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TransActual : Protecting what we’ve got

By Ryan Evans

 “It’s no longer a question about trying to move anything forwards, It’s about protecting what we’ve got,” says Helen Belcher, the lead director of TransActual, a company set up to advocate for and empower trans and non-binary people.

Speaking at London Metropolitan University yesterday on the advocacy for trans and non-binary people, Belcher, 58, is a Wiltshire councillor and Leveson enquiry witness who also assisted in the setup of Trans Media, “in relation to a series of concerns over the representation of trans and intersex people throughout the British media”.

Back in the year 2000, trans issues weren’t as prominent in the media as they are now due to little use of the internet and little real care for which bathroom people used, she told an audience of students, lecturers and guests. 

The online aid trans people had for each other at the time were through online message boards, since we were a couple years off of MySpace and Facebook being created.

In the turn of the millennium, trans people didn’t really sit happy with the little legislation they had. And the media unnecessarily outed them, and and portrayed them in one of three categories: fraudulently, deviant or deserving of comedy, she said. 

If they were partnered and wanted to transition, their married other half had to sign off on it too. 

“When I transitioned in 2003, my wife was presented with the letter ‘do you consent to your husband’s treatment’ and she wrote back that any treatment my husband needs is between him and the clinicians,” said Belcher.

In 2002, a UK case was brought to the European courts by Christine Goodwin, who wanted to marry the man she’d lived with. She got through the ceremony and wanted that marriage validated, and the European court said ‘you know what, yes, you should’.

Belcher says: “It was at this point that the courts looked on at the UK to have no gender recognition at all.”

Definition of discrimination

But what has transpired over the past 22 years, even after the gender recognition act 2004 and the Equalities act 2010, is that they’re still facing the the same lines of questioning, Belcher said.

“None (of the issues) are particularly modern, they’re rehashes of debates we thought we’d won decades ago, you keep getting the trans women in women’s spaces, in women’s sports, trans women in women’s prisons. I think that’s what’s so dispiriting about this, you’re arguing to have your part in public life.”

The Equalities Act should be the minimum, not the target for the government to reach for,” Belcher added. 

To add insult to injury, the media narrative represents all trans women as “violent potential rapists”, she said. Using rare “exceptions to set a narrative is the very definition of discrimination”.

As a result, the mental health of trans people is suffering, and many people who are facing daily discrimination want to leave the country. “Where do I want to go? That’s the thing: I like it here – when things are normal.”

In the U.K. there is also currently an “increase in the threat of violence against any woman who is not gender conforming; mainly lesbians, not trans people”, Belcher said.

Sat in the front row was Brian Tutt, Head of Student Experience and Academic Outcomes in the School of Social Sciences and Social Professions at London Met, who raised the issue of disempowerment for trans people in the LGBT community through the use of ‘LGB without the T’.

He said: “As a gay man it feels like we’re next, or the broader LGBT community is at risk. Going further to ask Helen: I wonder what your sense is that the broader LGBT community is responding, is there anything you’d like to see that community doing?”

Belcher responded with: “It was interesting. Being one of the leaders in the room essentially when the government did its U-turn and then partial back again on conversion practices, because the solidarity from the LGBT groups was enormous.

“I’ve worked as a leader in that sector since 2012. I have never known an issue, even same-sex marriage. Where there was that level of outrage in a community? LGBT Consortium is a group I used to chair which pulled together an open letter condemning the exclusion. Had 200 organisations sign it in a matter of days.”