Wednesday , 23 October 2019

What should the campaign for Scottish trans-equality look like?

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It’s a serious question. In an ideal world there would be a populist mass-movement pressing for positive change as there was for same-marriage, but that isn’t going to happen for trans-equality because there simply aren’t that many of us. With the Scottish Government signalling that it is potentially going to tackle the issue of legislative trans-equality in the next parliament, the question of how we want to promote greater trans-equality is growing to be a pressing issue.

What do we want our equality to look like, how do we want to be consulted, how involved in the consultations and lobbying do we – the trans-community – wish to be?

There are several immediately obvious options:

We could leave it to the Scottish Transgender Alliance (STA) and not get involved as a community.

We could attempt to interact with the STA and participate in the process, through its direction.

We could form several different trans-equality lobbying groups to press for change.

We could form an umbrella organisation including the trans-community and third-sector stakeholders (Like the STA, LGBT Youth, Stonewall UK and the LGBT Centre for Health and Wellbeing) to present a united and consistent front in lobbying for Scottish trans-equality.

Looking at each in turn, there are factors for and against each:

If we leave it to the STA, then it will probably get done for us, we won’t have to do anything and no one will have to out themselves as trans to seek legislative equality. But equally so, we won’t have a voice in the process, will have to take what we are given, and won’t really have any legitimacy to complain later if we don’t like it. That said, the STA will undoubtedly do a reasonable job and cover most of the bases. But can just the two trans people employed by the Equality Network to run the STA represent an entire community adequately? The point also has to be made that the STA is not a charity in it’s own right. It’s a division of the Equality Network, an LGBTI and human rights charity that is overseen by a board of predominantly cis-people, and that oversight cannot possibly claim to accurately represent transpeople’s choices and interests. Also it does rather exclude other stakeholders from the process.

On the other hand interacting with the STA and participating in the process of positive change in that manner offers many advatage. The STA is undoubtedly capable of organising national consultations with the trans-community, and of reporting its findings to the Scottish Government to advise potential legislation. It’s a good middle ground if you aren’t a hardcore activist but do want to be involved peripherally in the process of gaining trans-equality. But the same ultimate problem remains – of those two transpeople at the STA making decisions about priorities and compromises for us, without transparent oversight by the trans-community. Given that no organisation, even with the best intent in the world, can possibly represent all of a community there is a distinct possibility of individuals, groups and even other third-sector organisations falling through the cracks.

Forming several groups to lobby for change is pretty much the default position of the Scottish trans-community. Various individuals – typically support group leaders, individual activists and different third-sector organisations – all submit separate lobbying based upon their own priorities and goals. Like the second option, this works in a general sense. Lots of different voices get heard and there has to be discussion of different perceptions of what positive-change should look like. But on the downside, it does portray a small community as being sometimes fractured and divisive whilst still potentially allowing people to fall through the cracks.

Which brings us to the last option: forming an umbrella organisation to press for Scottish trans-equality. This has to be the most labour-intensive and conciliatory approach of all because it involves representing many different groups and individuals by reconciling everyone’s needs to a single lobby. That patience, diplomacy and compromise would be necessary goes without saying. However once consensus is reached, the position put forwards could really be said to represent the overwhelming majority of Scotland’s transpeople with only those who exclude themselves from the umbrella absent. It also has a wider implication for the trans-community because it will portray us as a strong and united community capable of determining it’s own future and direction.

I’m arguing in favour of the last option here. It’s the most inclusive and democratic way forward we could take. That alone is enough for me. But there is the second aspect to trans-equality that isn’t obvious in lobbying for better legislative equality. Equality is an internally-determined as well as an externally-imposed quality. To be genuinely, truly equal to cis-people, transpeople need to feel equal in their own hearts and minds. Taking the communal responsibility for reaching legislative-equality upon ourselves, doing the work involved in lobbying successfully for it and being able to genuinely call it our victory when it comes can only improve our self-perception and self-confidence. Individually and as a community as a whole.

No one took the issue of equal marriage away from LGB people. They determined their need, they ran their campaign, they lobbied for their change, and they got to celebrate their victory when it came. All I’m advocating is that transpeople do exactly the same, and that we are the driving force at every level of the campaign for trans-equality, from overall oversight and policy right down to the grass-roots of our community.

I think we are a community strong enough, mature enough, and cohesive enough to take responsibility for reaching our equality into our own hands. This is our time to do it. Because gaining equality only happens once So lets make sure our equality, trans-equality in Scotland is an inclusive, comprehensive and community-driven equality!

About Johanna-Alice Cooke

Johanna-Alice Cooke
Johanna is a passionate equality and civil-rights activist. An 'out' transwoman, she focuses upon transgender issues from medical provision in the NHS and legislative equality, to fighting society-wide issues such as hate-crime. In her spare time she is working towards qualifying as a clinical-psychologist. A Scot by enthusiatic self-declaration, she's crawled over a lot of the country in a previous life as a geologist and loves knowing why our country looks as beautiful as it does. Currently fostering two cats, Johanna loves felines of all kinds despite being a recovering-carnivore herself.

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