STATEMENT ON HOMO/TRANSPHOBIA AND POLICE VIOLENCE AT PRIDE SHEFFIELD 29/07/2017

At Pride Sheffield 2016, members of the Potter’s House Church evangelical cult arrived preaching homo- and transphobic hate only to be driven off-site by a united LGBTQ community – despite threats of arrest from police officers protecting the cult members. This year the cult returned in smaller numbers but were defended by more police who this time went as far as assaulting an Action for Trans Health member who was being harassed by a cult member.

A dyke couple were walking across the field towards T’Other Stage at Pride Sheffield 2017 when they were disturbed by a man from Potters House Church standing on the field by the entrance, speaking through an amplifier, telling people at Pride that they were sinners and needed to change their ways. Three police officers were positioned around the cult member with their backs towards him in a protective formation.

 

Cult member says LGBTQ people shouldn't exist

 

A group of seven non-binary trans people and lesbians walked over together and the cult member directed his words towards them, saying he was praying especially hard for “this particular group of people” to change their ways. He went on to say that LGBTQ people were “the way you are” because of abusive upbringings and that LGBTQ ways of life were abusive themselves. More LGBTQ people joined the crowd, cheering as a lesbian couple kissed next to the homophobe. The cult member outstretched his hand towards the couple, praying for them to convert to a heterosexual Christian lifestyle, at which point one of the dykes turned around and unplugged his microphone.

 

Officer 401 likes to attack lesbians half his size

 

A large police officer, badge number 401, immediately rushed over and grabbed the non-binary dyke by both wrists, squeezing hard and causing one of their fingers to bleed. Five more officers crowded around while the officer gripped onto the dyke’s wrists until they managed to break free and began filming on their phone. None of the officers showed the same aggression towards the cult member who had been projecting his homophobic, transphobic harassment over a loudspeaker. Several of them repeated that “he has the right to express his views” but LGBTQ people protesting would be arrested for breach of the peace if they did not move on.

 

After the attack by officer 401

 

A woman got out her phone, announcing, “telling us to move on is not solving the problem, it’s pretending the problem hasn’t existed. I’m currently recording this as a hate crime.” A man called Darren identified himself as the event manager and tried to discourage her from doing so, along with a blonde haired police officer, whose badge number was not visible, who replied, “you don’t have to, you don’t have to listen to it.”

 

 

Darren spoke to the crowd of gathered LGBTQ people, encouraging them to “go into the event and enjoy the day. Ignore this man. Ignore him. We had 20 people turn up last year” – referring to when Potter’s House Church turned up at Pride Sheffield 2016 but were forced off-site by the LGBTQ community working together in solidarity. When the crowd responded that “one is too many” and “I don’t wanna be told I gotta change by any one person”, Darren replied, “we will always have hatred”, becoming frustrated, finishing, “if you want to possibly be arrested and ruin our day, go ahead” and walking away. A group of LGBTQ young people rushed up, checked if people were ok and congratulated the non-binary dyke for unplugging the hate preacher’s microphone, showing far more care for their community than Pride organisers or the smug bystander pontificating about free speech had.

 

Police and their fan in blue

 

That the police are not here to protect the LGBTQ community should go without saying by now but their escalating tactics show cause for concern. The LGBTQ community showed our ability to defend ourselves against homophobes and transphobes last year, despite police attempts to facilitate uninterrupted hate speech. Although they were disinvited by Pride organisers because of their homophobic and transphobic behaviour, this year police multiplied their numbers, displayed their eagerness to physically harm LGBTQ people and even brought two armed officers. The claim was that these two officers were there in case of terror attacks but the only violence towards people at Pride was coming from police. The two armed officers were preoccupied with showing off their cars to small children; the only purpose of them being there was to normalise the militarisation of the police. Their presence made some LGBTQ people feel so unsafe they left the event which was supposed to be for them.

