Saturday, 2 July 2016

"10 Parli Candid Dates But A Transgal Ain't One Of 'Em": Addressing the lack of trans representation in UK Politics

"Character is the moral strength to do the right thing even when it costs more than you want to pay" Michael Josephson

Guten Tag!

Think  I could be a politico one day?
So after a week of Twitter polling to see what issues people in the global social media sphere wanted me to address directly in my blog, I found the topic that got my respondents most enthused happens to be the most puzzling/baffling one to address: the lack of transgender visibility in politics.

First thing to note is that there are few polls that have been conducted to show trans voting percentages in the UK during local and general elections. There have been several LGBT surveys conducted over the past decade; one of the most reliable has been the PinkNews Survey conducted in March 2015 which asked 987 LGBT people what their voting intentions would be for the 2015 UK GE.  I summarise the results below:
  • 26% of survey respondents said they would vote for the Labour and Conservative (Tory)parties; a 5% increase for the Tories but a 2% drop for Labour from 2010.
  • 19% said they would vote Lib Dem which had dropped from 40% in 2010.
  • 20% said they would vote Green which was a 16% increase from 2010.
  • UKIP gained just 2% of the LGBT voting intention in 2015.
Clearly from this general survey encompassing LGB and T voting intentions, one can see they are just as divided politically as the population at large. Notwithstanding this point, I have always believed that trans people are much less likely to vote in GE and local council elections than other members of the community. It's something that has occupied and concerned my mind ever since I got interested in UK politics in June 2010, when I chose to vote for the Liberal Democrats whilst in my final year of an English and Philosophy degree at the University of York (those same Lib Dems ironically ended up screwing over their core electorate by hiking the cap on tuition fees to £9,000 a year whilst in coalition with the Tories #epicfail).  I voted in Lincoln for the Liberal Democrats not knowing that they didn't command much of a mandate in the city and I found out subsequently that Lincoln had essentially become a two party marginal constituency (Labour and Conservative). Since then I've voted Labour and Tory at a local level (councillors) and Tory nationally in the 2015 GE in a rather vain attempt to try and get my voice indirectly heard at a national level. It's fair to mention that the current Women and Equalities Minister (and Education Secretary) Nicky Morgan and the cross-party Women's and Equality Select Committee have made some steps to analyse trans issues in the UK such as the 18-24 month wait that trans people face when trying to get an initial appoint with their local Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) through to workplace harassment often being dismissed as banter.  It's correct to say that they have made more than 33 recommendations to try and improve trans peoples' daily lives including increasing funding to GICs and to step up training programmes for managers in larger firms but it's still rather telling that none of the MPs involved in that consultation were transgender or had experience of gender fluidity. They may have gained testimony from trans people but those MPs do not know what it is like to be in the position of some trans people that feel scared about being themselves openly in public for fear of being sexually assaulted or physically beaten up just for choosing to wear what makes them feel comfortable and secure. That concerns me deeply as a MTF trans person.

Four basic questions then really come to mind when I think of transgendered politics:
  1. Why aren't there more transgender people choose to vote?
  2. Why aren't there more transgender people get more involved with their local political parties?
  3. Why aren't there more transgender people get shortlisted for local council elections?
  4. Why aren't there more transgender people get shortlisted to become an MP and represent their local constituency?
I shall try and address these questions with reference to my own experience below:

Why aren't there more transgender people choose to vote?

The transgender students I knew whilst I was at Uni (there were a few around who were sociable but not many) didn't seem to care deeply about trying to increase trans representation within the UK Political Establishment. Some trans students didn't even know who Gordon Brown or Alistair Darling were, let alone what the numerous political parties had mentioned in their manifestos and what they had presented as their overall vision for the country during the monotonous slog of Election broadcasts and political "getya" selfie moments. None had even watched that banal yet frankly hilarious BBC1 debate where Gordon Brown's stern visage collapsed after a heavy fire battering by the feisty yet cocky Nick Clegg. I'm sure many of my readers assume that trans students studying politics would care a lot about the differences between Labour and the Conservatives on employment rights or LGBTQIA NHS based issues. Most political pundits assume trans people would be "Leftie Loonies" obsessed with preserving their own identity but not caring a fig about helping others to protect their own identities.
Yet many trans students wanted to change the way transgender people were viewed by the mainstream media, how schools dealt with transgender issues in RE and PSHME lessons and how employers treated those employees who were going through gender reassignment whilst trying to hold down a job and pay their bills, something they knew they were going to have to grapple with in the very near future (if they were lucky to swag bag a decent entry level grad position that is).

I've tried to find reasons as to why there was such a blasé attitude amongst those trans students when it came to exercising their democratic right to vote and as a transgendered woman I thoroughly appreciate the fact that suffragettes such as Emily Davidson sacrificed their own lives to enable me to vote in General Elections (GE) as soon as I was old enough to do so.

