With British journalist, presenter and transgender rights activist Paris Lees being voted Number 1 on the Independent on Sunday's Pink List, and 16 other Trans people listed, awareness has arguably never been greater. But just as Equal Marriage brought about a homophobic backlash from the religious right, particularly in America, it is a sad statistic that 238 Trans people were murdered worldwide in the last year, with Brazil, Mexico and Jamaica being cited as worrying "hotspots" for transphobic violence. Some international Trans activists have started to introduce the term "transcide" to reflect the continuously elevated level of deadly violence against Trans people on a global scale. Trans people are more likely to die an early, unnatural death than people in other communities. Trans visibility has proved to be a double-edged sword. This Wednesday, 20th November is International Transgender Day of Remembrance, with services and vigils taking place worldwide.
Talking about Trans means dealing with very complex issues. Even more complex than I thought I already knew. The Trans spectrum is such that the process of "transitioning" may take a lifetime, and for many may not result in full gender confirmation treatment at all. But when it does it is important to remember that for that individual they have not changed sex or "acquired new gender" they have affirmed their gender, post-transition. Under The Gender Recognition Act, Trans people must be 18 or over; been diagnosed with gender dysphoria (extreme unhappiness with their birth gender); have lived in their new gender for two years; and intend to live in their changed gender for the rest of their life. They then may apply to the Gender Recognition Panel for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). The GRC then entitles them to recognition of the gender stated on that certificate for all purposes. Where the birth was originally registered in the UK, the GRC may be used to obtain a new birth certificate. Over 2,600 people have now made successful applications for legal recognition of their new gender status to the Gender Recognition Panel (GRP).
Equally controversial, Equal Marriage creates its own problem as Trans people have to divorce their partners then remarry.
There are more people in the UK who could be said to be Trans than there are cases of Downs Syndrome and Nicole Joseph, an American clinical psychologist, says most of her clients have felt "disconnected" from their body since childhood, yet research into Trans issues remains seriously underfunded. In our schools it remains a taboo subject. It is down to groups like GIRES (the Gender Identity Research and Education Society) to provide information and guidance for employers and employees. Schools OUT gives training to schools on how the can be inclusive and how to educate out prejudice.
Gender reassignment - The process of transitioning from one gender to another is one of the 9 Protected Characteristics of the Equality Act, and as such means such an individual should be free from direct discrimination, indirect discrimination and harassment and victimisation in their place of work. Yet stories still make the news about things that would otherwise be trivialities, such as the use of toilet facilities, showing that transphobia is very much alive. The simple idea that a Trans person uses facilities appropriate to the "new" gender role continues to cause uproar because of ignorance. And the use of derogatory terms of address behind one person's back that would not otherwise be used to describe a colleague who was L, G or B demonstrate perfectly the uneven consistency with which civil rights are implemented.
The GIRES website includes important best practice information relating to the 1% of workers who will identify and express themselves as transgender, transsexual and gender variant. The benefits of a diverse workforce cannot be overstated in HR terms, a positive psychological contract between employer and employee that ensures good staff are recruited and retained.
While legal advancements to civil rights are important, it is also vital that employers encourage their employees to take on board the spirit as well as the letter of the law and not harass or intimidate Trans people; to maintain their privacy and dignity; not to penalise those requiring time off for required treatments, and to have systems in place to support anyone transitioning. But still too often, employers often act to address gender identity issues in their workforce, only when the occasion actually arises. They are ill-prepared and are, therefore, likely to act inappropriately, causing discomfort to the Trans person concerned. Fear of an inappropriate response may prevent people from transitioning which will, in turn, mean that their performance will be less than optimal.
GIRES therefore recommends a "Memorandum of Understanding" be drawn up between the individual and their employers to make it clear that in the event of an employee transitioning, measures are in place to facilitate this. The document should also address such matters as redeployment; implications for current duties of things such as surgery; the risk of media intrusion (which the case of Trans teacher Lucy meadows showed, is very real and can have tragic consequences); details of changes to records; pension and insurance implications, and the point where a Statutory Declaration (made before a solicitor or in a Magistrates Court) or a Deed Poll document, and possibly doctor's letter, will be made.
The process of "coming out" as Trans is probably even harder and more emotionally complex than coming out as Lesbian Gay or Bisexual, involving pronoun and name changes that are often difficult for family members to accept, even before the physical impact of hormone treatment and perhaps the traumas of surgery. This is no whimsical decision. It is a radical redefinition of one's own meaning of "self" made after possibly years of despair, depression and social schizophrenia, leading a double life and resulting from a long period of psychological treatment (at least three to six months). All due to the narrow binary gender concepts of our society, which are dependent on gender stereotypes that many see as damaging. The decision to transition is one of the bravest any person can make.
It is no exaggeration to say that an employer's Equality and Diversity Policies and Procedures will be of life-saving importance to someone transitioning. A senior manager should be dedicated to equality and diversity issues, and have oversight of training of the workforce Events that celebrate diversity, such as LGB&T history month (February) should be funded by the employer and attended by senior management.
Another organisation, All About Trans, is seeking to reinforce this diversive cohesion through "interactions" between themselves and representatives of the mass media. The results of these informal tea and cake sessions are encouraging with representatives from the BBC, Channel4 News, The Independent, The Press association others uniformly declaring their intent to alter their language choices, and 92.9% recommending others participate in similar interactions.
Similarly, AAT are working on a youth-orientated project, Patchwork, which aims to show the diversity of people within the community through a collection of multi-media stories by and about Trans people. These stories will focus on two themes "support" and "celebration", as well as a series of their own youth "interactions".
It is a fact that many of our perceptions (and misconceptions) of minority groupings comes from the media press coverage of immigration; women's representation in sport, even the latest LGB character to appear in our favourite soap. Interactions and Patchwork are phase 2 of a project begun along with Trans Media Watch to devise ways to improve media professionals understanding of trans people, encouraging them to find out more and to create more sensitive portrayals of trans people in their work. The cruelty shown towards Lucy meadows underlines the importance of TMW's Eight Guidelines for Dealing with the Media.
I must confess, like the majority of the population, to having a sketchy understanding of what Trans issues are and I realise that here I have barely scratched the surface of what is a deep issue. But writing this piece has reaffirmed what we must all do - celebrate our differences, because it is always the diversity of humanity that has led to its progress, rarely its uniformity. And remember the bravery it takes just to be your real self.
(the Gender Identity Research and Education Society) www.gires.org.uk
www.sci-tech-today.com "What Does 'Transgender' Really Mean?" by Sharon Jayson
The Transgender Murder Monitoring (TMM) Project (www.tgeu.org)
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