On the politics of inclusion

Recently I was asked to speak at a panel debate addressing whether or not the LGBT movement is inclusive. What struck me was how the organisers and other panellists were operating on the assumption that inclusion is a good thing, so much so that it seemed like an obvious natural fact which didn’t need qualifying. This may have been a sign of operating on a shared understanding of what inclusion might mean which may or may not have been obvious to the average audience member. However, because inclusion can have a variety of meanings within different contexts, I think it’s important to pin down what we mean by inclusion: Inclusion for whom? Inclusion into what? Inclusion on what basis? Jess H Bradley writes

When talking about inclusion with reference to the LGBT movement, it seems relevant to note that the current way of doing LGBT activism relies heavily on the notion of recognition and inclusion. This mode of activism argues that LGBT people should be recognised and included in all areas of life, and mainly seeks to implement this recognition and inclusion through changes in the law. The legal reforms seek to do two things: bring LGBT people into the fold by making it illegal to exclude us (ie. laws banning discrimination in the workplace or in the provision of goods and services); and those that seek to exclude, through punitive methods, those who harm us (ie. through hate crime legislation).

The successive legal reforms around LGBT issues have filtered through into the workplace where the language of inclusion has been taken on as normative ideals. Big employers now proudly proclaim how inclusive they are on their websites, send their LGB(T?) employees to Prides in corporate sponsored floats, and compete to be listed on Stonewall’s Employers Index. The fact that the Employers Index makes up such a large and visible part of Stonewall’s operation is testament to just how much the inclusion-into-the-common-sense narrative has caught on. There is even now an entire field of human resources, called “diversity management”, which is dedicated to administrating the inclusion of marginalised groups within the workplace.

Since recognition and inclusion are the main goals of the LGBT movement currently, it stands to reason that inclusion has become the normative ideal for conversations about the makeup of the LGBT movement itself. LGBT groups are adding representational roles for people who face multiple oppressions. ‘Intersectionality’ seems to be the watchword of LGBT activist gatherings. The NUS LGBT Campaign recently voted to become the NUS LGBT+ Campaign in order to signify an inclusion of a myriad of identities. Some trans groups are adding an asterisk to their name to symbolise that they are inclusive of non-binary people, whilst some LGBT societies are even adding representatives for straight and cisgender allies.

Whilst the LGB(T?) movement has been successful at implementing legal reforms along the lines of hate crime legislation and laws banning discrimination in the workplace, as well as wider cultural gains within the workplace (along the lines of integrating diversity/inclusion within a corporate social responsibility narrative), these gains have limited impact on the vast majority of LGBT people’s lives. Inclusion of LGBT people in boardrooms of big business only benefits those of us who can perform professionality, something that is likely to only be available to those of us who are cis, white, middle or upper class, non-disabled men. And at closer inspection, the field of “diversity management” seems to be more about putting your employees who are from a visible minority at the front of your marketing photos to sell the company as inclusive, rather than actually removing barriers to access within employment.

Likewise, hate crime legislation has very little positive impact on the lives of LGBT people: the laws do not deter violence from being enacted against us; they simply seek to bind those found guilty of hate crime to harsher punishments over longer periods of time. As people from marginalised groups are more likely to be disproportionately policed, hate crime legislation results in putting increasing numbers of people from marginalised groups in contact with the criminal justice system. Further, hate crime legislation constructs homophobic, biphobic and transphobic violence as something which is particular to a specific form of bodily violence or harassment, ie. the violences that are often characterised by those with political power as “working class violence” – random personal assault and verbal harassment. However, the very real violence conducted by those with political power, such as the decision by judges to deport LGBT asylum seekers to almost-certain death or denying someone access to healthcare because they are nonbinary, are not within the scope of legislation. Yet through hate crime legislation, the state establishes itself as the only acceptable medium for opposing all homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic violence, which decreases the LGBT community’s capacity for addressing those other violences enacted upon us by the state and its actors. Since homophobic, biphobic and transphobic state violence is disproportionately enacted on the more marginalised members of community, usually those that face multiple oppressions, hate crime legislation actually reduces the chances for the LGBT community to coherently organise against those violences, resulting in the direct or indirect exclusion of people who face multiple oppressions from the movement.

