Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Business Case for Transgender Awareness Training

One of the arguments often put up for not undertaking Transgender Awareness Training is that there are too few trans people to justify the costs. The is a good argument but unfortunately, since the Equality Act 2010, it is not longer a valid justification.

The Public Sector Equality Duty requires public bodies to pay due regard to the need to
  • Eliminate Discrimination, Harassment and Victimisation
  • Advance Equality of Opportunity 
  • Foster Good Relations
Its the phrase Due Regard that provides public bodies with the basis for the argument that the numbers involved does not justify the cost. All organisations do have to consider the size of the community with a particular protected characteristic and then make value judgements regarding the extent of efforts to comply with the duty.

However when it comes the the Trans community, the Equality Act has fundamentally changed the way we need to look at the size of communities when assessing the need for Transgender Awareness Training.

Across the UK we know that about 12,500 trans people have presented themselves at gender clinics and that the number is growing at a rate of about 11% pa. However that really is the tip of the iceberg. and the change in definition of the protected characteristic of Gender Reassignment means that we now have to look beyond this small group.

The original definition of Gender Reassignment included anyone who was planning to undergo, was undergoing or has undergone a medically supervised process of gender reassignment. This restrictive definition meant that anyone not receiving medical treatment for their condition was not protected, even though practically no one would actually be able to determine who did and who did not quality without questioning them.

The Equality Act 2010 changed that definition to a Personal Process which, according to Equality and Human Rights Commission advice, includes anyone who has started cross dressing or has gone to a GP or counsellor for advice about. their condition.  More importantly the trans person needs only to have started the process to be protected under this characteristic.  So someone most people would define as a transvestite or cross dresser, who occasionally cross dresses in private, would still be protected against discrimination.

Why is this important?  Well first this increases the number of people protected by the Act to about 500,000.  Now imagine that a housing department or association sends an operative to a tenants house and when they arrive the tenant is cross dressed.  Because they are in their home, they may not have make up on or a wig or may even have a beard or stubble. - they may look like a man in a dress.

 If this trans person is then treated in a discriminatory way or comments are made that are interpreted as harassment, or the operative mentions this to neighbours who then harass the trans women - you have a claim on your hands which at best is going to be expensive in management time and reputation.  Transgender Awareness Training would most likely have prevented this problem. 

Of course often people don't discriminate directly against a trans person, its their children, partners, parents friends who get discriminated against or bullied. My partner, my children and step children have all had to face uncomfortable comments, bullying and harassment just because they are Associated with me, and they are protected under the Equality Act as if they had the protected characteristic of Gender Reassignment themselves. 

But what if that tenant was not transgender - but were just dressed up for a party or had put on their wife's dressing gown to answer the door. Well if someone were to discriminate or harass them believing that they were trans, the Equality Act now provides that if someone is discriminated against because they are perceived to have a protected characteristic, they will be treated as if they have that protected characteristic.

Finally when some people realise that I am, trans, they don't get it. They see me as a "bloke in a dress" and the harassment or discrimination I receive is not because they see me as a trans woman but because they see ms as a gay man. If that happens I am still protected because I am protected in respect of my perceived sexual orientation.

What this all means of course is that when delivering Transgender Awareness Training we cannot completely separate Gender Reassignment and Sexual Orientation. Estimates suggest that about 6% of the population are Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual and when we add to this all the people who are perceived to be LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender), or are family or friends of people who are LGBT - well that's probably close to a quarter of the population.

With those numbers, any assessment of Due Regard means that it is an issue that cannot be ignored. Unfortunately there are some people who because of their extreme religious beliefs or because of their deep seated homophobic or transphobic views, feel that it is OK to discriminate against and harass LGBT people and because in the recent past their discrinatory behaviour and views were supported by legislation, Transgender Awareness Training is essential.

Over the past decade their has been a huge amount of legislation to not just protect Trans people from discrimination, but to encourage the public sector to actively engage with Trans people and create a more inclusive society. The problem is that while we may have changed the law, changing attitudes is a much longer and more difficult process, one that can only be achieved with effective levels of Transgender Awareness Training.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Living Dolls or Stepford Wives

If you did not catch Secrets of the Living Dolls last Monday and Tuesday night (6th and 7th January) on Channel 4, or don't have time to catchup on 4OD - here is a short trailer that provides a significant flavour of the programme which you might find useful to understand this blog post.