 

Normalising the militarisation of the police state

 

Police don’t make people safe from transphobia and homophobia, it’s up to us to look out for each other. The police have a monopoly on violence which they use with most force against those in our community who are poor, black, disabled and people of colour. LGBTQ people who defend ourselves from oppression are faced with further violence and incarceration.

No pride in police, no police in pride!

Care Not Cages: International Day of Solidarity with Trans Prisoners

[The following article deals with prisons, policing and systemic oppression of LGBTQ people; as such the article and its linked sources will include references to violence including police brutality, racism, incarceration, prison deaths, self harm, suicide, poverty, assault and sexual violence.]

January 22nd is International Day of Solidarity with Trans Prisoners. At a time when the government is cutting funds for hospital beds in favour of prison beds, Pazuzu Gaylord argues the need for action.

“The prison industrial complex (PIC) is a term we use to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems.”

– Critical Resistance

The first week of 2017 brought the tragic news that Jenny Swift had lost her life to suicide in HMP Doncaster, making a total of 4 known deaths of trans women prisoners in 14 months. [1] Three of these – Jenny Swift, Joanne Latham and Vikki Thompson – were in men’s prisons, whilst Nicola Cope died at Foston Hall women’s prison in Derbyshire last November. Jenny Swift and Vikki Thompson both had their requests to be placed in women’s prisons denied – Vikki had warned that she would kill herself if sent to a men’s prison. [2] Jenny entered prison naked rather than being forced to wear male clothing, was called “mister” by guards and refused hormone medication she had been taking for three years. [3] Both were on remand, Jenny awaiting trial and Vikki awaiting sentencing. Joanne Latham had expressed distress over HMP Woodhill withholding make-up brushes from her in the lead-up to her death. [4]

Whilst there are clear aspects of transmisogynist discrimination in the above cases, they must be placed within the wider context of record numbers of suicides in prison, with self-inflicted deaths and incidents of self-harm both rising by almost a third over last year; [5] a disproportionate level of deaths and self-harm incidents were by women. [6] Prison suicides over the last year amount to one every three days. [7] The UK’s largest private healthcare provider, Care UK, were criticised for promoting self-harm incidents as part of the “exciting life of prison medical staff” in one of their staff recruitment videos. [8]

When looking at solutions to these harms, we must be wary of reforms which seek to expand the prison industrial complex rather than reduce the suffering and number of people incarcerated. The £1bn government plans to build nine new mega-prisons, capable of caging a total of 10,000 people, are cause for concern. [9] A better response to overcrowding would be to reduce numbers of people in and sent to prison – a good start would be releasing all IPP prisoners who have served their sentences as well as those held under faulty joint enterprise convictions, remanding less people into custody and lowering probation licence conditions. [10] A penal reform charity revealed that £230m was spent needlessly caging people on remand, with remand prisoners also being at the greatest risk of self-harm and suicide. [11] This money could be more productively spent on the NHS to fund mental healthcare and benefits to help people stay fed and housed without resorting to survival crimes. The current government policy of slashing NHS budgets and sanctioning vulnerable people whilst sinking billions into locking people up is cruel and blinkered to the reasons that people end up in prison.

“As queers we know the terror of scrutiny, disgust, and isolation; for trans people in prison, those problems are doubled by the physical and emotional restraints of a literal cage”

– Marius Mason

This is equally relevant when looking into the case of transgender prisoners. Following the deaths of Joanne Latham and Vikki Thompson in November 2015, calls were made to create specialist transgender or LGBT prisons. [12] Given the history of transgender internment, this is a worrying suggestion, particularly when the UK has the most privatised prison system in Europe and there are profit motives for imprisoning people. Transgender and other LGBTQ people already have disproportionate rates of incarceration, exacerbated by a cycle of parental, education, employment and housing discrimination which leads to LGBTQ people being criminalised for surviving through sex work, drug use, petty theft and self-defence. Police profiling and racism also play a part, particularly for black people – 10% of the British prison population are black, compared to 2.8% of the general population. [13] As Cece McDonald, a black trans woman who was imprisoned in the US for defending herself from neo-Nazi attackers, said, “Prisons aren’t safe for anyone, and that’s the key issue.” [14]

