issue of visibility in the city. On Facebook, the images were accompanied with the hashtag #ThisIsWhatTransLooksLike. It was rather unfortunate that Brighton and Hove City Council managed to fly the bi pride flag instead of the trans pride flag, however (let’s hope by accident, but you can never be sure.)

Kate O' Donnell

Kate O’Donnell “loves making a song and dance about being transgender”.

Trans Pride Brighton is great but it isn’t enough to camouflage the discrimination levelled against transgender people living in Britain. It’s all very well to have a day promoting love and equality for transgender people, but if the visitors are returning home to hatred, or deadnaming, or being forced into gender normative clothing, then we are still fundamentally failing as a society to adequately address this issue. We have a responsibility to speak up about trans issues and promote pride. It’s not enough to sit at home liking pictures of Caitlyn Jenner if we want to make life for the marginalised less shit.