We recently sat down with jane fae of TransActual UK to talk about fundamental human rights and the fight that trans people face making their voices heard.
With alarming changes now underway, trans people are at the forefront of the struggle to uphold rights and end social and legal discrimination in Europe.
This article is part of an ongoing series at The Inspirer to balance the media portrayal of trans people.
Europe prides itself on its inclusive rights for the LGBTQ+ community. LGBTQ+ rights are expressly protected in the European Union by treaty and law.
Yet regarding the rights of trans people, the situation is disturbing. The 2021 Trans Rights Map “documents an alarming loss in rights when compared to 2020. While progressive countries in Europe and Central Asia have slowed down in increasing protections for trans people, moderate countries have often stalled progress altogether. Worse yet, a growing number of countries have been aggressively removing rights from trans people.”
To get some perspective on this changing situation, we spoke with jane fae from TransActual UK to understand what this organisation is doing to push for the human rights of trans people in the UK.
As elsewhere across the continent, the UK has seen intense public attention and push back regarding trans issues. Attention flared with a public consultation proposed by the government of Theresa May as it considered revisions to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act.
The Government Equalities Office was looking to understand why only 4,910 had applied for gender recognition by the end of 2018, with an estimated 200,000 – 500,000 trans people in the UK.
The focus was on the burden of evidence needed to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate.
The government determined that the 2004 requirements for gender recognition which included elements like spousal consent, a medical diagnosis, bank statements, payslips, a copy of a passport and a statutory statement to “live in the acquired gender until death”, were “too bureaucratic, expensive and intrusive.” (gov. website)
A difficult fight “simply to be heard.”
“This consultation unleashed a very public debate on trans “rights” and a media “obsession” with trans people” that boils down to questioning whether trans folk should be allowed to be part of society in the same way as everyone else”, reports jane fae. “And the backlash continues.”
TransActual, one of the UK’s largest trans-led campaigning organisation, actually arose from the need to have trans voices advocating for trans rights during those heated debates.
According to jane fae, the situation regarding trans rights took a decisive turn with the 2019 appointment of Liz Truss as the Minister of Women and Equalities. Truss’ conservative approach – the UK government, ultimately decided to abandon the project to allow gender self-identification for trans people – and her rebuttal of “identity politics” are seen as significant reversals in the progress that had been underway regarding the rights of trans people.
What campaigns is TransActual working on at the moment?
jane fae: One of the main campaigns we are looking at right now is health and GP support. We work with healthcare professionals to put together guidelines and information.
We are looking to support GPs and help them to understand how they can support trans people because people need decent healthcare.
It’s not just that the NHS trans healthcare pathway in this country doesn’t work very well for trans people, with waiting lists just to see a specialist running into many years. Unofficially, people are being denied everyday treatment for being trans.
Trans people are being denied healthcare for absolutely ridiculous reasons. It happens that GPs and hospital staff say, “Oh! You’ve got a broken leg, but you are trans – we need a specialist !” “You’ve got a cold? Well, you’re trans, so we need a specialist.” It’s absurd.
And we are also informing trans people what to expect from health professionals, what they should be asking for, what their rights are. We have many online resources.
We tell people what they should be expecting from their GPs. Not going in and making demands, but simply this is what a normal GP service looks like, so don’t settle for less.
And if things go very badly wrong, informing trans people on how they can complain and, if worse comes to worst, how they bring their complaint to the law.
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What are the challenges that you face for being the largest trans-led advocacy organisation in the UK?
jf: The main two challenges are funding and the press and its hostile transphobia.
Regarding funding, well, we are volunteer-led.
People are always juggling work, and we don’t have steady funds, which is problematic. It is something that we will be looking at for next year, raising money. We want to be able to raise money without selling out to anybody.
That is important to us.
And with regard to the press, the level of misinformation about who trans people are – what we need, what we want – well, it is absolutely criminal.
The level of obsession in the press!
It really is a mixture of obsession and something else, with people who really want to do harm.
Some of it is ignorance; they just don’t know what they are doing.
But a lot of what is in the press is very calculated. I also chair Trans Media Watch, and we regularly clip news articles. I came across 4 or 5 articles referencing “the dangers of trans people” from this one newspaper.
How do they think that people are going to react? When people read the press and keep reading terms like “danger”, then obviously some people will act accordingly.
In 2020, there was a shift in the work of TransActual UK. You expanded the scope of the organisation with your goals being:
- share reliable information about trans people’s lives
- share reliable information about trans rights
- dispel common myths
- amplify the voices of trans people so that the wider world may hear the experiences of a wide range of trans men, trans women and non-binary people
- educate people about trans people’s lives and the issues they face
- advocate for trans people
- empower trans people to make bring about change in their lives and in the community
In addition, this year, you have been engaged on multiple submissions to government and parliamentary inquiries on trans-related issues, healthcare and Human Rights. What triggered this shift?
jf: The shift happened after Boris Johnson became Prime Minister. He appointed Liz Truss as Minister for Women and Equalities. Many people in the UK’s LGBT and minorities communities saw this as a direct threat.
We needed to respond.
Look at the ILGA Europe’s 2021 Annual Report on LGBTQ equality and human rights.
You’ll see that the UK has gone from being in the top 3 in 2017 to number 10 in 2021.
And we are still falling.
We regard this as absolutely outrageous. This is a country where not just trans rights but all LGBT rights are now going backwards, very, very quickly.
What is absolutely heartbreaking to me in all this is the fear.
To think that people are saying that they are afraid now to stay in the UK.
A number of people I have known who have grown up here and are looking to move to other countries because they are afraid of what is going to happen – and what is happening. This country is very rapidly descending to something quite dark.
So this explains the shift in our stance. And one thing which was very much part of this shift is the Community Voice Survey which we first carried out in 2020.
The response was quite large. We got about 500 responses.
This year we’ve got over 700 responses. We are the only real major group that is looking at what trans people of all ages are saying and what they want.
We are going to publish that survey later this year. I can’t anticipate what it’s going to say, but there are a lot of messages coming out of it, and it does show the extent of alienation from society at present in the trans community.
What does the future look like for TransActual?
jf: We are carrying on. Carrying on, caring on. And we are going to continue to expand.
We are now getting involved with other groups internationally. As we have been involved with the Kenya-based group Refugee Trans Initiative, we can provide advice and help.
And we have also been giving input both into ILGA and in the UN human rights report.
So we carry on. I suppose you could call it lobbying. We talk to decision-makers, influencers. We write articles and are very supportive of attempts to create rights for non-binary people, to be inclusive of non-binary, trans people.
What is important is that we are led by the trans community. This is how we see ourselves.
We will follow the issues that the community as a whole finds important.
We do recognise the contribution of other organisations, but we equally think that it is absolutely vital as the attacks on the trans community persist, we need to step up.
It is absolutely vital that there are more trans-led organisations out there standing up for trans people.
That is what we are here for.
Want to know more about TransActual ?
Visit their website and look for the TransActual Community Voice Survey 2021 (report due summer 2021)
Or if you are an ally who’d like to help, check it out here.
If you liked this article you may also be interested in reading this other UK based organisation, centering the voices of their community in their decision-making.
Feature image credit: nito/Shutterstock
Other images: Derek Bremner, TransActual Instagram, The Inspirer