Last night I was honored to be asked to be part of a panel at Bristol University Students’ Union (UBU) that was discussing the question: “What Next for the LGBT+ Movement Following the Passing of the Same Sex Marriage Act?”. This was part of a series of events under the general title of a “Festival of Liberation”. Ruth Pearce reported on last week’s intersectionality panel here.
My fellow panelists were as follows:
- Daryn Carter, the Director of Bristol Pride;
- Noorulann Shahid, the Black Rep on the NUS LGBT Committee and also the Campaigns & Activism Intern at UBU; and
- Sorana Vieru, Postgraduate Education Officer at UBU.
The panel was chaired by Alice Phillips, the UBU Equality, Liberation and Access Officer. Fran Cowling, the LGBT Officer (Women’s Place), was unable to attend.
I may have introduced myself as, “an abusive and violent online mob that mercilessly persecutes New Statesman columnists”.
Alice started by asking us what we thought of the Same-Sex Marriage Act. The general opinion of the panel was that it was good that same-sex marriages could now happen, but the problem with the Act is that it is a Same-Sex Marriage Act, not a Marriage Equality Act. Specific issues that were raised included the complete lack of provisions for non-binary people, the Spousal Veto, and the lack of a civil partnership option for straight people.
We were then asked where we thought the LGBT+ movement should go next.
Daryn and I both mentioned the need for the movement to be fully inclusive of people of color. This is a difficult issue to address. I was delighted to have Noorulann on the panel, and the audience was far more diverse than I am used to seeing at LGBT events in Bristol. However, I totally understand that PoC will feel intimidated by all-white gatherings and may not want to attend them. Having things like UK Black Pride is good, but at some point we all need to start working together.
I’m particularly sensitive to the pressure that people like Noorulann will be under to somehow represent “their people” and drag their fellow PoC along to events. The category “non white” includes a vast array of different cultures, and one person can’t possibly be expected to speak for, or to, them all. Noorulann is a very impressive young activist, and I hope that they succeed in their campaign to get to head up the NUS LGBT team next year, but equally there is only so much that one person can do.
Anyway, the door is open. Daryn and I are happy to listen. Hopefully people will come forward and tell us what they need from us.
Related to this are issues of immigration and international policy. The way in which LGBT asylum seekers are treated by UK immigration officers is an absolute disgrace. I suspect we’ll need a change of government to do anything about that (and given the way that Labour are jumping on the anti-immigration bandwagon, a fairly major change of government). Also, while there are clear concerns about the way LGBT people are treated in other countries, we need to be very careful to not allow our concerns to become a cover for wars over resources, or to lead to a repeat of the colonialist nonsense that exported our (white European) phobias to other countries in the first place.
Lastly (I think) on general issues, we noted that austerity policies are particularly hard on LGBT youth, many of whom are made homeless by their families.
I’ve put the general issues first, because I don’t want people to think that the panel was totally about trans issues, but there was certainly a lot of it, and not just because there were two trans people on the panel. Daryn mentioned that he got into LGBT activism in Bristol in part because he found the local scene too trans-exclusionary at the time. And it was an absolute delight to hear Sorana, as a cis woman, talking about the need to oppose TERF ideology in academia (where apparently it is rife in some subject areas).
Noorulann mentioned that the NUS now has a policy to “smash” the Gender Recognition Act, which is fine by me as long as they don’t take away my birth certificate. Here’s the sort of things I want to see:
- Official recognition of an Other category for gender, as is done to varying degrees in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Australia and Germany;
- Official promotion of a gender-neutral pronoun (as has just happened in Sweden);
- Revision of the Gender Recognition Act to allow for this third category (and doubtless a whole bunch of additional fixes);
- The creation of proper Marriage Equality Act that is entirely gender-neutral; and
- An end to surgical modification of intersex infants.
As far as I could see, the panel and the audience were OK with that.
We also briefly touched on the ongoing attempts to limit or ban treatment for trans people through the NHS. There may be more news on this next month. For now I simply note that the NHS is under very heavy pressure to cut costs, and one of the ways it is looking to do that is prioritize what services it provides. This will mean that there is no explicit “ban” on unpopular treatments, but there will never be sufficient budget for them to be provided.
I note in passing that after several years of investigations the General Medical Council has just decided that Dr. Richard Curtis has no case to answer and may continue to practice. I don’t suppose that this news will be deemed important enough to appear in The Guardian, though it was all over the trumped up charges when they were brought. Sadly I also expect that new trumped up charges will be laid against Dr. Curtis fairly soon, because that’s the way life is for anyone who dares to provide private medical services to trans people.
I also touched on the case of Chris Wilson, the Scottish trans man who was convicted for fraud for failing to disclose his trans status to sex partners. (Someone in the audience mentioned a similar case in Staines. It isn’t clear that Gemma Barker identified as trans in any way, though that may not have been any protection.) Both of these cases also involve sex with minors, which complicates matters considerably, but the idea that failure to disclose one’s trans status to a sexual partner is an act of criminal fraud is deeply disturbing, especially as it appears to negate the central principle of the Gender Recognition Act.
There were some interesting follow-on questions from Alice and the audience and I’d like to touch on a couple.
Firstly we were asked how we could get more young LGBT people involved in politics. It isn’t easy, unless they are directly affected by something. However, I think that the new vlog series that Fox & Lewis have been running on the My Genderation YouTube Channel is a wonderful thing. The young people making the vlogs don’t talk much about politics, but the fact that they are there, talking about their lives, and giving encouragement to others, is enormously powerful politically.
In discussions afterwards we were told that YouTube is a very important venue for reaching out to young people. I have an awful feeling that I need to overcome my horror of seeing myself on film.
Finally there was an interesting question about inclusivity and alphabet soup. There is no right answer here. I’ve used LGBT rather than QUILTBAG here because of the title of the panel. UBU uses LGBT+ rather than the widely misunderstood LGBT*, but as Noorulann noted those who get letters in QUILTBAG but not in LGBT can feel erased by the +. Even when you try, things can go wrong. Some people now use LGB & T as a means of trying to make it clear that T is not about sexuality, but Noorulann was under the impression it was an attempt to jettison the T. In some cases it depends who you are talking to. Daryn mentioned meeting a lot of people who didn’t know what LGBT meant. Some we need both and. We have to be as inclusive as possible, and recognize people’s identities, but equally we need to represent ourselves to the rest of the world, and avoid damaging internal squabbles. We’ll never get it right, but we can keep trying.
I’d like to end by thanking Alice and UBU for a fantastic event. Special thanks are due to Noorulann, Sorana and Daryn for being fabulous fellow panelists, and to the audience for listening to my ranting. Like Ruth, I have come away greatly encouraged about the future of feminism.