Trans Day of Remembrance 2019

20 November is Trans Day of Remembrance. Patricia Lockhart, an activist with Sisters Uncut, reports on developments in Scotland and argues that socialists need to stand against transphobia now more than ever.

Trans rights are human rights

Trans people are under pressure in Britain today. Transphobic hate crime reported to police has increased by 83% over the last two years. Stonewall estimates that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Almost half of transgender people say they have been on the receiving end of abuse over that last year, but that figure is very probably an underestimate. Meanwhile, we are seeing a sustained attack on the few protections and rights that trans people have, which is legitimising the verbal and physical abuse that trans people face daily.

I want to draw attention to one of the main antagonists. People claiming to be feminists, many of them academics and journalists with significant platforms, are spreading anti-trans views and arguing that trans people are perpetuating patriarchy. Often referred to as TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists), they say that trans women endanger the principles of what it means to be a female, or even take a more extreme approach and say that trans women are just men who like to dress up in women’s clothes for sexual gratification. Transphobic ‘feminists’ are not averse to using pseudo-science and working alongside those who have traditionally been enemies of feminists such as fundamentalist Christians. They often accuse trans activists of curtailing free speech or being shrill, frivolous or abusive – arguments that have been used against generations of feminist activists.

When trans women are vocal and demonstrate outside events promoting this kind of supposedly feminist transphobia, we are accused of trying to stop women from debating women’s issues. This is a wholly unfounded accusation. For one thing, trans women are women. For another, we aren’t protesting because we think that women shouldn’t discuss feminism; we protest because we know that these people are campaigning to exclude trans women from public life and calling for the removal of trans rights from existing equalities legislation.

The major lightning rod for these ‘feminists’ has been the proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act. At present for a trans person to get legal recognition of their gender they must undertake a humiliating and intrusive process. They must be referred to a gender clinic by their GP, get two certificates from medics, and go before a panel of doctors to ‘prove’ that they have body dysmorphia. Both the UK Government and the Scottish Government have looked at simplifying this process. In Scotland the proposal was to have self-declaration. Sadly, the Scottish Government – under pressure from transphobic activists – have kicked the debate into the long grass to allow for more ‘consultation’. Similarly, proposals to include a non-binary option in the census have been shelved. What’s deeply troubling about the Scottish situation is the number of MSPs who have voiced transphobic opinions, reaching all the way to high levels of Government.

Recently, SNP MSP Joan McAlpine and Labour MSP Jenny Marra organised an event due to be held in the Scottish Parliament on 20 November (which is Trans Day of Remembrance) aimed at discrediting trans rights and setting them in opposition to women’s protections. They invited a speaker who is on record as saying that ‘transgenderism’ is a ‘masochistic sexual obsession,’ and that accepting it in any form is harmful to women. This is a deeply dangerous statement to trans women. The event has now been delayed after condemnations from several women’s and LGBTQ organisations who rightly argued that the event promoted antipathy towards trans people.

On Trans Day of Remembrance, trans people and queer communities remember all the trans people who have been murdered over the last year. There is a list compiled online here, most of them migrant women, women of colour or women in the Global South and 61 per cent of them sex workers. We face huge discrimination and there is a massive battle ahead. Socialists should be at the forefront of fighting for trans liberation, not aligning with the conservative or religious right.

There will be a candlelit vigil outside the Scottish Parliament by activist and political groups at 6pm on 20 November to ‘reaffirm our shared commitment to working to free the world from violence, prejudice and discrimination.’

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