Guest blog by Andrew Towers, LGBT Action Development Worker, Hart Gables
Last month I was on a bus on Stockton High Street. We were parked at a bus stop. I shouldn’t judge on appearances but the two people who were sitting right in front of me looked like a respectable young couple. They were smartly dressed and soft-spoken. They were laughing between themselves, looking at the woman’s mobile phone. Then they lifted the phone and took a picture through the bus window.
I then noticed that they were taking pictures of a gender variant person sitting at the bus stop. While the bus stood there, they took three or four photos, looking at the photos between them and laughing at each one.
I’m a big wuss and hate confrontation, but as a trans person myself, and someone who works supporting vulnerable members of the LGBT+ community, I was so astounded at their behaviour that I asked them why they were doing such a thing. The woman said, ‘It’s what everyone would do, isn’t it?’ She also said, ‘Look, everyone else on the bus is doing the same thing.’
Why is it that we’re living in a situation where ‘ordinary’ people are viewing mockery of the LGBT+ community, or indeed anyone who appears to be ‘different’ to them, as the norm? Why were those people so mystified at being called out in their behaviour?
On June 27th 2019 BBC News reported that transphobic hate crimes recorded by the Police in the UK rose by 81% between 2016 and 2017. One of the biggest issues our trans+ and non-binary service users face, is microaggressions such as the one I witnessed – people laughing, pointing and taking photos – often on a daily basis. This is the reality of being trans today, here in the UK, when you don’t have what is sometimes called ‘passing privilege’ – when people look at you and perceive you as trans, or perceive your gender presentation to be ‘unusual’.
I have ‘passing privilege’ now. I remember what it was like not to have it. To be called ‘he-she’, have questions like, ‘Are you a boy or a girl’ shouted at me by strangers in the street, to have strangers ask me intrusive questions about what’s between my legs; to feel frightened in public spaces. That this continues in 2019 is unacceptable. Some strongly believe the media, in particular, the tabloid press, is feeding into this toxic attitude towards trans and non-binary people. We are a topic of ‘debate’ on morning television. Misinformation about transition pathways for young people spreads fear. Social media is a difficult thing to read and engage with, as a trans person, or a trans ally, without encountering hate-filled, degrading and dehumanising messages at every term.
It’s vital that we address transphobic, homophobic, biphobic or non-binary phobic behaviour – call it out and challenge it (safely) when we see it – otherwise, we feed into the perception that it is acceptable; expected; ‘normal’.
Hart Gables, the charity for which I work, is a Third-Party Reporting Centre. We would urge any victim of an anti-LGBT hate incident or hate crime, who would like support through the reporting process, to get in touch either with us, or with one of the other third-party reporting centres in the region. Some people who are LGBT+ might find it easier to speak to a service that is LGBT-specific, or one that they already know and have engaged with in the past.
Hart Gables provides safe spaces for the LGBT community to meet, socialise and talk about the issues they are facing. But that we still need these safe spaces proves that many LGBT+ people across Teesside do not feel safe in public. In recognising anti-LGBT hate crime for what it is, and working towards pathways of reporting that LGBT+ people can easily access, we work towards a future in which we all feel safe, whatever space we’re in.