Today is the 2014 International Trans Day of Remembrance, a day to mark the lives of the many trans people who are murdered or take their own lives each year. It’s also a time to reflect on the harassment, aggression and violence that trans people still face on a daily basis.
To mark this year our partners Pace have released some early data from their RaRE study, a significant piece of LGBT mental health research that looks at risk and resilience. The distressing finding is that almost half (48%) of young trans people under 26 had attempted suicide, 30% in the last year. The news has been reported in today’s Guardian along with a comparative statistic that just 6% of 16-24 year olds as a whole have made a similar attempt.
The Guardian too features a stark commentary by Paris Lees, the trans journalist and campaigner who topped 2013’s Pink List urging us to remember those trans people who have taken their own lives, and reminding those of us still here – trans and non-trans alike – to embrace the fleetingness of life and try to maximise its potential.
The Transgender Tipping Point
One of the quotes of the year in relation to trans people came on the cover of the mainstream American current affairs magazine Time. With a photo of actress Laverne Cox the headline proclaimed us to be at The Transgender Tipping Point, heralding in the next civil rights frontier. It caught a zeitgeist which is tangible in trans activism right now: something in the past year does seem to have changed with regard to trans visibility and awareness. Within our community organisations trans issues have been better embraced: The Lesbian & Gay Foundation announced this year they would now work to an LGB and T remit, and Stonewall is currently conducting a range of consultation events to see how they can best support trans people. Local grass-roots groups have set up self-directed initiatives like the London-based swimming group TAGS. cliniQ, the trans sexual health & wellbeing service we work with as a partner was announced as the winner of a Nursing Times Award for improving patient dignity. There’s a palpable new confidence.
Trans issues feel more broadly addressed within LGB media such as Diva, GT and Attitude, as well as online outlets Pink News and Gay Star News (although the latter dropped a clanger this week in what felt like a well-intentioned attempt to celebrate trans men). There seems a shift too in the mainstream media, where although we still see the routine before and after photos and names the overall tone of articles seems to have become generally more empathic. This week the BBC broadcast the story of 13 year old trans teen Leo and his attempt to get a passport which reflected his male identity – not in a post-watershed adult documentary slot but at 6pm on their children’s channel CBBC. The great work of organisations like Trans Media Watch and All About Trans has been instrumental in leading some of this change.
Health and wellbeing
As a health charity we often hear stories about trans people’s access to care on the NHS which is – at best – patchy. We know that delays in gender treatment can have a detrimental impact on people’s emotional wellbeing and that people feel better about their wellbeing once they have recognised their gender identity or transitioned. We know too that suicidal thoughts and self-harming reduce significantly once trans people have been able to access support.
NHS England has recognised the difficulties in accessing specialist gender treatments; here too trans issues have taken on a new significance this year heading right to the top of the organisation with a resolution by the NHS England Board to commit to actions. Work is still ongoing to address some significant concerns raised this year about access to surgery, and NHS England continues to work with a stakeholder group and establish a new policy and commissioning plan for specialist gender care. We have been supporting this process on behalf of the National LGB & T Partnership.
There’s still some way to go, as Pace’s data tell us, before young trans people have the same confidence in their futures as young people as a whole, but I’m optimistic that trans people will increasingly have the confidence to speak up, to become more visible and to shape evolving attitudes towards trans people (including improving the right to privacy around previous gender history for those who simply wish to get on with their lives). The recent Trans Youth Network Conference in Manchester indicates there’s no shortage of young trans people brimming with the enthusiasm to do so.
I’m hopeful too that many more of us within LGB communities and organisations can become effective allies to trans people. Let’s not just hope that the number of trans people added to the remembrance list each year continues to fall, let’s commit ourselves to speaking out and challenging transphobia, and encouraging others to learn more about the issues our trans friends face.
London Friend provides a range of support services aiming to improve the health and well-being of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people, supported by trans volunteers. We are a partner provider with cliniQ, a trans sexual health and well-being service in central London. Our own trans social group, T on Tuesday, runs on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month.