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Transfabulous response to Stonewall

November 7th, 2008

Dr Petra

Some of you may have been following the ongoing debate about Stonewall’s decision to shortlist Julie Bindel for their ‘journalist of the year’ category in their annual awards shindig.

Trans individuals and organisations, as well as lesbian, gay, bi, feminist and other friends have all expressed dismay and disgust at Stonewall for this decision.

Over the past couple of months this has led to some lengthy and at times uncomfortable discussions about Trans issues and how these fit within (and outside) lesbian, gay, bi, queer, feminist and intersex agendas.

It seemed that Stonewall’s decision could be highly divisive and concerns were raised about how this could marginalise Trans folks further and create unnecessary tensions between LBGT and feminist groups and individuals.

Which is why it’s so positive to report a situation that had the potential to be extremely disempowering united many organisations and individuals. And indicated to all of us that there are many issues relating to Trans folk that we still need to address – and that it’s possible to do this in a sensible and clear way.

Many of the debates happened within Facebook, blogs or forums. All show that while many of the contributors held very different views, experiences, and ideas for action. We can’t overlook that many people discussing this issue were having to wrestle with feelings of distress and frustration, yet were still willing to engage in conversation. As a result differences were aired and the majority of people focused on exposing Stonewall’s treatment of the Trans community.

You can follow the majority of these conversations on the Facebook group ‘Transphobic Julie Bindel nominated for Stonewall Award’.

Last night saw what has been described as a large, noisy and good-natured peaceful demonstration outside Stonewall’s Awards Ceremony. [I was unable to attend as was still nursing the poorly tot, but I hear from friends who went that it was well-organised and enthusiastically supported].

You can see some photos of the demo here, and there’s an account of the demo (including a copy of the flier handed out at the event) over at Sarah’s blog.

One campaigner, Roz Kaveney composed a special song for the demo (sung to the tune of ‘My old man’s a dustman’)

Stonewall was a riot
Drag queens and butch dykes
Not the sort of demo
That Ben Summerskill Likes

Stonewall, they threw dustbins
Hurled bricks at the law
Summerskill throws parties
And don’t hurl bricks no-more

Stonewall rioters went to jail
Fighting for their rights
Summerskill serves cocktails
And goes to gala nights

That was real Stonewall
Now it’s just a name
Summerskill leaves trans folk out
And never feels the shame

We are the trans nation
Won’t take crap no more
Summerskill can hear us
Shout outside his door!

The demo has been already been covered by several gay online magazines and websites. I was struck by the statement Ben Summerskill (Stonewall’s Chairman) made to Pink News which seems somewhat disingenuous and not really in keeping with someone who recently told me how ‘deeply sorry’ he was for the distress caused to Trans people by the organisation he represents.

For many people last night’s demo may not seem all that important. However, friends who were there tell me they felt it was a significant step forward for Trans folk and their supporters. Aside from holding Stonewall to task it also demanded recognition for Trans people.

Until this debate started I admit I was one of those people who unquestioningly supported Trans folk but wasn’t really aware of how marginalised many people still felt. I had (rather naively) assumed we’d all moved on from the tired old debates of the 80s and 90s around gender, feminism and Trans issues. And I had wrongly believed help, support and acceptance was more routine for Trans people than it actually is.

I may be being optimistic, but it now seems that many LGBQ and feminist groups and individuals are willing to do more to support their Trans friends. And it looks like Trans groups and individuals are planning to keep up the momentum and discuss ways to move their cause forward and campaign for better rights and recognition, while acknowledging the efforts already made by several established Trans organisations.

No doubt the next stages of this journey won’t be easy, and there will definitely be many issues to iron out – and different viewpoints to be heard. Of course there are bound to be tensions and times of conflict and difficulty. But perhaps the greatest lesson from this whole situation has been that Trans people and their supporters don’t have to agree, can talk about that, and still work towards a common goal.

I have been inspired, humbled and moved by many of the discussions I’ve seen unfolding, and have learned many valuable lessons. I will continue to mention developments on the blog (including any future updates about Stonewall).

Let’s all hope what’s started in response to something negative will continue to build and grow in positive ways.

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