I didn't know this programme was being broadcast until a friend mentioned it and so caught it on catchup to find out what all the fuss was about. I'll be honest even I found this a bit disturbing.

My main concern is that there was no attempt by the producers to explore the motivation behind the men who the programme describes as "Female Maskers". Are they Transgender? My impression was that most were not although the meeting in Minneapolis was reminiscent of transvestite weekends I once attended.  However because transgenderism or transvestism was never discussed in the programme, it is difficult to make any judgements.

I have had a look at some of the comments being made on transgender forums and in the main most trans people were as uncomfortable with the programme as I was.  A few did admit to having explored the idea, particularly those who felt that they were unable to look acceptably female when cross dressed. My primary concern is that people viewing that programme will assume a negative attitude towards all trans people as a result.

The problem many trans women face is that they tend to transition, begin living as women, quite late in life. I was past 50 before I told anyone, and that was motivated by fear. The only people who had known were my partners and when one ex partner threatened to out me to the world I decided that the only way to protect myself was to start telling a few people.  That way if I was outed people would not be shocked and would be less likely to react badly.

What I had not prepared myself for was the fact that it was fear of being outed that was keeping me "in the closet" . Once the secret was out I was no longer afraid and within two years I had found the courage to come out completely. 

The greatest fear human beings face, is the fear of ridicule, of loosing face, being humiliated. I knew people laughed at trans people; I knew trans people were harassed; I knew trans people were liable to be attacked by homophobic and transphobic men so I stayed in the closet.  Once I discovered that many people were OK with my secret, that fear subsided.

As I began to visit clubs and go out cross dressed more, I also discovered that if I did a good job with my appearance, it was very unlikely that anyone would recogise me anyway. I had worked in the financial services industry for 30 years so when I first came out and attended a few insurance industry events I made quite an impact. But what was apparent was that until I revealed who I was, no one recognised me at all. 

So back to the Living Dolls. Most of the men in this programme who revealed themselves as "female maskers" could with a good makeover, probably pass as a woman, at least when walking down the streeet.  They would need to learn how to do that makeover or go to a professional, but they would quite likely pass. Wearing a mask, they do not pass. They are getting attention, but not because people are seeing an attractive woman, and we saw the looks of utter shock on peoples faces when one went out for a walk.

For 70- year of Robert the motivation seemed to be that the image he presented when dressed, was of a woman now unavailable to him. He sees in the mirror the kind of women he wants to have, but cannot, and masking provides him with the beautiful women he cannot have.

Of course underlying all this is the fundamental issue that is faced not just by some trans women and female maskers, but by many women as well. Society requires that women in their appearance strive for an unachievable level of perfection dictated not by women, but largely be men. I heard a story once of a gender consultant who refused to refer a trans woman for surgery claiming that she was not attractive enough as a woman.

So perhaps that is the underlying motive here; a strange version of The Stepford Wives; men seeking idealised  perfection in women, a gross female stereotype, and finding they can only achieve that in becoming a living doll. Some of these female maskers I suspect may be trans, faced with the challenge that the only way they can become their stereotypical idea of the perfect woman is as a living doll.

And the message to us all is that this stereotype of a perfect woman is not real. It is exactly what it appears - A Mask.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Why is LGBT History so Important?

February is LGBT History Month in the UK, and the 9th annual celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender history in the UK started by Sue Sanders in February 2005.  The theme this year is Music.

The inspiration for LGBT history Month came partly from its US equivalent in October each year, but mostly as a result of the work Sue had done through her Schools Out project to raise awareness of LGBT issues in schools and her campaigning for the abolition of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988.

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, passed in November 1988, stated that a local authority:
 "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship".
Whilst section 28 did not create a criminal offense and no one was ever prosecuted, what it did was to support the homophobic and transphobic attitudes in many schools, especially faith schools, and many of the more conservative local authorities.  As a result much of the limited support for LGBT projects was withdrawn and little or no education and support for LGBT pupils or children of LGBT parents was available for the next 15 years .  Of course this also meant that LGBT history was largely erased from education. 

