The Scottish Green Party has two co-conveners of different genders. I am currently one of these, and am running for re-election. This attempt to balance is based on an important principle. We don’t accept that the work of winning gender equality is won, and so we actively seek to rectify that in our structures.
There is, though, a problem. The party constitution specifies two genders: a man and a woman. And this simply doesn’t reflect reality. Because while most people are happy to be labelled men or women, there are significant numbers for whom neither of these words apply. And for many of these people, the fact that they would have to be squeezed into a box they’ve often been trying to escape from for years in order to run for one of the co-convener positions in the party is a huge problem.
Those who don’t fit neatly into the boxes of gender binary are often some of the most oppressed people in our society. A study for the Harvard Kennedy School in 2013 found that 43% of those they call “Gender Not Listed” have attempted suicide, compared to 1.6% of Americans in general. 32% said that they had experienced physical violence as a result of their gender status. While I can’t find equivalent figures for Scotland, I do know that non-binary people here often have to struggle against a society unready to accept them.
I know this for a few reasons. Firstly, when Scottish Greens have tried to use a more inclusive if perhaps clumsy language to describe the gender balancing process we use for MSP selection, we have been mocked online. Now, political parties are always fair game for a joke. But if we face mockery for attempting to navigate our way into a more inclusive language, then I can’t imagine what it’s like being a teenager trying to navigate your way into an adulthood in which you gradually realise that you don’t fit into either of the main neat boxes society has built for you.
Secondly, I know it because non-binary Scots have said so. For example, around 80% avoid situations most of us would consider normal, like using public toilets or gyms.
Thirdly, while most surveys include non-binary people within statistics for trans people (though not all trans people are non-binary; many simply are men or are women, and not all non-binary people are trans), these figures show astonishing numbers of these Scots suffer real problems of mental ill-health, and often self harm.
The struggle for equality for non-binary people is broad and deep, and demands of us all that we challenge some of the assumptions about the world which we were brought up with. And one the simplest of those assumptions is that there are two genders.
For the Scottish Greens, this means many things. We’re proud of our support for equalities and we are proud to stand with non-binary people here and across the world, just as we stand with all LGBT people and with other oppressed minorities – and majorities. But one of the things it means is very simple.
This year’s party conference passed a motion to set up a task force to look at diversity and minority engagement, including the question of how best to do gender balancing while recognising that there are more than two genders. If I’m re-elected as co-convenor of the party, I will work with that task force to find a way to abolish my position, and replace it with a system of co-convenors which is truly inclusive.