Transgender Day of Remembrance 2011: a pause for thought

I am just dropping a few lines to highlight the Transgender Day of Remembrance.  I apologize in advance for what is going to be more of an emotional post rather than a polished, informative one; but I’ve got a few thoughts that I need to articulate, so there you have it. The movement started in America in 1998, and communities have gathered every year since, yes to remember the dead, but also to bring forth to everyone’s attention the daily struggle to express your  gender identity as you wish, so that the memories may go on to help the living, too.  The people that we remember this year are listed in a website; it would be great if some of the people that think it is acceptable to take a life could read it, because the roll call of names, the causes of death, their ages (all young), and the absurdity of it all hit you like a train.

However, it also made me think; I have written before in this blog about the difficulties of constructing meaningful interactions between different organizations and individuals, regardless of whether their ‘remit’ includes LGBT issues, or they identify as such. There is a widespread assumption that only LGBT people will be interested in such work, or that you have to be part of that community in order to act. I suspect the problem also lays, for some people, in the fact that if you are not LGBT yourself, you have to be prepared to let other people make assumptions about you, and ignore it (the point being it doesn’t matter!).

For someone like me, who works directly with people in different communities, this is particularly frustrating, because whatever I and others do is marked by the sense that we are working each time on different levels that very seldom meet. Communication and interaction opportunities are lost along the way which could bring hate crime awareness  (transgender, LGBT, or whatever else) right home to that ‘majority’ of the population that is not at present forced to deal with it, involving them and putting more pressure on the authorities to investigate, intervene and punish. I do believe that the biggest change will come when the artificial boundaries are broken.

In the UK, we are lucky, in terms of legislation at least; the Human Rights Act has defined the advances of the last decade, actually doing a great job so far, bringing international protection treaties into UK law. Its future seems in doubt at present, and I am not convinced at all that it has passed its time; I expect people from all equality fields will put up a good fight, and anyway this is another story. The jury may still be out on the brand new Equality Act, but the promises are good; there is a lot of confusion at the moment about how to apply the new rules, and how to overcome inconsistencies between policy and practices, but that hopefully will clear up in time, and we will end up with a good comprehensive piece of legislation. That does not mean we don’t have problems; discrimination due to gender identity exists in the workplace and domestic setting. It also doesn’t mean that legislation could and should not be changed and improved upon; we must do better.

The Yogyakarta Principles are a set of powerful tools for advocacy purposes, and even more so when used as a ‘filling gap’ in conjunction with existing legislation, but the level of knowledge about what they are, and the protection they provide, within the average population is scarce; if human rights are to be defended and people protected, then these people must be able to access information about what their rights are and how to use the law for their benefit. I find particularly shocking the disregard of the principles within academia, which leads to poor awareness and patchy use of the recommendations; I have gone through two degrees myself, which concentrated on political action and human rights, and the principles were never taught, discussed or even acknowledged. It is vital that we equip the next generation of activists with the tolls to do their job effectively; hence the focus should be on campaigning for the inclusion of the principles in the national curriculum in colleges and as part of mainstream degree programmes across the country. If communication and interaction are the keys to counteract and eliminate prejudice against gender diversity, then it is only when people will know them, use them, demand them, that we can hope to have them ratified into law as a legitimate way to hold perpetrators to account.

While we remember all the people that are lost on November 20th, actions should really speak louder than words.

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