Stonewall apology for failing trans community insufficient

Nate, a trans student, writes about Stonewall’s new trans equality campaign.

Since its inception, Stonewall – ­the largest lesbian, gay and bisexual equality organization in Europe – has effectively ‘stonewalled’ the trans community. A trans person is someone whose gender is different to the gender they were assigned at birth. Many trans people assert that Stonewall’s campaigning, which has historically concentrated exclusively on LGB equality, has failed the trans community. This week, the organisation apologised for its former stance and announced its intention to also campaign for trans equality. The apology was long overdue. But was it enough, and can we trust it?

On 16th February, Ruth Hunt, Stonewall’s Chief Executive, announced that, following a commendable consultation with over 700 trans people, the organisation will now ‘use its platform and experience to help create real change’ for the trans community. To this end, they are retraining staff, appointing a director of trans inclusion, and continuing conversations with trans people. Ultimately. it is hoped that Stonewall will provide support for securing legal equality, representation, and school/workplace education relating to trans issues. But why only now? Trans people were vital to the 1969 Stonewall riots which gave the organisation its name. The trans community has always campaigned for LGB rights. Is it right that Stonewall has ignored these acts of solidarity in favour of a more palatable, self­-serving campaign? Why has it taken until 2015 for the trans community to be included?

With trans people recently gaining more media attention and representation, and the growing popularity of the ‘LGBT’ acronym, this is arguably a case of Stonewall trying to remain relevant. Some critics feel this could just be jumping on the bandwagon of a fashionable cause. Or perhaps the exclusion of trans people was damaging Stonewall’s reputation and support. But is it enough to merely add a ‘T’ to your stationery, to throw a crumb to a marginalised group facing daily harm and discrimination?

Another possible reason for the shift is that, with LGB marriage equality achieved, Hunt claimed this ‘signalled an end of the legislative battles,’ with Stonewall ‘moving into the territory of changing hearts and minds.’ This flatly ignores the fact that trans people are fundamentally treated unequally, socially and legally, with countless murders and suicides of trans people every year. While there has been progress in the ongoing battle for LGB equality, the trans community can only dream of attaining the legal and social acceptance LGB people enjoy today. Stonewall must recognise this.

While Hunt admitted previous mistakes, saying, “It’s important to acknowledge our past and acknowledge when we haven’t done things as well,” those mistakes undermine Stonewall’s words now – not just the exclusion of trans voices, but also, for example, co­-opting funds donated to furthering LGBT rights, or the pro-­LGB film sent to schools that included the transphobic slur ‘tr*nny’, which they claimed was an acceptable abbreviation for transsexual (had any trans people been involved, neither term would have been used). Stonewall have thus proven that without consultation or consideration of trans groups, their influence has so far done more harm than good to an already vulnerable group. This should have been reflected in their apology.

In a recent publication, Hunt admitted, “Any change needs to be led by the trans community [and] we are very open to taking whatever direction will be in the best interests of that community.” Yet while some are willing to celebrate their newfound inclusion, perhaps it is best to wait for real action. While the apology was welcome, it was insufficient in recognising the harm Stonewall have done in marginalising trans people for so long.

This trans person is reserving judgement for now.

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