Celebrating Trans Day of Visibility

31 March 2022

We were recently excited and grateful to announce that Kingsley Napley was named in Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index 2022 of Top 100 Employers List for LGBTQ+ people. While it is vital for workplaces to commit to inclusion and create a welcoming environment for their LGBTQ+ staff, the annual celebration of Trans Day of Visibility (TDoV) importantly draws attention to the critical need for more meaningful visibility in the media and beyond in order to pave the way for trans liberation in wider society.

 

In September 2021, the Council of Europe reported on the alarming increase in hate crime against LGBTI people in Europe over the past few years. The report warned that, in the UK, ‘anti-trans rhetoric, arguing that sex is immutable and gender identities not valid, has…been gaining baseless and concerning credibility…’, with Britain, alongside Russia, Turkey, Hungary and Poland, spotlighted as among the most hostile places for LGBTI people, as they are increasingly targeted with hate speech online through social media.

This growth in hostility mirrors the largely disrespectful tone of media reporting[1] and escalating rhetoric questioning the very existence of trans persons at the expense of their rights, along with the civil liberties of other marginalised individuals, including women and children. This is more woefully reflected in the recent reports on the soaring figures for homophobic and transphobic hate crimes (as of December 2021)[2], which rose sharply after the lockdown.

These facts alone underscore the continued importance of TDoV and the urgent need for a more respectful, empathetic and nuanced discourse on trans persons’ experiences in this country.

As explained by Stonewall, Trans Day of Visibility is, “an important time to amplify voices across the diverse community”. In line with this, for TDoV 2022, we spoke with Phillippa Scrafton (she/her), a long-time activist for her community as well as Senior Programmes Officer for Stonewall. We discussed the continued importance of trans visibility, and what we should be focusing on in respect of trans rights and liberation in 2022 and beyond.

Questions:

What does Trans Day of Visibility mean to you?

For me personally, Trans Day of Visibility, and calendar events such as LGBT History Month for that matter, are just snap shots; it isn’t just about that one day or that one month – it’s about many of us saying, “I didn’t understand what was going on, or I didn’t realise that your community is facing such a torrid time and, as an ally, what can I do to support you?” It’s so important because allies have so much influence when creating trans-inclusive spaces. Just as it is not incumbent on people of colour and people of faith to talk about racism or religious discrimination, in the same way it’s not incumbent on someone who is trans or non-binary in an organisation to tell you all how not to be transphobic.

So, for me, hopefully and as I am an eternal optimist, Trans Day of Visibility is an opportunity for allies to pause and say, “I might not know someone who is trans and I might not really understand what makes someone feel the way that they feel that they need to align their gender identity, but that does not matter if I all I want to do is create that society where we don’t have hate, prejudice and discrimination.

I think that we think about Trans Day of Visibility in the same way that we talk about Trans Day of Remembrance later in the year, which is when we mark and (importantly) remember, globally, how trans peoples’ lives can be so difficult and we recount how many trans people have died. However, Trans Day of Visibility is a celebration; we talk about who we are as a community, shining a light on the community as people and, hopefully, how organisations can be more trans-inclusive. We have to take amplify the community voices and share some of our experiences - good and bad.

Why is the current state of trans visibility in the media falling short of what’s needed for trans liberation and empowerment?[3]

I think it’s about the context in which the narratives are being put out. I feel like a target, most of the time from anti-trans voices, when I read these stories; it’s hard not to. Thinking about Christine Burns’ book Trans Britain[4] from 2018 (a really great read and something I am proud to be included in), fast forward four years and I find it difficult to believe things have changed so much! There is so much of a toxic narrative on social media, print media and in mainstream conversation in general; how so many want to misrepresent our community and, in particular, trans women like me.

For example, some stories and slants that the mainstream media has [published] feed transphobic narratives. Thinking about the ‘bathroom bills’ stories in America – of course, America is a different context – in reality, here in 2022, if I am going out, I ‘police’ my own activity 90% of the time, in order to make sure that I am as safe as I possibly can be. I think this is as a result of the media landscape. One becomes so obsessed with making sure of it, that it puts you on edge. But I shouldn’t have to live with this fear – that just simply going to the toilet is a major stress. I should be able to live my life, and that doesn’t impact on anybody else’s. It doesn’t take away anybody’s rights. For a lot of trans people, particularly trans women, it seems we are the subject of people’s ridicule and ire. How do we find that inclusion, without it being something like a caricature? It’s almost as if trans people are characters and not real until something terrible happens – then, all of a sudden, we’re real. That’s how I feel most of the time at the moment; it’s really sad!

The IPSO report revealed how trends in media reportage of trans people are contributing to this increased hostility we are seeing towards the community – what are some important narratives that need to be made visible?

One of the things I really want to see more visible is just ordinary people. There are some [celebrity trans activists] out there that do amazing things, but I’m still the happiest woman on the planet because I’ve listened to, amplified and been able to push forward so many amazing voices in my community and that’s what’s important. I’ve got an opportunity to share my life story but also the stories of others in my community. I’ve seen the positive impact of telling those stories – we must all support it.