So hopefully I have shown how the outward politics of recognition and inclusion operationalise an illusion of inclusion which actually enacts certain exclusions against marginalised people. Similarly, the internal politics of inclusion within the LGBT community itself is in danger of enacting its own exclusions.

The plus in LGBT+ and the asterisk in trans* are perfect examples. The addition of the plus seeks to include a myriad of identities but does not name them (either in the acronym itself or in discussions around adopting the plus, in my experience). How do we include a group if we do not know who they are and what their needs are? And if membership of the “plus” is not explicitly and openly discussed, are we inadvertently opening up our spaces to identities we didn’t mean to, because everyone has a different understanding of what is included within the plus? Similarly with the asterisk, if we add the asterisk to denote inclusivity of non-binary people, but we don’t implement our politics and practices to open up our spaces: are we really being inclusive? (This isn’t an argument against the plus or the asterisk necessarily, just the way they are being used. If we want to be more inclusive we need to do better).

Inclusion in and of itself does not inherently hold value for our movement. We understand this, as our movement is built on a series of exclusions that maintain its coherency. We have LGBT-only societies, bars, campaigns, and organisations. Within LGBT, we might choose to organise separately as lesbian and bisexual women or as trans people, because we understand that sometimes excluding men or cis people can provide us a safer space where sexism or transphobia is less likely, which is useful both in terms of our mental health and in terms of creating capacity for organising. Yet an uncritical adoption of the politics of inclusion often leads to the destruction of safer spaces and the inclusion of straight-cis people on our committees or on our staff. By allowing straight cis people to have positions of political power within our movement (as opposed to background, supportive roles when we need them), we decrease our capacity to organise coherently and effectively.

Go to an LGBT conference or gathering and it will soon be clear that the LGBT movement is increasingly framing of the inclusion of people who face multiple oppressions through the lens of intersectionality. Intersectionality theory was developed by black feminists (such as Kimberlé Crenshaw and Patricia Hill-Collins) to understand the interactions between race and gender. A black woman’s experience cannot be understood primarily in terms of being black and being a woman as independent factors, but rather these factors combine to be greater than the sum of their parts. Through examining the experiences of black women, it is argued, we can gain an understanding of how the systems of racism and sexism support each other. It is impossible, then, to talk about intersectionality without talking about the interactions of race and gender.

Yet intersectionality, as often operationalised by my fellow white queers within the LGBT movement, is increasingly being used refer to any group of people who face multiple oppressions. A white disabled gay man might frame his identity as intersectional as he is marginalised through both homophobia and ableism. Intersectionality is increasingly being used as a synonym for ‘inclusion’ or ‘diversity’ without specifically referring to race and gender; and is being used as a shorthand for “we need to include people who face multiple oppressions” without a coherent engagement with the reasons why this is desirable or a particular commitment to changing policies or practices. This is in danger of de-radicalising ‘intersectionality’ and de-centering black feminist voices, individualising intersectionality as being about “diverse individuals” and enacting its own illusions of inclusion without actually being inclusive.

The LGBT movement has a lot to learn from the insights from intersectionality theory and what can be drawn from that to all people who face multiple oppressions. Yet we must be mindful to ensure that we do not appropriate intersectionality and make it about something other than black women, and that where we do use insights from intersectionality theory to extrapolate wider we recognise the role that black feminists have taken in developing this work.

Chief among those insights is how people who face multiple oppressions have a greater understanding of how LGBT-phobia works as they do not just understand LGBT-phobia but also its interactions with the other systems of oppression that they are affected by. This recognition is important as it shifts the narrative from including those who face multiple oppressions only when it is convenient to those with more political power within the movement, to actually prioritising the inclusion of those who face multiple oppressions over those that do not. This necessarily involves a wholesale political and cultural change within the LGBT movement, but it promises to pay dividends. A quick look at the history books will show how the movement has been most active and effective when people who face multiple oppressions have been at the helm, e.g. the Stonewall Riots (led by trans women of colour and homeless queers), the lesbian women’s movement (led by women), the HIV/Aids movement (led by disabled / chronically ill queers), and of course, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (led by class-conscious queers).

