Supporting Trans Rights And The Struggle For Liberation: A Report
Last week, Momentum Hackney held an important trans solidarity public meeting attended by around 50 members of our local community. After observing the spike in transphobic political activity, its boosting by the press and the way in which that manifested within the Labour Party, a few of us decided it was vitally important we organise a pro-trans meeting which prioritised solidarity, the amplification of trans voices and countering the dominant narrative.
The organising of the meeting was conducted openly whereby members and non-members of Momentum were invited to attend all planning meetings, in particular, we were keen to have – as we did – renowned trans activists be a part of shaping and planning the event. With a core of Momentum activists and trans activists committed to the event, the process worked itself out incredibly smoothly. This occurred throughout a series of three planning meetings (all conducted in a very swift fashion!), the first of which gave primacy to the politics we wanted to presented, the second and third of which acted as ensuring people were up to date with what we had agreed, and all loose ends were being tied. This ensured as little problems as possible.
It must be said that leading up to the event, members of the organising team and some of the speakers had voiced concerns about the potential for a toxic environment. Channel 4 held their ‘Genderquake’ debate a week before where trans members of the panel were subjected to horrific transphobic abuse by cisgender hecklers – largely well known Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs). We took the threat of this kind of behaviour extremely seriously and felt strongly that our biggest priority was to create a safe, inclusive space. We were delighted (and relieved) that our meeting was not disrupted by those people who are determined to have a “debate” about trans people’s right to exist. On the contrary, there was an overwhelming sense of solidarity and a willingness to listen and learn, and a firm belief that there is no “debate” to be had.
Trans writer, critic and poet, Roz Kaveney, was the first panellist to speak. She spoke about the difficulties that she faced on first coming out as trans, but highlighted how far we have come: “It is no longer unacceptable to be trans.” Despite this, she was clear that there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly in times of austerity, where trans people are denied access to essentials, such as housing.
Charlie Kiss, author of memoir ‘A New Man’, spoke about the struggle of being a trans man. “We do not fit the narrative.” Charlie highlighted the invisibility of trans men – in fact, there are just as many trans men as trans women in the UK. What’s more, Charlie highlighted the pervasive and transphobic notion that trans men are just “confused lesbians” – an assertion that denies his very existence.
Following on from Charlie, Christina Alley, co-founder of Trans London, spoke about the importance of dialogue between trans and cisgender women in particular. She expressed concern about how quickly women can be labelled TERFs when they may have genuine questions or worries. Christina also addressed how being a trans woman of colour makes her experience different as she is subjected to racism as well as transmisogyny.
In an effort to increase the participation of the audience, and raise the voices of those who don’t usually feel the confidence to speak in meetings, we then broke up into small groups and discussed three questions. These questions included, “What are the key issues facing trans people?”, “Has the situation for trans people gotten worse?”, and “What can allies do to support trans people?”. This conversation brought up the experiences of the Irish feminist movement and the example their own Gender Recognition Act posed in nullifying the transphobic attacks on the GRA being proposed in Britain; the fact that contrary to what they claim, transphobic voices are given huge platform by the media; the need for an intersectional approach between racial and trans oppression; the possibilities for organising a pro-trans politics in workplaces such as schools and hospitals; the potential for a national campaign to push through the GRA; and how racist anti-immigration policies impact on LGBT communities.
In our second round of panellists, Diane Abbott MP laid out the case for the Labour Party being so vociferous in its defence of trans rights, and why we need unity across the labour movement against all forms of reaction. On the day that Abbott announced Labour’s commitment to closing down Yarlswood detention centre and scrapping the ‘hostile environment’, she also spoke about how she was moved into action by the horrific treatment of LGBT women, and all women, at Yarlswood.
Lily Madigan, trans woman and Women’s Officer for Rochester & Strood Constituency Labour Party, spoke about her experience of transphobia at school and the bullies in the media who hounded her when she was elected Women’s Officer. She discussed the need for greater trans representation and the importance of solidarity in the Labour party and across wider society.
Our final speaker, Kae Smith, teacher and pro-trans activist, started with warm thoughts about being inspired by Roz Kaveney, which was a formative moment in their own activism. Kae took us through historic criticisms, detailing arguments between trans feminists and “radical feminists” and debunking some of the arguments posited by people who exclude trans feminism. Following those historical criticisms, Kae spoke of the issues trans people continue to face nowadays. Trans people in various countries are being forced to be sterilised before undergoing gender reassignment surgery and therefore it is more important than ever to support and to fight to win reforms to the Gender Recognition Act.
All in all, with around 50 people in attendance, a great involving discussion and money raised for Action for Trans Health, the panellists, the organisers and those who attended the meeting, walked away with the feeling the meeting was successful in its attempts to provide a platform for trans solidarity. More to the point, many felt emboldened to take the politics of that meeting into their workplaces and communities.
As far as we’re concerned, a meeting like this in Hackney needn’t be an exception. We encourage all Momentum and Labour Party groups to organise similar meetings with the hope of building solidarity with trans and non-binary people, providing a platform, and restoring damaged links between the labour movement and the trans community.