SUSIE GREEN: "We must work with the police not attack them."
How did it feel to know that my kind, beautiful daughter, Jackie was being subjected to daily transphobic abuse? I don't think I'll ever be able to put it into words. It wasn’t only verbal attacks; it was physical abuse too and I was so frightened for her.
I look back through the years at what we went through and feel so sad and angry; but then I have to make myself think about the people who saved us and they're the people I need to acknowledge here.
Some of our greatest allies were the hate crimes coordinators for West Yorkshire Police. Thank you, Jon Cooper and Michele Linney; you were amazing. Jon even worked with Jackie on some self defence moves to help her confidence and keep her safe. He might not have known it, but he also helped to teach me how to defend myself from the daily fear that nobody in authority would help me to keep my daughter safe.
Of course, it goes without saying that many, many trans people have had very different experiences with the police and we have seen that expressed by some of our followers on Twitter. We don't take that lightly and that's why we want to work with the police to help improve things for vulnerable people.
"Life at that time was, for her, a living hell."
Between the ages of 11 and 16 my daughter reported no fewer than 15 incidents; a tiny proportion of the actual number of physical and verbal assaults she suffered. It wouldn’t be too strong to say that life at that time was, for her, a living hell.
One perpetrator was a teacher at her school who deliberately misgendered her and used her deadname; actions which then implicitly gave permission for her classmates to do the same thing, and then go even further.
Michelle made a call to the school, explaining that if this continued, the teacher would be arrested for harassment and they stopped straight away. Slowly, the students began laying off but only because of a string of reports and Police interviews. By then, the effect on her education, personal self esteem and confidence had taken its toll.
Jackie, my amazing, smart, funny, kind daughter tried to kill herself seven times.
"I know that, without the help of the police, my daughter might have joined the countless others who have taken their own lives."
She told me when she was 21 that the only reason she was still alive was because she knew the effect her death would have on me and her brothers. My heart broke for her.
"Many police don't get it right and we continue to hear very concerning stories about the way transgender people have been ignored, misgendered or abused by police."
I know that, without the help of the police, my daughter might have joined the countless others who have taken their own lives. How many parents have been left with nothing but a photograph of their kid because they didn't have the support we received? But many police don't get it right and we continue to hear very concerning stories about the transgender people who have been ignored, misgendered or abused by police. It's frightening and it has to change.
This is why we at Mermaids have developed deep working relationships with the Police to improve their knowledge and understanding of transgender children and young people.
- We have attended LGBT crime meetings to look over incidents and to offer feedback on reporting by officers and the language they use, which can be clumsy and unintentionally offensive and alienating for the transgender community.
- We have worked alongside Merseyside Police, providing training and building a partnership where officers attend our monthly Mersey Mermaids meetings.
- We have trained Lancashire and West Yorkshire Police and worked hard to help develop internal processes to make transphobic hate crime more clearly identified and dealt with.
- We have a network of LGBTQI+ officers and allies we can reach out to when we hear of inappropriate police actions upon hate crime reports made.
"There’s no doubt that transphobia exists within the police force."
It’s understandable that some transgender people are very suspicious of the Police and there’s no doubt that transphobia exists within the police force. There are transgender people who have had horrible, frightening and unjust experiences with officers who are too ignorant, too clumsy or just too plain transphobic to treat transgender people with respect and equality. Over the years, many people have suffered ignorance and prejudice. Mermaids Legal Caseworker, Lui, a non-binary solicitor and member of the management team at Mermaids, often supports families and young people who are afraid to report hate crime because of that fact and, as an organisation, we have helped to challenge police forces which get it wrong.
Mahatma Gandhi once said: “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” I believe that anger, recrimination and a refusal to engage will only create more hostility and ignorance. I know there have been those who question our working relationship with the police but I would rather sit in a room with them and help them to change, than stand on the other side of the door shouting demands.
We believe that you don’t get anywhere by making angry, sweeping generalisations. LGBT+ people have suffered terrible prejudice for countless generations and that hatred has been passed on through a toxic mix of fear, misrepresentation and misinformation. How can we demand an end to that fear when we use the same weapons to generalise about police officers, most of whom are simply trying to do their work?
At Mermaids and in my own personal experience, we have seen better results by helping the police to work with young people and their families and in doing so, show them that these are kids, just like any other and they need respect and support, regardless of their gender identity and how they express it.
We do not want children and young people to continue to suffer as Jackie did. So let's build bridges, not walls.
I would rather sit in a room with them and help them to change, than stand on the other side of the door shouting abuse and demands.