The Council of Europe report noted a sharp increase in hostility towards trans persons in Britain in recent years. This is despite a 400% increase[5] in reporting of trans persons’ personal lives over the past five years (since 2020).  Practically speaking, what organisations can individuals champion and support which provide critical resources to those in the community?

I would say have a look at some of the charities that are out there; including TransActual, Gendered Intelligence, Stonewall and many others.

Who in particular are you honouring and celebrating for this year’s Trans Day of Visibility?

 

I think for me [I’m celebrating] the trans people that I know personally – the small community up here in the North East, who just get on with their lives. There are some wonderful people who have supported me through the years, [including] the people I work with [at] UNISON [and] within Stonewall. And, from a non-trans person perspective – it would be my family, because they accept me wholeheartedly.

What is a misconception about the state of trans visibility you often come across in your work as an activist and Programmes Officer at Stonewall that you would like to dispel?

For anyone who has suffered any kind of “othering” growing up, it’s all about the stuff we don’t report as trans and gender non-conforming people.  It’s not about being punched in the face, it’s not about being attacked or pushed over; but it’s all the micro aggressions[6], the little tiny ones that are like wasps’ stings.  You might get 50 or 60 of them in a day – the 51st one isn’t any worse than the first one, but it’s just the one that broke the camel’s back.  And that’s when it starts to take hold, when it starts to eat away at your confidence, your self-esteem, and begins to destroy it. What really matters is: who I am, who we are - and if all we do is focus on the differences, how can we ever see what connects us? Listen to trans people. It’s all about understanding.

 

  1. Much of the on-going social debate surrounding trans rights seems to have been monopolised by transphobic rhetoric, as revealed in the recent Council of Europe report. For those who are recent/new allies to the community, what resources would you recommend to help tackle those damaging attitudes?

 

Read any book – take a visit to Gay’s The Word, which is an amazing book shop in London I visit every time I am in London without fail; you can go onto their website and check out the “trans stories and life stories” sections; off the top of my head read Christine Burns’ Trans Britain, Shon Faye’s The Transgender Issue, books by Juno Roche and Juno Dawson’s books and for me anything from Stephen Whittle’s books, he is one of my role models.

There are so many resources out there for trans allies and resources on how to be an effective trans ally. We need to meet, we need to speak, we need to share, and we can only do that by reading books like these and understanding other experiences. We stand on the shoulders of giants in the LGBTQ+ community, and these are some of the giants for me at least.

It seems, from Shon Faye’s perspective, that Britain’s current media landscape puts the onus on trans individuals to continually argue for their own existence, distracting us from the pressing need for the public to facilitate a more welcome, supportive social transition for trans people. What can we, as individuals, do to help facilitate meaningful trans visibility, empowerment and liberation?

Just engage, ask questions, and say your pronouns when you’re in a meeting.  If someone said to me, “What action can I take from today?”, I would say that, at the next meeting, you say “Hi, my name’s X and my pronouns are she/her”. Because there might be somebody in that room that is trans or gender non-conforming, and the benefit that affords them is in understanding that they are valid in that space – and you could change their life because you could be the beacon that they’re looking for in the dark. That to me speaks volumes.

If you would like to learn more about the importance of maintaining a more diverse and nuanced discourse on transgender rights, please read this blog by our colleague, Ellie Fayle.

About Phillippa Scrafton: Aside from her role as Stonewall Scotland’s Senior Programmes Officer for North East England, Phillippa is the current Chair of County Durham & Darlington Joint Hate Crime Action Group (JHCAG), the Chair of Darlington Unity Group (DUG), which involves community leaders from diverse and marginalised groups across Darlington, Local Council and Durham Constabulary, and is a Founding Member of the More in Common Darlington network, which is committed to creating community cohesion. She is also a panel member of Durham Police & Crime Commissioners B.U.S Scrutiny Panel (whose remit covers BAME Arrest, Use of Force, Stop and Search), the Durham Constabulary Independent Advisory Group (I.A.G), and the C.P.S North East Hate Crime Scrutiny Panel. Phillippa sits on UNISON’s National LGBT+ Committee as its Bi+ Caucus representative.

Kingsley Napley’s LGBTQ+ & Allies network was established in 2012. Kingsley Napley is committed to bringing colleagues and allies together in a shared aim of creating an LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace and community, where we can all reach our full potential without fear of discrimination.

 

[1] Report by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) (2020)

[2] “Recorded homophobic hate crimes soared in pandemic, figures show”, The Guardian (3 December 2021)

[3] This is explored in Shon Faye’s acclaimed book, The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice, which discusses the urgent need for a deeper conversation about trans rights.

[4] The changes throughout history of trans visibility in the media is explored in Christine Burns’ book, Trans Britain: Our Journey from the Shadows, which was listed among The Guardian’s ‘Best Books of 2018’.

[5] Report by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) (2020)

[6] A “microaggression” is defined as, “a small act or remark that makes someone feel insulted or treated badly because of their race, sex, etc., even though the insult, etc. may not have been intended, and that can combine with other similar acts or remarks over time to cause emotional harm.” (Cambridge Dictionary)

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