Making this change happen within the LGBT movement will inevitably involve a shift in politics and practices away from those that appeal to the most privileged within the movement to a politics that speaks to those intersections created by multiple oppressions. To achieve this, the LGBT movement needs to move away from the “recognition and inclusion” model of legal reforms which promises to help only those that can perform as a neoliberal professional subject, and towards politics that actually promise to work for the majority of LGBT people. For trans people, a reform of the Gender Recognition Act promises a greater positive impact than the ever increasing criminalisation of over-policed communities as a result of hate crime legislation ever will. Developing a critique of work, alongside resisting cuts to welfare, promises to help more LGBT people (especially those facing multiple oppressions) who are unemployed or underemployed than celebrating the handful of corporations who have gay men on their executive boards will. And instead of celebrating these executive gay men as “successful diverse citizens”, a politics that seeks to expand citizenship to LGBT asylum seekers could save lives. And a trans politics which not only advocates for greater access to trans healthcare, but actively engages in the fight against NHS cuts and privatisation, and organises for worker-patient control of all healthcare… Well, that would be something.

DIY Trans-feminist Festival, Manchester

Upcoming DIY trans-feminist festival in Manchester, from the 19-21st of June 2015. Trans people and respectful allies welcome.

We are looking for people to contribute workshops and activities, organise debates or skills sharing sessions… get in touch via the booking form with your ideas!

In the spirit of DIY, attendees are expected to contribute something to helping make the festival work. This could be helping out on a welcome stall, cooking, organisational work such as making sure workshops run to time, staffing a creche, and/or donating money to cover costs of putting the workshops on.

SCHEDULE
19th June: evening dinner together, then watch a film
20th June: workshops and skillshares during the day, poetry and acoustic music open mic in the evening
21st June: workshops and skillshares

VENUE AND ACCESS
The venue is a large empty house which the organisers are moving into shortly after the festival ends. As such, festival attendees are asked to be respectful of the space and of the neighbours. Venue details will be made available after booking and closer to the time of the festival.

Renovations are planned to put an access ramp into the venue so the ground floor of the venue (where workshops and activities will take place) will be accessible. If this work is not completed on time, we will source a portable ramp.

The venue is a 10 min bus ride on a regular service from Manchester city centre.

Some food will be available on a donation basis. Some crash space available at the venue, please let us know if you need this when booking. Dry space, so no alcohol or drugs which arent for health stuff please.

BOOKING
Please book your place by filling in the following form. You can use this form to express an interest in running an activity at the festival.

See you there!

Applications open for our first funding round

APPLICATIONS FOR THIS ROUND OF FUNDING HAS NOW CLOSED, THANKS TO ALL THAT APPLIED

Action for Trans Health are proud to open applications for the first funding round of our solidarity fund. Throughout the year, we raise money to help trans and gender variant people who for whatever reason cannot access healthcare treatment through the NHS in a timely manner. Our solidarity fund seeks to give small grants to those who face the most barriers to accessing healthcare. So far we have about £1500 to give away, but we hope to receive more in donations to increase what we can give away.

The application form for the solidarity fund is below (link). The deadline for applications is 5pm on Friday 12th June 2015. Information about what you can use the money for is included in the application form below.

Any money we receive in donations or membership fees between now and the deadline will be added to the fund and will go directly into a grant to help facilitate access to healthcare. You can join Action for Trans Health here, and donate by clicking the button below.

Action for Trans Health Solidarity Fund

 

Launch of Around the Toilet Project

The toilet is often thought to be a mundane space, but for those who lack adequate or accessible toilet provision on a daily basis, toilets become a crucial practical issue which can create and reaffirm feelings of exclusion and regulation. Disabled people, for example, frequently report that ‘accessible’ toilets are not accessible enough, while other studies show that diminishing numbers of public toilets can prevent older people leaving the house. Toilets can also present a stark visual and material enactment of a gender binary in ways that can be problematic for trans and gender variant people. Thinking around toilets and their function as material as well as socio-cultural environments presents an opportunity to consider forms of identity in multi-faceted ways.

Around the Toilet is a cross-disciplinary, arts-based research project exploring the toilet as a place of exclusion and belonging. Action for Trans Health are proud to be collaborating on this project with activists from Queer of the Unknown and the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, as well as researchers from Sheffield Hallam University, University of Sheffield and University of Leeds. This project is funded by the AHRC Connected Communities programme. Below is a short animated PowToon video which gives more background information to the project.

