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Trans Visibility in the Time of Covid-19

March 31, 2020 5:50 PM
Lib Dems at Leeds Pride 2018 with Gender Reform Act Banner

Liberal Democrats at Leeds Pride 2018 calling for GRA Reform

Life has changed significantly in the last few weeks, due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Things that used to be easy have become harder. Routine medical care has all but vanished. Our social spaces have largely become inaccessible, or replaced by online gatherings. We are stuck indoors with people we may not be used to spending so much time with. Some of us are stuck with people who are hostile or violent.

For a lot of trans people, none of this is new - but it has got worse. The appointments being cancelled include access to hormones, therapy and surgery for trans people, for those lucky enough or patient enough to get through the many-year waiting list for vastly underfunded NHS services. Even within LGBT+ social spaces, trans people often feel excluded, marginalised or fetishised rather than welcomed, creating the need for trans spaces such as Brighton Trans Pride and Manchester's Sparkle. And many trans people are not lucky enough to be welcomed by their family, let alone safe enough to be open with them. Trans people are at high risk of domestic violence

The stresses caused by the pandemic and quarantine efforts are compounding those already felt by a community which is proud and resilient, but frequently misunderstood and discriminated against.

This is all against the backdrop of a hostile media and political environment for trans people. Anti-trans narratives are promoted in mainstream newspaper columns weekly at a minimum. These spout conspiracy theories which would rightly be decried if they were about any other group, but which somehow get a free pass when they attack trans people.

The Westminster and Holyrood Governments have shelved plans for reform of the Gender Recognition Act to streamline the bureaucracy involved in getting a replacement birth certificate or passport. This has already been introduced in many countries around the world, and has been Liberal Democrat policy since 2015. Both Parliaments are used to host gatherings of anti-trans groups, with links to the American conservative religious right. Political parties have been infiltrated to various degrees by people pursuing, almost single-mindedly, an anti-trans agenda, who have risen to senior levels and elected offices.

Fake "astroturf" campaigns have being set up, trying to pretending that trans rights are somehow opposed to those of LGB people. They support the reintroduction of Section 28 and policing butch lesbian's appearances. Some call for the Gender Recognition Act to be repealed in its entirety, using Brexit as the excuse to ignore the European Court of Human Rights ruling which caused the law to come into existence. Some of these groups are applying for charitable status and public funding to promote their anti-trans agenda.

Trans support groups have been attacked for using techniques pioneered by domestic violence organisations, to protect trans people trapped at home with unwelcoming or hostile families. These groups are being smeared with the same vile rhetoric used against gay people in the 1980s.

On Trans Day of Visibility, we celebrate trans people standing up in public and being themselves. As we consider the stresses caused by our isolation, the impact on our healthcare and social lives, we should appreciate all the more the background against which they do so.

Dave Page is chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats