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Mermaids Director of Legal and Policy, Lui Asquith on the need for the EHRC, institutions and allies to do more.

(This article discusses issues around homophobia, transphobia, racism, self-harm and suicide)

Last Thursday we signed a letter, along with other leaders of trans* and LGBTIQ+ organisations to express our frustration and disappointment at the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) recent record on LGBTIQ+ people’s rights and trans people’s rights specifically.

During the week of International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) we are reflecting on the last 12 months which has resulted in further suppression, marginalisation, policing and isolation of trans people. The impact of this has been felt particularly by Black, Asian and other trans people of colour and marginalised ethnicities, trans people who live in poverty and trans disabled people.

On IDAHOBIT we want to remind the EHRC, together with other institutional powers and decision-makers that the rights of trans children and adults are an indivisible part of human rights, and that they are not up for debate.

Lui Asquith (they/them), Mermaids Director of Legal and Policy

In 2021, my colleagues here at Mermaids are hearing – day in, day out – that trans young people are unable to access timely healthcare, denied their right to bodily autonomy, casually harassed within our schools and by the media without consistent challenge, outed without consent to ‘protect others’, ostracised and made to feel unsafe for using a toilet, and told they are a risk to others if they want to play a sport. We have families facing State questioning for affirming their child’s gender identity and teachers being told they should not be supporting trans pupils. At the same time, we have the equality watchdog choosing to intervene in a case to say that so-called ‘gender critical’ beliefs should be a protected philosophical belief and a government that needs a further consultation before it outlaws conversion therapy practices. It is not good enough. 

Transphobia is a real and growing problem and it must be confronted. We, as trans people, need cisgender people to accept this, recognise the part they play in it and make change to help deconstruct the prejudice we face every day.

Transphobia comes in various forms and they must be identified and called out. The casual transphobia still being permitted, tolerated and accepted in society is characterised by a level of degradation and violence which cannot and must not be ignored. I’m talking about all forms of transphobia, including the ‘mundane’, which let’s be clear never feels mundane. I’m talking about the transphobic microaggressions that people choose to ignore, the transphobia that is normalised within our homes, schools, GP practices, gyms, swimming pools and every aspect of daily life. A few examples include people shrugging off getting someone’s pronouns wrong… the wrong name flashing up *again* at the doctor’s surgery…the double-take and raised eyebrows when you walk into a changing facility, hoping there’ll be a spare cubicle…the list goes on. This is the transphobia that slowly wears many of us down to a point where we simply cannot cope emotionally. What seems mundane to people who aren’t trans can mean everything to the person being impacted. A mere moment may constitute that final layer of injustice for a trans person who finds themselves no longer able to resist. Every human can only take so much and everyone’s threshold is different, but no one should have to develop a threshold. No one should have to ‘deal with it’, laugh along with it, ‘get over it’ or de-transition as a result of it. All forms of transphobia cause pain and misery. Whether you can see it or not, it all leaves a mark. We have seen the painful statistics highlighted by the ‘Just Like Us’ report, published on IDAHOBIT which identifies the heartbreaking level of self-harm and suicidal ideation our LGBTIQ+ young people are experiencing. These experiences are often a product of homophobia, transphobia, biphobia or interphobia, and only through collective action can we create a better future for these young people. 

This won’t be easy. What we are witnessing in this country is only part of a growing anti-trans movement, reflected in the mass media, government, public bodies and broader society. We have recently seen rights being eroded around the world and trans people are facing serious human rights abuses, with their hard-won rights being removed.

We need the EHRC and our Government to work with us, to call out prejudice, to push back and to work for trans and gender emancipation, here and elsewhere. The answer has to be united, insistent, and global. 

The UK was once seen as a pioneer of LGBTIQ+ rights, but it is gaining an increasing reputation for  regression. This year, we have again dropped in the rankings in this year’s LGBTIQ rights ILGA Rainbow Map, but what did the Government expect? We, as trans people, are being positioned as a threat to women’s and children’s rights and a threat to the protection of wider society. How quickly we forget our history. Not long ago gay people – particularly gay men – were oppressed by Government and in law. They were othered, told they were the problem, and treated as if they posed an inherent risk to society, and to children in particular. And in many countries gay men still are harassed, fired, abused and imprisoned for loving men. Lesbians around the world are also living with such abuse and suppression – they are ridiculed, sexualised and patronised – a misogyny we see reflected in the way  trans women are questioned about their bodies and relationships. Bisexuals, pansexuals and asexuals can experience the same marginalisation, whilst also being ridiculed for ‘not being queer enough’. Again, this is not good enough. 

The fact is, we are all different and we just want to get on with our lives, to do a good job, to keep a roof over our heads, to laugh with our mates and love those around us. We have been struggling to enjoy the smaller pleasures of our lives for too long. Enough is enough. 

I said earlier that transphobia comes in various forms, and in a year in which the world has only just started listening to Black Lives Matter, we need to reflect on the history of transphobia and its relationship with colonialism, which used prejudice and division to exert power, imposing Westernised bigotry on LGBTIQ people around the world. Still today, many laws that make homosexuality a crime were imposed during the rule of the British Empire, which led to horrific violence including against queer people of colour. The prejudice we as queer and gender-diverse people are still facing around the globe today is a direct and shameful legacy of this history. I know as a white, nonbinary person myself that white people have a lot of work to do in understanding privilege and the way it frustrates real change. And unless we embrace that responsibility, educate ourselves and understand the structural inequalities that exist and intersect within our society we will never reach LGBTIQ equality and equity.

History has shown us time and time again the dangers of setting the rights of one marginalised group up for debate. But we know that our rights and freedoms are bound together. We are here to work collaboratively with all communities, in an effort to work towards trans liberation, for all. 

And to all the trans kids and young people reading this – we will keep campaigning for you and for your future. Let us live. Let us be. Let trans kids be kids.

We use ‘trans*/trans’ as an umbrella term for those who are transgender, non-binary, genderqueer, genderfluid, agender, are of non-Western gender identities, and those who have a trans history.

Lui Asquith

Director of Legal and Policy 

They/ Them