The project consists of a series of art and performance workshops and public debates in Manchester over the summer, with the aim of telling trans, queer, and disabled people’s experiences of public toilets. This work will then feed into a brief for architecture students at Sheffield Architecture School and culminate in a public installation. All events will be wheelchair accessible and BSL translated. If you want to participate in the artistic and performance projects please get in touch at info[at]actionfortranshealth.org.uk

If you can’t make to the workshops, you can always share your toilet stories or photos with us via twitter by using the hashtag #cctoilettalk. You can keep up to date with the latest Around the Toilet events here or by following the project on twitter

First Funding Round Deadline

Action for Trans Health raise money to give small grants to facilitate individual trans people’s access to healthcare.

We’ve saved up enough money to give away at least £1000 in the first funding round. We will make the application form available on the 29th May 2015, and the deadline for applications will be set for the 12th June 2015. Any donations or membership fees we receive up until the deadline will go straight into the fund. You can donate to the fund using the button below, and join Action for Trans Health here. Thankyou <3

Help us to provide access to essential healthcare today.

What the election results might mean for trans people

It would be a lie to suggest that I feel anything but devastated by the election results. A New Labour government are not much more than a millimetre away from their friends in the tory party, but even the smallest of differences save lives. Surveying the wreckage, Jess Bradley examines what might be in store for trans people over the next 5 years of a tory majority government, as well as picking out some silver linings.

The Coalition Government implemented the Immigration Act which restricted migrant access to the NHS and the Health and Social Care Act which removed a lot of responsibility for healthcare from the state as well as allowing for growing privatisation, alongside NHS, welfare, education, and local council cuts. Under a slim Tory majority, we are likely to see proposals for more cuts and privatisations of public services – already they have announced £12 billion in cuts to welfare representing 10% of the entire welfare budget. They also have their eyes on cutting the HIV prevention budget. As trans people are under-employed due to transphobic discrimination, and also represent a high risk group for HIV contractions, these cuts are likely to hurt us particularly. Further cuts to local council budgets are also likely, which will disproportionately impact on women’s and LGBT youth services. On the backdrop of this, it is unlikely that we will see the increase in the trans healthcare budget which we desperately need.

Whilst UKIP only managed to get one seat, the total vote share for UKIP now places them as the third party, above the Lib Dems. This is a massive concern, indicating a rise of racism and xenophobia within the UK public over the past 5 years. This can be partially attributed to right-wing media peddling its bile, but it would be disingenuous not to also address the fact that the Labour, socialists, and the radical left have spectacularly failed at challenging these racist narratives in the media over the last 5 years. This needs to be a central part of our organising over the next 5 years if we are to challenge the rise of the far right and their racism, sexism, transphobia (and other ism’s). UKIPs rise is likely to have consequences for the Tory Party’s plans for a referendum on EU membership – it is likely that the UK will leave the EU, or at least vote to reduce our political involvement within it. A significant proportion of human and worker’s rights legislation comes from the EU, and as such a “no” vote is likely to harm the trans community and other marginalised groups.

Whilst the collapse of the Lib Dems out of the Coalition will mean that the Tory Party will not be “checked” by them, it also means that the Tories will no longer be able to blame all their failings on a rather hapless Nick Clegg. David Cameron is also likely to find it increasingly difficult to control his own rowdy back-benchers. The only outside support in Westminster outside of his own party will be the Northern Irish MPs.

The SNP landslide in Scotland means that there will be a guaranteed anti-austerity block vote acting as a significant thorn in Cameron’s side, which you wouldn’t have been able to say if those seats had gone to the Labour Party. The results in Scotland point to the general populace wanting a viable anti-austerity option which if Labour have any sense they will learn from and move towards the anti-austerity left too. And so it might be harder to implement cuts and privatisations than the tories had bargained for, especially if the Labour Party does lurch leftwards (the Labour leadership election will be a good test of whether they will). The Tory Party’s concessions to increasing powers to the Scottish government might mean health services (including transition related services) might be significantly different above the border than below. We shall see.

