A letter about Transphobia to the Education Secretary

I’ve just sent the following to the Secretary of State of Education, expressing concern about the education white paper and today’s reports that the DfE will work with Stonewall on tackling bullying. (Dr Julian Huppert MP is CCed on this as he is my local MP as well as having had some involvement with successfully debating trans issues in the House of Commons over the ID Cards Bill)

Now I’ve put that here, I’m sure people will point out some huge gaff I’ve made in the letter!

Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State of Education
By EMail

25th November 2010

Dear Mr Gove,

I welcome the commitment towards tacking homophobia in schools announced in the Education White Paper as I’m sure the rest of the LGBT community does. However, although the words “homophobia” and “homophobic” appear seven times in the paper, there is no mention of transphobia and other transgender-related issues. As a result, some members of the trans community such as myself are concerned that this area may be being overlooked. Although there is some similarity in that both homophobia
and transphobia are targeted against perceived differences from “normal” behaviour for a given gender, the Trans community also faces very different challenges and inequalities to the wider LGB community which
can often be overlooked when dealing with only LGBT organisations.

I am particularly troubled bytoday’s news (http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2010/11/25/gove-we-will-work-with-stonewall-to-tackle-growing-anti-gay-bullying/) that you will be working with Stonewall in this area. Whilst Stonewall undoubtedly perform some very worthwhile work, they are very
specifically an LGB charity and there have been significant differences between Stonewall and the trans community over recent years. This announcement, taken on it’s own, would seem to suggest that trans issues may indeed not be being addressed.

I would therefore urge you to also ensure that some Trans-specific organisations are involved in the work you are doing. Although I do not represent them, I can recommend both GIRES (Gender Identity Research and Education Society, http://www.gires.org.uk/) and Mermaids UK (http://www.mermaidsuk.org.uk/) as useful organisations to contact for information in the area of trans youth and education.

Some other useful organisations to contact would include: (Again, I do not represent or work for any of these organisations in any way)
Trans Media Watch – http://www.transmediawatch.org.uk/
A:Gender – http://www.agender.org.uk/ (A support organisation for trans members of the Civil Service)
Queer Youth Network – http://www.queeryouth.org.uk/

I would be grateful if you could confirm your departments commitment to tackling transphobia alongside homophobia and that you will engage appropriate Trans organisations in tackling inequality in schools.
Although I am not a member of that community and can not speak for them in any way, the Intersex community also faces similar issues and I would hope similar consideration is given to any areas of concern they may have.

Yours Sincerely,

Zoe O’Connell

CC: Lynne Featherstone MP, Minister for Equalities
CC: Dr Julian Huppert MP, Cambridge


    1. It was deliberate, but I probably wasn’t clear in the points I was trying to make – even with trans-positive LGB&T organisations, there’s a tendency for them to LGB issues. Fair enough, as the majority of their membership and thus their mandate will be LGB and not T folk.

      To use an example from non-education mainstream LGB&T politics – marriage equality is a big issue for LGB&T organisations. It also helps T folk too of course because it can fix issues with the Gender Recognition Act.

      But an LGB&T organisation isn’t going to tend to highlight some of the T-specific problems with the Equality Act, nor is a (Likely L, G or B) representative sent by such an organisation to a meeting going to have quite the same handle on the issue as a trans person. When a T-specific issue does come up and a trans person attends a meeting, they don’t have the same political network and experience as the usual LGB representative which can hinder their work.

      Also, there are some T folk who aren’t happy talking to/supporting LGB&T organisations because they do not themselves identify as LGB. I can see why they might be uncomfortable with that, they’ll feel culturally separate at any meetings for example. Some T folk, particularly those who transitioned very young before being particularly active in terms of relationships, just don’t have the queer outlook on life or understand

      Probably an overlong reply to a short comment and I suspect I’m preaching to the choir, but in conclusion I think they need to talk to T-specific organisations as well as LGB and LGB&T ones.

  1. Hi Zoe,

    A really good letter and very important, I will also follow this up by getting my MP to ask him about this. I suspect that what Gove means by “Working with…” Stonewall is “Not doing anything at all about it and letting Stonewall get on with it as long as they don’t rock the boat.” So it is essential that Gove is challenged about this. BTW, I have a peer-reviewed academic paper being published in a journal in an international journal in a few days. Keep an eye on the Graduate Journal of Social Science (www.gjss.org) in the next few days, they didn’t give me an exact date. This is all about transgender children and provides very good evidence regarding the extent of transphobic bullying in schools. Well spotted, this is a very important issue and we must not allow the government simply to outsource LGBT equality issues in schools to Stonewall.

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