Remembrance is not enough while transphobia remains a fatal reality

[CONTENT WARNING: Discussion of transphobia, violence, suicide]

Yesterday was Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day when we remember those who’ve lost their lives as a result of transphobic violence in the last year.  While Education Minister, Nicky Morgan, expressed her pride at the flying of the trans flag on a Government building for the first time, the partner of a woman who died in a male prison called for an urgent change in the law, to protect trans woman from misgendering by the state and the legal system.

Vicky Thomson, who was 21, is reported to have told friends she would commit suicide if sent to a male prison.  Yet she was sent to a male prison, where she was found dead yesterday.  This tragedy comes just a few weeks a campaign to ensure another trans woman, Tara Hudson, was housed in a women’s prison was successful.  Vicky Thompson, like Tara Hudson, merely lacked a piece of paper.

Guidance requires prisoners to be housed according to their gender under the law, so the entire process is focused on whether someone has a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).   Obtaining such a Certificate is an incredibly complex process, involving being diagnosed with a “disorder,” multiple medical reports and 2 years living “in your gender.”  There are provisions which allow people to be housed “in the estate of their acquired gender” but they repeatedly fail to prevent women being sent to men’s jails.


Obtaining a GRC is a lengthy and often upsetting process

Many people are unfairly denied a GRC on the basis they happen to have no desire or need for particular medical procedures and there are those who chose not to put themselves through what can be a traumatic application process, solely on the basis the state holds incorrect information on their gender.  Non-binary and/or intersex people are declared male or female by the state at birth, having no right whatsoever to an acknowledgement they are neither.   There are so many people failed by the system, which maintains this cumbersome and detrimental apparatus, solely to laud over people who can figure out what gender they are for themselves.

Flag flying from the UK Government seems so inadequate.  As does an expression of support from a minister like Nicky Morgan, who voted against legislation allowing people to marry the person they love, regardless of the state’s view of their gender.  The “equal” marriage legislation drafted by the UK Government includes a spousal veto, which has the effect of allowing people’s partners and former partners who are not legally separated to make obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate more difficult.  Thanks to a concerted campaign by the Equality Network and the Scottish Transgender Alliance amongst others, no such provision exists in Scotland’s legislation.


The Department for Education flew a trans flag yesterday

There is a particular gall when the Education Minister is the person chosen to speak for the Government, while there remains no education around trans and intersex issues, other than in general guidance on not bullying people.  We still essentially teach kids that trans people don’t exist and the fact that some of those kids grow up to bully, and indeed murder, trans people must be acknowledged as learned behaviour.  We need to urgently reform our education system – yet in England, the proliferation of religion education/profit (which go so well together!) in the form of “Free Schools” is likely to further damage kids who don’t confirm in terms of their gender or sexual identity.

There may not be the rush towards privatisation in Scotland but the failure of our school system to even provide an education to trans people is a disgrace, 42.3% of trans people who leave education cite transphobic bullying as being responsible for their decision.  In 21st Century Scotland, we cannot provide education to many of our kids in a safe environment.  Education on sex and gender issues is one area where Holyrood can, and must, now take the lead.  Mandatory education on the diversity of gender and sexual identities could allow more trans kids to receive an education, and save lives.  The stakes are too high to allow bigots to prevent often vulnerable young people from receiving information which helps them and others stay safe.

Women still housed in male prisons must be relocated and we must end the practice of putting women and intersex and non-binary people in danger because we haven’t made the right forms yet or made the process of obtaining them fair. There are the overarching questions of why we continue to send so many people to jail, Scotland’s female prison population is at a record high.  But while we live in a society which locks people up, we must reform the process of gender recognition.


What should be a simple administrative matter is made incredibly complex and the victims are trans people and all those who’re misgendered by the state, either due to a change in circumstances or because the state got it wrong to begin with. If people are able to simply register their gender, as is the case in other states, it’s unfathomable women would end up in male prisons.

While yesterday was a day to pause to remember the victims of transphobic violence, we do no justice to anyone unless we challenge the system which allows this to keep happening.  The fact that a trans woman is dead, having been deliberately misgendered, not by a playground bully or an online bigot,  but by the state, suggests we have a responsibility far beyond remembrance; we need to change the system which is failing trans people.

Sadly, Transgender Day of Remembrance is a day acknowledging the present and not remembering the past.   While that’s the case, I have nothing but disdain for a Government which tries to take credit for its record of support, as we mourn the death of a woman whose right to exist was undermined so unforgivably.


Further Reading:

Glasgow Demo for trans rights in memory of Leelah Alcorn


Intersect This: White Cis Feminism in Scotland


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