The Green Party and Plaid Cymru held onto their seats with a slight increase in majority. Despite the Green Party’s Rupert Read, the Greens had better than most LGBT policy, as did Plaid (who specifically addressed trans healthcare in their manifesto). Some MPs, such as Lib Dem Julian Hubbert, who lost their seats were known for tabling trans friendly motions (presumably in Hubbert’s case at the behest of Sarah Brown). This might mean the trans community will need to find another pet MP who is willing to take these discussions forward – perhaps Caroline Lucas might be good as she seemed supportive when we met her at Brighton Trans Pride last year.

The election results seem bleak, but not all is lost. The 1992 election which similarly shocked the country with a fourth term Tory win heralded a time of creative and effective resistance against austerity. We will need to look out for each-other and other oppressed groups, create networks of solidarity, listen to eachother, and build our own coalitions to fight austerity. Our advice is: join a union. Join Action for Trans Health. Join other radical organisations. Pay membership dues if you can. Get organised: Fight back.

Trans People in Immigration Centres: an update

Last month we wrote about our recent Freedom of Information request detailing the number of people who the state recognise as being trans who have been held within immigration detention centres in the UK over the last three years. We sent out a series of new FOI requests to find out more information.

We can reveal the breakdown of trans people held in each centre over the last three years is as follows:

Campsfield House, nr Oxford – 2

Dover – 1

Heathrow – 7

Morton Hall, Lincolnshire – 1

Tinsley House, nr. Gatwick – 6

Yarl’s Wood, Bedfordshire – 9.

 

The Home Office didn’t want to tell us about the location of the 5 current trans people incarcerated, or the countries to which the other 21 inmates had been deported too. They couldn’t shed any light as to whether any of the inmates had received transition related healthcare whilst incarcerated.

We are going to do some follow up work involving a FOI request to NHS England regarding the trans healthcare in immigration detention centres, and getting in touch with groups supporting those incarcerated to see if we can find out any more information.

 

Theres no place like home…

An anonymous Action for Trans Health member talks about their experiences of being vulnerably housed and the relationship between housing and trans health.

Content notes: transphobia, ableism, bullying, harassment, homelessness, mention of emotional abuse

I’m running out of money to pay my rent.

Last year, I was homeless and/or in emergency accommodations for six months. I had to leave my shared house following a campaign of transphobic and ableist harassment from one of my housemates. When my emergency accommodations ran out, I was back on peoples’ sofas. There came a point when having a stable place to live for more than a few weeks became more important than my bank balance, so I forked out for a private rent. I still think this was the best thing I could do at the time, as my time on sofas had tested some of my relationships past breaking point and there was no sign that any of the house sharing arrangements I’d tried to make were going to come through at any time soon. (And I wasn’t comfortable moving in with people I didn’t know and trust bearing in mind the events that had made me homeless.) However, six months later, my fixed term contract has ended. I don’t have to leave as it automatically converts to a rolling contract, but I can’t afford to stay. (To be honest, I was lucky to have the money to pay for those first months – for many people in my situation that wouldn’t have been an option.)

So, over a year after I became homeless, the fallout still keeps coming.

Why is this relevant to trans health?

Shelter and safety are some of our most basic needs. If these needs are not met, the resultant stressors make it harder for us to fulfil other needs or tasks – crucially here, to take care of ourselves. A certain level of safety and protection from the elements cannot be separated from this self-care and maintenance of health. Beyond this, the stability of a home puts us in a better position to do things that not only maintain basic health but enhance our wellbeing, whatever that means for us. So for me, I find my mental health is better when I can fulfil my creative impulses, by crafting or playing instruments – but these require safe spaces to store materials and equipment.

Trans people are at higher risk of becoming homeless or vulnerably housed. This can be due to being driven out of shared homes by housemates or family, or by transphobic discrimination whilst looking for accommodation.

Furthermore, we can encounter the same discrimination when trying to access the very services that are meant to support us in these situations, be these shelters, day centres, jobcentres… you name it. Also, some of these services will not help those who they describe as “intentionally homeless” – people like me who chose to leave houses. No matter if it would have been unsafe for you to stay, apparently this makes you undeserving of help. These sorts of situations, escaping abusive environments which I cannot call homes, are frequently the reasons that we trans people become homeless or vulnerably housed.

