I see from Twitter that this evening Sarah Savage will be on a panel about the future of Pride. Obviously that will be Brighton-specific, but many of the issues apply the world over.
As far as I see it, a public LGBT event can have three purposes.
Firstly it can be part of a political campaign, demonstrating a clear public desire for changes in the law. Most big Prides stopped being that some time ago. Trans Pride still has something of that feel to it, but if it carries on growing at the current rate then it will stop being political. In order to stay political, the event has to cater solely to people who are angry about the political issue in question.
Second the event can be part of a “hearts and minds” campaign. That’s basically what modern Prides are. They are big parties put on by the LGBT community for the entire community. That means they tend to get swamped by straight cis people, but because we put on a great party they come away loving us. That doesn’t garner support for a specific political campaign, but it is very useful for obtaining support when you do ask for more rights. I don’t think that the marriage equality campaign would have been anywhere near as successful had we not spent years convincing the general public that us queers are harmless, fun people who throw great parties.
Finally the event can be educational. The LGBT History Festival is an event of this type. While it is nice to give our fellow queers a good sense of our own history, the primary intent is to inform the public about how we have always been around, how badly we have been treated in the recent past, and how other cultures have often been more accepting of queerness.
Both the second and third purposes require that the event be swamped by straight cis people, because to a large extent they are the target audience.
Where Brighton’s Trans Pride chooses to go in the future will be up to Sarah and her colleagues because they are the people putting in the work. (Yes, I reject the “angry SJW” attitude that other people have a duty to do volunteer work in the way that I demand they do so, even though all I ever do is insult them in social media.) However, I do have some thoughts on where the trans community should be going politically.
One of the short interviews I did at Trans Pride was with one of the people on the Stonewall stall. Obviously there was very little she could say at this point. There is still a lot of work to be done to integrate the trans community into Stonewall. However, at some point they will need to choose an issue to campaign on. That will be a difficult choice.
The marriage equality campaign was hugely successful, but it has also come in for much criticism as being something that benefits mainly the well-off, socially conservative parts of the gay and lesbian communities, while doing little or nothing for everyone else. I think it has been valuable because of the huge amount of public sympathy it has won for our cause, but I also acknowledge the issues.
The question for the trans community, and our allies in Stonewall, is how to construct a campaign that has a good chance of widespread public support, but at the same time does not throw large portions of the trans community under the bus.
It is not an idle question either. When Press for Change campaigned for the Gender Recognition Act they chose to leave behind non-binary people, and conceded defeat on issues such as the Spousal Veto. They also created the Gender Recognition Certificate, which has been somewhat problematic in practice. Tactically they were probably correct to do all of these things, because the social climate of the time would not have accepted anything else, but that still leaves us with an Act that needs fixing.
I don’t think we stand much chance campaigning for better treatment by the NHS. The last thing the public wants right now is more people asking for a share of government funds. They have been thoroughly bamboozled by the austerity mantra and will see any demand for money for us to be taking money away from them. Besides, the NHS is actually doing a pretty good job of reforming their treatment of us right now. We should let them get on with it and just keen an eye on proceedings to make sure they are going in the direction we want.
Nor do I think that we can campaign effectively on the flaws in marriage law. The trouble with the Spousal Veto is that it only affects trans people married to cis people. They reason we have it in the first place is that Home Office staff got themselves in a terrible tizzy worrying about how they would feel if their own marriage partner came out as trans. We’d have the same problem with the public. Besides, it would benefit a relatively small, and fast decreasing number of people, so I don’t think it is the sort of thing to pour lots of money and effort into.
What I do think would make a good campaign is Self Determination; that is, the right for people to determine their own gender (including non-binary), rather than have to get a doctor or psychiatrist to sign off on their identity.
Several countries have already enacted such legislation. Malta was the first, with Denmark following soon after. Ireland recently adopted something similar. Italy may have a law of this type too, though some of the coverage I have seen suggests that some sort of medical treatment is still required in their case. The UK is now most definitely lagging behind the curve when it comes to trans rights.
An important part of such a campaign is that it would directly benefit those who don’t identify within the gender binary, and who have until now mostly been left behind by trans rights campaigns. Again many countries in the world currently allow a third gender identification, including India, Pakistan and Australia.
Finally this is a campaign that does not harm anyone (except people who design forms that ask for your gender, and those awful companies who insist on gendering all of their products). In much the same way as two lesbians getting married does not destroy the marriage of an heterosexual couple, so the fact that someone chooses to identify as non-binary does not cause anyone else’s gender to change. The villains in this story are the doctors and psychiatrists, and the hated Gender Recognition Panel. I suspect that a lot of people would happily support a campaign that aimed to stop these people having God-like power over trans people’s lives.
So, that’s the campaign that I think Stonewall should help us to run. But we don’t have to wait for them. There is already a petition before Parliament asking for self-determination. It has more than twice the number of signatures needed to require a formal response from the government. If we can quadruple the current number of signatures then the question must be brought before Parliament. Go and sign it, please.