British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday appointed a special envoy on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, reports The Week Magazine. He did so with an eye toward a global LGBTQ conference London will host next year, titled “Safe to be Me.” Fortunately, members of the United Kingdom’s transgender community don’t need to wait until 2022 to feel safe: a three-day virtual conference specifically for trans Britons starts today, organized by the U.K.’s leading LGBTQ news site, PinkNews.
According to PinkNews CEO Benjamin Cohen and COO Alex Ehmcke, their virtual gathering is aimed at countering the British media narrative that there is no place for trans people in the U.K.
“We have programmed a collection of workshops and panel discussions covering topics including embodied resilience and self-leadership, building employer engagement, and parenting gender-diverse and gender non-conforming children,” said a spokesperson for The Trans Summit. “Across the 3 days, we’re absolutely sure that there will be something for everybody.”
Compared to its rivals, the staff at PinkNews is queer in the truest sense of the word: They go all-in on trans inclusion and trans rights in their coverage of the global transgender community. With rare exception, the mainstream news media in the U.S. excels at showing viewers and readers uplifting stories about transgender Americans and compelling video that affirms the rights of trans youth. In the U.K., however, the tone of stories told is best compared to what trans advocates see in the ultra-conservative, Christian, extreme right-wing fear-mongering media of the U.S.
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“It’s exactly the same rhetoric,” said Ashleigh Talbot, a transgender woman, in an interview with the global public radio program, The World. “You know, ‘Trans people are a threat, a danger to kids, etc.’ But on one side of the Atlantic, you’ve got hardcore, evangelical Republican Christians saying exactly the same thing as the people on the other side of the pond who are calling themselves “progressive feminists.’”
What’s ironic, said Talbot, is that many respected British media outlets, from the BBC to The Times of London and The Guardian newspapers, employ progressive feminists in influential positions, who advocate vocally in favor of women-only spaces that exclude transgender women.
Trans rights have been a hot topic in British media for years ever since the U.K. government announced a planned review of the Gender Recognition Act, back in 2018. The proposal, which focused on the struggles of trans people in Great Britain to have their gender identity legally recognized, was instead framed as an invasion of women’s spaces by men dressed as women.
“For a period, every single Sunday, there was something in one of the big newspapers that was just overtly transphobic or misleading,” Talbot said, noting the frequency with which British newspapers publish articles about transgender rights is not only unsettling, but that the majority of opinion pieces are hostile to the community. “It’s astonishingly often, given that the trans community is such a small percentage of the population.”
The wider problem continues to be acceptance. The Rainbow Map, published by the LGBTQ advocacy organization ILGA-Europe on May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, puts Great Britain in 10th place in terms of equality, non-discrimination, hate crime and hate speech, legal gender recognition, non-binary recognition and legal gender recognition procedures for minors, among other factors.
The U.K. was once the leading European nation in terms of LGBTQ rights, but now finds itself behind Malta, Belgium, Luxembourg, Scandinavia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and other nations, according to ILGA Europe.
On the bright side, the U.K. is now home to its first Trans Pride street crossing, as PinkNews reported. It was unveiled Monday in a South London town in Sutton, England, and features the colors of the Trans Pride flag designed by U.S. Navy veteran Monica Helms.
That kind of community support, however, remains the exception, and anti-trans hatred is hardly a new phenomenon: According to a survey from the LGBTQ anti-violence charity Galop, 81% of 227 respondents in the U.K. reported being the victim of a transphobic hate crime in the 12 months leading up to October 2019, CNN reported.
A more recent survey by U.K. recruitment company Totaljobs revealed more than two-thirds of trans people nationwide conceal their identity at work — which is known in the community as “living stealth” — and the numbers are increasing. Just five years ago, the figure was 50%.
In terms of the wider community, a study commissioned by PinkNews showed 20% of LGBTQ people who are not “out” in the workplace choose to keep their sexuality private, and 22% don’t find it necessary or relevant to share that information with coworkers. Almost one fifth, or 19% of the LGBTQ people surveyed said they “don’t want to be viewed or treated differently” by their sexuality or gender identity.
The PinkNews survey did find that younger generations are more open to discussing their sexuality and gender identity with their colleagues in the workplace, with Gen Z being most open — 89% — in comparison to those who reported their age as over 55.
Many of the panels on the agenda for The Trans Summit that starts today focus on being transgender in the workplace. Among them are topics such as “Navigating Your Career” and “Transitioning At Work.” Later this week, there’s “Transgender Law” as well as lectures on nonbinary individuals and parenting gender nonconforming children. Although aimed at trans folks in Britain, organizers say the event is open to everyone everywhere, not just the U.K. Part of the proceeds from ticket sales go to benefit Gendered Intelligence, a trans-led and trans-involved grassroots charity supporting trans people’s lives.