A discussion panel was held for Transgender Remembrance Day in the Houses of Parliament on Monday.
The event was chaired by Labour MP Sarah Champion and speakers included: actor Jake Graf; former prospective parliamentary candidate Dr Heather Peto; Goldsmiths College lecturer Natacha Kennedy and the parent of a non-binary child whose name was not released to protect the child’s anonymity.
She then introduced the first speaker, Dr Heather Peto, LGBT Labour’s Trans Officer who was the first ever transgender person to run as a parliamentary candidate for Rutland and Melton. As well as speaking about her experience running in the parliamentary race, Heather shared her own experience of assault as a transgender person.
While in university, Heather began to come out as trans and suffered from misogyny in her workplace and at one point during her transition, her hormone treatment was abruptly taken away.
This caused her to go down a deep depression, and at one point seriously considered suicide, “I remember going to Goodge Street Station, and thinking right, the next train that comes, I’m going to throw myself under”.
Heather did not attempt suicide that day, but she emphasised the lack of support given to some trans people. “I think it is important to understand the torments some transgender people go through. It is not a transgender person’s choice whether you get surgery or not.”
Heather then recounted a horrifying experience she had of being assaulted and raped in central London. While Heather managed to get away, she was not taken seriously by police when she called 999 to tell them she had been raped, because they heard a male voice.
The next speaker, the parent of a child who has from age four identified as non-binary, spoke about her struggles getting legal protection from the government for her child. According to the parent, the child experienced problems with bullying due to their identity, yet the school did little to help.
Members of staff at the school refused to acknowledge the child’s gender identity, refused to make any provisions at school, which ultimately led to the child having to be homeschooled. Even social services refused to acknowledge the child’s identity and feelings. Unfortunately, the parent could not refer to the Equality’s Act, as it does not cover non-binary children.
The parent is currently compiling a complaint against the school based off of an extract from the school’s guidance notes, which states that “broad medical provisions are especially important for gender non-variant children”. However, this complaint is taking a huge amount of time away from the parent looking after their child, and it may not even be enough to win against the school.
Ultimately, the parent is hoping to prove the school did discriminate against her child, but for now, without being able to refer to the Equality Act, the future is uncertain.
Next up was Jake Graf, director, writer and actor who in 2015, took part in a Q&A with Barack Obama. Jake spoke about his journey growing up and coming out as a transman. Jake emphasised the complete lack of good representation of trans people that he saw growing up, leaving him isolated and confused.
Jake said that it was only the “occasional kindness” of a teacher that made school bearable, but during puberty his feelings of dysphoria became so intense that he couldn’t even look in the mirror. Jake came out first as a lesbian at the age of 19 and “tried as hard as [he] could” to be a part of that community, however ultimately fell into drinking and drugs to deal with his dysphoria.
It wasn’t until 25 when Jake met another transman, did he finally accept who he was. He came out to his family, got clean and within a few years he had changed his life around and written several well-reviewed screenplays based on his transition. Jake has continued making LGBT films and is now a patron for the charity Mermaids.
The final speaker, Natacha Kennedy attempted to quash some common misconceptions around transgender people, and how these myths are perpetuated by hurtful media coverage.
She spoke about the damaging effects that certain media coverage has on transgender people, referring to the recent Times articles that have been published attacking trans people. Natacha said that hurtful comments which are disguised as free speech do have very real affects on the lives of trans and non-binary people.
Natacha compared quotes from articles in the 1970s which were used against gay and lesbian people to ones used by current media against trans people today, and found that the same arguments were being used.
“A lesbian friend of mine said that lesbians in the 1980s were not considered real women, and some women were even saying they should not be allowed in women’s bathrooms,” she said.
Natacha also made a comparison between trans people and people who were left-handed, as left-handed people were once (and still are in some countries) considered to be wrong and forced to switch to using their right hand even though it was unnatural.
Natacha said: “Left handed people know they are left-handed. They don’t need someone to tell them they are left-handed, they know what is right just like transgender people do.”
Myths that hormone blockers are harmful, that trans women are really just men, that being transgender is “just a phase” were all debunked by Natacha, who emphasised just how harmful these misconceptions are.
“Despite the fact that no studies have suggested that hormone blockers have harmful long-term effects, more and more concerned trans people are hesitant to take them because of this myth”, she said.
Sarah Champion wrapped up the meeting by thanking all the inspiring speakers and acknowledging her own privilege: “I want to personally apologise for my ability to sit here and not have to justify my background, or the fact that I’m cis-female. The fact that you have to explain your background every time you make a speech just shows how much work needs to be done.”