Photo by Tom Renhard via Facebook
Bristol’s TDOR event took place on Friday evening. However, I’d like to start much earlier than that. I was in town by lunchtime because I had been invited to attend a “Corporate Strategy” event at City Hall. Like many councils across the UK, Bristol is facing a massive funding gap as central government withdraws support. The Council is limited by the government in its ability to raise revenue through taxes, so it has little choice but to cut services. Friday’s meeting was an attempt to brainstorm ideas with the voluntary sector as to how the effect of those cuts on minority groups can be minimized.
The meeting took place in the Cash Hall which is in the newly refurbished part of the building. It is on the lower ground floor as you see things from College Green, but there is street-level access at the back. The refurbishment has been very nicely done, but the thing that stood out to me was that all of the toilets in the new section are gender neutral. As far as I know, the Council has made no announcement about this. They just did it, because it seemed an obvious thing to do.
At my request, Mayor Marvin Rees opened proceedings by making mention of the Trans Day of Remembrance events taking place later in the day. It’s not perhaps the level of mayoral enthusiasm for trans support that we saw in Bath, but is good to be recognized.
There’s not much more to say about the meeting because it is very clear that the City Council is stuck between a rock and a hard place. It is very upset about what is happening, but any attempt to push back against government will only result in Bristol being treated more harshly than other major cities who would be seen as more compliant. (Ideally they should work together, but there are 10 “core cities” and I suspect that some of them have Conservative-run councils.)
At 4:30pm we had a flag raising ceremony outside City Hall. Bristol has been doing this for a few years now, but it has got much more complicated to arrange such things since the cuts forced reduction in staff levels and hours. We may have to abandon these in future and just settle for getting the flag up when staff can manage it. At least that will mean we won’t have to stand out in the cold and wet. My thanks to the Lord Mayor for standing patiently while I wittered on about the importance of the event, and to the chap from the Council’s LGBT staff group who helped do the actual flag raising (which isn’t as easy as it looks).
From there we went on the Bristol University Students’ Union, where the amazing Jamie Cross had once again secured a fabulous venue for the TDOR ceremony. Sarah Minter from LGBT Bristol once again provided food and drinks for the attendees, and also provided me with transport for which I am deeply grateful.
Special thanks are also due to a number of people who helped out massively this year. Charlie Oxborough did the work of collapsing the official document from Transgender Europe into something more manageable for printing and reading. Alfie Green helped me read the list of names of the departed. Al, a trans person from Devon who happened to be in town for the day, came and sang a lovely song. And the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence added a splash of color to the event.
We had around 75 people at the event (folks were coming and going as I was reading so it was hard to get an accurate count). The University people, and Henry and the kids from Freedom Youth, made up a large proportion of that. One person (thanks Katie!) came all the way from Portsmouth, and of course Brother Bimbo came all the way from Edinburgh.
As always at these things I want to make clear that the day is not about me. If other people want to take more of a leading role I’ll be happy to hand over to them. In particular I would love to be able to stand aside and let a trans woman of color take charge. My primary qualification for being the public face of the event is that I’m sufficiently hard-hearted to be able to stand there and read all of those names without cracking up.
Normally I try to keep the event fairly sombre, but a conversation with the Lady Mayoress of Bath on Thursday made me realize that I needed to end on a message of hope, given how worried trans people are about the potential effects of Brexit and Trump. I can’t print my speech because it was all off the cuff, but essentially what I said was this.
Back when I transitioned, in the 1990s, trans people had no civil rights. There was no Gender Recognition Act, and no Equality Act. I still transitioned, because I had to, but I had no expectation of fair treatment and my family expected me to be dead within a few years. I survived. Not because I am “brave” or “inspiring” or any of the ridiculous epithets that the media likes to label us with, but because I had friends, and because there were plenty of people who were happy to accept me for who I was. Even if May and Trump take away all of our hard-won rights, we will still have the community that we have built over the past two decades, and we will still have many friends and supporters. We need to remember that in the days to come.