The existence of prisons is traditionally justified for offender reform and public safety, but with around half of prisoners reoffending within a year of release it’s clear that this is not accurate. Rather than being better adjusted to society, isolation in these fundamentally violent institutions leaves many prisoners with poor mental health and drug addictions, lacking financial support or job prospects once outside. That’s for those who make it out – high suicide rates in prison essentially mean an unofficial death sentence for many: 113 in the last year alone. [15] It’s hard to see how that’s justifiable.

The cruelty and vastness of the prison industrial complex can seem insurmountable, but it’s important to celebrate our hard-won victories and the hope that they bring. This week came the incredible news that Chelsea Manning had her sentence commuted to time served and will finally be free in May, following seven years of hard campaigning from her supporters and her own successful protests including hunger strikes to gain medical treatment for her gender dysphoria. [16] In 2015 Tara Hudson was successfully transferred to a women’s prison after media pressure including a petition signed by 150,000 supporters. [17] We must also salute important long-term work by organisations such as Bent Bars, who dismantle the isolation of prison through letter-writing projects. [18]

Last year, along with delivering workshops and talks to engage with communities around the effects of the prison industrial complex on LGBTQ people, I took part in an action at Manchester Pride where a dozen of us blocked over 230 police from marching, calling for justice for trans prisoners and an end to prison expansion. [19] We gained international media coverage, successfully raising the profile of trans prisoners, making sure police presence is not normalised and our criminalised siblings are not forgotten. [20] This week friends from Action for Trans Health and No Prisons Manchester occupied the offices of Lend Lease, the company who have been building and profiting from new mega-prisons. [21]

We hope you will join us today in actions across the country to call for stronger communities, an end to systems which keep us in poverty and the abolition of gender police. Check out these events for International Day of Solidarity with Trans Prisoners and find one near you:

Noise Demo at HMP Doncaster: https://www.facebook.com/events/1558323587516797/

Letter Writing in Edinburgh: https://www.facebook.com/events/739951776157678/

Vigil at HMP Pentonville, London: https://www.facebook.com/events/1249575065136988/

See https://www.facebook.com/transprisoners/ for international events

  1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-38562714
  2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-34869620
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/09/transgender-woman-jenny-swift-prison-death
  4. http://www.miltonkeynes.co.uk/news/transgender-prisoner-found-hanged-at-woodhill-prison-after-her-make-up-brushes-were-delayed-1-7573220
  5. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-38126646
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/jul/28/suicides-and-assaults-in-prisons-in-england-and-wales-at-all-time-high
  7. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/nov/28/one-prison-suicide-every-three-days-england-and-wales-say-reformers
  8. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/aug/30/care-uk-firm-criticised-for-promoting-exciting-prison-self-harm-incidents
  9. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/architecture-design-blog/2015/nov/10/super-prisons-michael-gove-1bn-government-plan
  10. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-38006287
  11. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/aug/18/230m-wasted-remand-howard-league
  12. https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2016/01/07/government-urged-to-build-dedicated-transgender-prison-after-women-sent-to-mens-prisons/
  13. http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/projectsresearch/race
  14. http://www.advocate.com/politics/transgender/2014/03/03/cece-mcdonald-rebuilding-her-life-after-19-months-prison
  15. http://www.inquest.org.uk/statistics/deaths-in-prison
  16. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/17/us/politics/obama-commutes-bulk-of-chelsea-mannings-sentence.html
  17. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/tara-hudson-transgender-woman-moved-to-womens-prison-after-public-outcry-a6715476.html
  18. http://www.bentbarsproject.org/
  19. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbX3hk20Ctw
  20. http://attitude.co.uk/trans-activists-block-manchesters-pride-parade/
  21. http://www.cape-campaign.org/lendlease-offices-occupied-profiteers-not-welcome/