Trans Awareness Week 2023 – Active allyship

Transgender Awareness Week

SWU Executive Committee UK Representative, Chrissie Beatty, talks about why being an ally to the trans community is as important now as it has ever been.

Like many of you, I listened in disgust to the Prime Minister targeting transgender people in his vile Conservative Party Conference speech, where he claimed that misgendering trans people is just “common sense”. I was horrified to see the Prime Minister giving the green light for transphobia, which was then met by a raucous applause from fellow Tory members. His speech took place just one day after the London Assembly chair, who is an openly gay Tory member, was ejected for accusing Home Secretary Suella Braverman of homophobia and transphobia. We also heard Health Secretary Steve Barclay announce plans to ban trans women from using female wards in hospitals and implied that trans people are a safety threat, despite an investigation finding that not a single complaint was made about trans woman across NHS trusts between April 2020 and June 2022.

There is a saying – it shouldn’t have to happen to you, for it to matter to you.

As a Social Worker, this resonates with me; not only do I care deeply about what happens to the people I support but I am an advocate for social justice and proud to be an ally to marginalised communities. The BASW Code of Ethics highlights that Social Workers have a responsibility to challenge oppression on any basis. As an ally, I acknowledge that I don’t have the lived experience of the people I am supporting, but I use my influence and resources – and personal privilege – to support and amplify the voices of members of marginalised groups.

I was proud to co-author the SWU Statement supporting the trans and non-binary community and I fully endorse the calls from SWU, BASW England, and BASW Cymru and SWU and SASW to ban conversion therapy, but I felt I needed to do more, so a friend and I arranged a gathering in our home town to show our solidarity with the local trans community. The event was well attended by people who are trans, their friends and families and allies, and we had speakers, an arts area and information available. It also provided an opportunity to engage with the wider public and dispel myths and untruths.

What is fuelling the hate?

There is no respite for trans people. We are all living under a government that openly states they don’t believe trans people deserve respect, dignity, or safety to live as their authentic selves. We are watching the rapid erosion of support for trans rights in real time.

Hate crimes against trans people have risen by 11% in the past year alone, and by 186% over the last five years – and even the Home Office has admitted this rise in hate could be fuelled by politicians. Trans people are more likely to experience threats of physical or sexual harassment or violence compared with the LGBT+ community as a whole.

A 2020 press regulator report saw a 400% increase in media coverage of trans people over the five years leading up to it – most of it was negative, opinion-focussed, and written by people who are not themselves trans. Alongside carefully worded negative stances, we are also seeing the blatant demonisation of this community more and more, with the constant ‘debates’ on trans people’s existence – without a single trans person present, and obsessive anti-trans coverage from right-wing outlets.

This dehumanising dog whistle language is a dangerous rhetoric that sets us on a path to roll back decades of progress on minority rights. This isn’t just an issue for the trans community; it has implications for us all. Anti-trans extremism creates inroads for attacks on other targeted communities – it often goes hand in hand with rolling back critical advances in sexual education and health, amplifies other forms of bigotry, inspires harassment and hate crimes, and garners support for and normalisation of anti-democratic measures.

We don’t hear that in 2021 alone there were 2630 victims of transgender hate crimes, that 88% of transgender people don’t even report hate crimes,or that 48% of transgender people who do report are dissatisfied with the police response.

In 2017 a trans woman from the UK was granted residency in New Zealand on exceptional humanitarian grounds because it was deemed it would be “unduly harsh” to force her to return to the UK where she had experienced transphobic discrimination and abuse. That is a national disgrace, where were the headlines?

Show your support

Transgender people experience inequality and discrimination across all areas of life, and it needs to be tackled head on in our workplaces, schools, and communities.

Everyone can take a visible stand against anti-trans discrimination and the trans community need our support NOW. And it doesn’t need to be grand gestures.

Showing support for the trans community on social media is simple and easy; you can share posts by respected organisations to bring trans issues into the feeds of people who may not usually see them.

You can write to your local MPs and express your disgust at the direction their party is taking.

Educate yourself – having to continuously explain what it means to be trans can be exhausting for transgender people; seek out information for yourself from reliable sources, such as trans-led organisations like TransActual or Gendered Intelligence. By better understanding the struggle and oppression that others face, you are actively attempting to make a change.

Respect a person’s chosen name and pronouns. If you’re unsure, you can use gender neutral language until you are told otherwise by the person. We are all human and if you make a mistake, just apologise and try to get it right the next time.

If you hear transphobic language or jokes being said by friends or family members, educate them about how damaging that is.

If you see or hear anti-trans language and discrimination, call it out. Report it to the staff or management and tell them it is not acceptable, and it needs to be addressed. A third of trans people have been discriminated against because of their gender when visiting bars, cafes, restaurants, and clubs. 80% of nonbinary people and 73% of trans men and trans women reported experiencing transphobia from colleagues at work.

We need to see the world with our hearts as well as our eyes. Everyone has the right to be themselves without fear and we all have a part to play in creating a society where people can live safely, as their authentically wonderful selves. Trans rights are human rights and as Maya Angelou said, “The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free.”