The past 10 years since the abolition of Section 28 in 2003 has seen huge changes in equality law in respect of LGBT people, yet still today schools are reluctant to address the issues and sexual orientation and gender identity remain the second highest cause of bullying behind weight.  Worse is that schools have allowed homophobic comment to go unchallenged.  The fact that the expression “OMG! That is so gay” is considered by many to be not offensive is an example of how schools have failed to prevent bullying, harassment and victimisation on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

But even within institutions there is still a strong undercurrent of negative attitude founded mostly the strongly held homophobic and transphobic beliefs of major religions.  This year in the debate over same sex marriage, attempts were made by mostly Conservative Lords and Bishops to reintroduce regulation giving schools the right to opt out discussing same sex issues.
It is that institutional homophobia and transphobia that has been the primary cause, of persecution of LGBT people. I am now starting to create an LGBT History Section on my GenderNetwork Website where I hope to draw together the real history of LGBT people across the world. Some of what you read there will fascinate you, some may shock you and some may even make you angry.

The problem with all history is finding the truth. I recall attending a lecture, when I was studying for my MSc in Gender Research, on using autobiography for research. The lecturer started the session by saying:
“Let’s be clear from the start. All Autobiography is Fiction!”
She proceeded to demonstrate this statement by comparing a number of autobiographies and biographies and historical records. When people write their own history they tell us what they want us to remember. In the past most history was written by mostly male academics, clerics and government officials. Free speech is a relatively new right. Governments throughout history have controlled what is written; religious orders have destroyed records that challenge their beliefs; journalists have lied to create a great story; legends have been created by theatre, poetry and songs that stretch or even invent the truth.

Yet despite all attempts to demonise LGBT people, the truth is still there if we look hard enough. Sometimes we have to make assumptions; sometimes we have to make interpretations based on the evidence; but I hope at least to challenge your thinking, open your minds to some new ideas, throw a new light on what you thought happened in the past and take you on a fascinating journey into a world that is quite literally “Hidden in Plain Sight”.

February is just three weeks away, and a great opportunity for all organisations, not just public sector, to promote a positive attitude to LGBT Issues. Why not organise a LGBT in music event, or an exhibition of local LGBT history, or run some LGBT, Sexual Orientation or Transgender Awareness Training, or sponsor or support a local LGBT support group, or best of all, do something to promote LGBT issues in your local schools.

There are loads of great ideas and resources on the LGBT History Month site.  Remember that the theme this year is Music and there are a huge number of musicians who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender so there is bags of scope for finding a project that you could organise or support.  And if you need a speaker for your event don't hesitate to contact me, Rikki Arundel 

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Why is everyone getting so worked up about a gay kiss on Eastenders?

I am not a fan of Eastenders but I understand that on December 30th Danny Pennant and Johnny Carter kissed and as a result there have been a number of complaintes to the BBC and lots of abusive comment on social media.

The episode was screened after the 9.00pm watershed, but this was not due to the content, but a scheduling issue with the film Shrek thankfully, because there really should be no justification for making any LGBT issue a reason for broadcasting after the watershed.

What I am finding difficult to understand is why people should think that this has ruined the programme. Eastenders has been at the foreront of addressing LGBT issues with the first ever gay kis in a british soap in 1987. The Colin and Barry storyline lasted from 1986 to 1989 at a time when there was a huge HIV/AIDS issue and that was addressed comprehensively in the storyline. The AIDS issues was then picked up with Mark Fowler who eventually died from AIDS related illnesses in 2003, although Mark was not gay.
But Eastenders has not just broadcast gay kisses, in 2011 they courted contoversy by broadcasting the first gay bed scene in a soap and of course addressed the issue of muslim men being gay.

Soaps do regularly tackle LGBT issues and in an increaslgly suportive way. There is still in my view room for improvement and as I wrote last week, it is important to address the negative public attitudes, not just avoid them.

It is a shame that homophobic attitudes still persist, but that is a fact of life and until schools and the education system generally address LGBT issues properly in the curriculum we are going to continut to have to read offensive homophobic comment based on ignorance.  Watching a gay scene on a soap is not going to make someone gay. What it might do is encourage someone who is gay to face up to who they are and come out.

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