And, as I said previously, the fallout keeps coming.

Needing to move somewhere cheaper for me means moving into a houseshare again. I am still very anxious about who I will live with. Having a more stable home has put me in a position to put energy into my friendships again, and I feel a sense of community and family. With the right people, I hope to have the feeling of support also in a home situation. But until then, I am really worried. Will I find somewhere suitable to live, with people who can be “at home” together? Will I find these people and place before my money runs out? Will I be back on peoples’ sofas again? Should I resort to asking for loans from emotionally abusive family members who are some of the people I wish to escape in the first place…?

If you are affected by similar issues, you might  find our list of resources for vulnerably housed or homeless trans people useful.

Action: help us improve rape and sexual assault crisis centres

People often don’t think about rape and sexual assault crisis centres until they need them. But when you need them, you really need them. Whilst trans people face higher rates of rape and sexual assault than their cis counterparts, we often face significant barriers to accessing services designed to help survivors, making us all the more vulnerable.

Help us to collate a list of trans inclusive rape and sexual assault crisis centres by ringing up your local service and asking them about their policies and protocols and filling in this short form about what they say. When the services look like they are in need of trans training, we will get in touch and offer it to them. It would be good to have a look at the questions on the form before ringing. Thanks! <3

On being a trans student, and why the NUS should have a full time trans officer

Over the next couple of days, the National Union of Students’ National Conference will decide whether or not to allocate funds for a full time paid officer to work on trans issues. Jess Bradley talks about her experiences as a trans student and her involvement in the NUS, making the argument for the NUS to support trans students by voting yes to a full-time trans officer.

Content notes for: sex work, transphobia, sexual assault, outing, TERFs, vague reference to suicide

When I was 18 I started having sex with men for money. I started because, despite my having a part time job at the time, I found myself having to make the choice between eating and paying the bus fare to university. Like many trans students, I had a sometimes strained and sometimes non-existent relationship with my parents, and couldn’t ask them for help. At the time I was newly out as trans, and taking an engineering course at Bradford University. Nobody on my course would talk to me or want to work with me in group projects because I was trans. When they did, people asked me why I would do “a man’s subject like engineering if I wanted to be a woman”. Eventually, like too many trans students, I dropped out of my course.

This was a rough time for me. Fortunately for me, one of the sabbatical officers self-defined as trans and I came to them for support. We quickly became friends; if it wasn’t for them I’m not sure I would be alive today to be honest. I ended up switching over to a new course at Manchester University where I could get a bursary. I fast found a vibrant queer community there, but still struggled, almost failing and dropping out of this course after I was sexually assaulted on campus one too many times.

Still, I scraped through my undergrad and managed to get onto a masters course. In the first week of term, Julie Bindel was scheduled to turn up for an event on campus. I wrote a facebook status about it, which the university newspaper stole it as a quote; outing me as both trans and a sex worker to 80,000 students across Manchester at 3 different institutions without my consent. Now I am a PhD student at the same institution, and occasionally teach undergraduates. I wonder how many of them had read that newspaper article, and how many have connected their teacher with the sensationalist things that were written about me.

I consider myself pretty privileged; my experiences as a trans student are in no way unique nor are they uncommon, and many of my trans peers haven’t got into further or higher education because of the transphobia they face. During my time as a student I have been an active member of the NUS LGBT Campaign, because I want to use the privilege I have to open the doors for more trans people to get into education.

The NUS LGBT Campaign does some fantastic work for trans students, but I still feel like an outsider within the campaign sometimes. I’ve seen a lot of transphobia within the campaign in my time, and there a still a lot of barrier for trans people who want to get involved. Each year it feels like it’s a gamble as to whether the campaign will take trans issues seriously, or be able to understand our issues properly, as there is no guaranteed full time officer representing trans students.

I’m not suggesting that what happened to me would not have happened if there was a full time trans officer, simply that trans students on our campuses and in our communities need more support. And that support needs to come from someone who is trans, someone who understands our issues, and has the resources and support to focus on our issues all year round. So, if you are at the NUS National Conference this year, please act in solidarity with trans students and vote for a full time trans students officer. Thankyou.