However, there have been times when I've felt that the representative I've voted for in Lincoln doesn't care much about LGB issues let alone trans ones (Karl McCartney voted against the Same Sex Marriage Bill on a "personal" basis despite the fact the majority of his constituents were in favour of SSM). So it can lead to a valid conclusion that any representative standing in a marginal seat such as Lincoln can only end up as a backbencher and thus can never truly help to advocate trans issues on the main political stage. That can ultimately lead to disenfranchisement of trans voters in these marginal seats in a irreversible way.

Part of me believes that trans people generally feel that whichever political party they decide to support or vote for at a GE, there would be no further meaningful progress on transrights; I can remember an elderly MTF in York telling me that she believed the majority of the country wouldn't support any legislation that went beyond the Equality Act legislation put in place by the New Labour Government before it was voted out of office in 2010. Ironically few of my trans peers at York were aware of the Equality Act or had any idea that it had created stringent protection for those going through gender reassignment. Even worse was the fact that older trans people had never heard of the extremely important ECJ (European Court of Justice) decision took in 1996 that extended employment rights in the workplace to transwomen by redefining the UK Sex Discrimination Act through the EU Equality Right Directive prism. This meant that transwomen could not be made redundant on the basis of taking paid sick leave to go through gender reassignment if they had notified their employer of their intention to do so prior to commencing the process. This is why I believe it is extremely important in a post Brexit climate to educate students at secondary school about LGBTQIA rights in the workplace so as to foster a culture of integration and embrace diversity rather than a banal begrudging sense of acceptance. Having trans people involved in designing and implementing such education programmes is crucial to their success and perhaps may even increase political and legal open trans engagement in the future!

Perhaps even more devastating when I think about older trans people being turned off politics is because some believe that it is an area of their lives that they can't get seriously involved in at any level. Old fashioned Judeo-Christian bias (God created man and woman separate in a biological way malarkey) has permeated their mindset and made them feel essentially inferior from their straight acting "normal" counterparts. How awful it is to think that even in this age of relative transparency and acceptance by most of "gender fluidity" and "sexual fluidity" they themselves refuse to accept their own behaviours and beliefs. After all God made us "in his own image" and that must include a gender fluid one in my opinion- otherwise why did God give us the capacity to carry out gender reassignment surgery in the first place?

Go beyond the psychological barriers to trans people voting to the physical challenges of voting on the day and we can uncover more reasons as to why trans votes are lower in percentage than the population at large. Some transpeople may feel  threatened at the possibility of having to attend their local polling station dressed according to their gender preference and yet being referred to by their former name (due to them being unable to change it legally or because it takes a long time to change gender legally and thus can't change their name without this change). One never knows the type of person that may choose to cast their ballot at the same time as you and if you live in a constituency ward that has a high hate crime rate it does make you think twice before risking your wellbeing just to cast your ballot. I've never been scared to be open about my transgendered status so it doesn't affect my mental state but those who have been forced to hide their true selves for a lengthy period would view the situation differently.

Finally it's important to stress that many of the usual edicts which affect voter turnout apply to trans voters too. It's true that middle class trans people will be more likely to vote than working class trans people. This is because many working class people feel they are sneered at just because they bother to express an opinion or political preference in the first place; as a call centre worker (I am a former one) in Clacton told the UKIP MP Douglas Carswell in relation to the recent divisive EU Referendum: "It was the working classes against the smirking classes".

I believe that trans people are more likely to vote if they know family members or close friends who also vote whether that be for local or general elections. If you live in an area with a tradition of voting Labour or Tory in a GE it is more likely that you will vote in the same way as your friends, neighbours and family members. After all, trans people share many of the traits of those who do not see themselves as "gender fluid"!

Why aren't there more transgender people get more involved with their local political parties?

I believe that local political party branches in the 650 constituencies of the UK including my own in Lincoln have to actively engage and make a more concerted effort to attract trans people to become members of their organisations. It's all well and good focussing on trying to maintain the support of those who are more likely to vote for that party during a GE cycle (middle class Accountants going old Tory Blue with engineers and factory workers going Labour Rose Red) but what about those trans people who don't fall into such defined groups? For example, trans call centre workers in the UK are on a similar wage and shift pattern to factory workers but are very rarely approached to join the Labour party except when it comes to securing their final vote in the latter stages of a GE campaign!

A lot of local councillors and party members seem fundamentally unwilling to talk about trans issues at any great length for fear of offending those voters who may not agree with them. I'm sure most trans people respect the views of hard line Muslims and Christians even if they don't agree with them, but I think these conservatives (CJWs) need to realise that we live in a postmodern Western democracy where fundamental concepts such as gender and sexuality are seen as fluid as religious views and so are all rightly open to scrutiny on the doorsteps and in the local meeting rooms.

Once trans people do join their local branch and begin to attend meetings, we hear very little about the positive contributions which I'm sure they make to ensuring the local political machine runs smoothly from the local media or from party PR and marketing gurus. If those trans people outside the political machine do not see any trans people actively involved in the administration and organisation at a local level, they are far more likely to see politics as a "normal person's game". Trans people want to be inspired; they want to know their voice matters in the grand old scheme of political things. The only way parties can do that is to increase trans political media marketing presence. This can be achieved positively by encouraging trans members at a local level to get involved with social media; set up those Twitter pages, Instagrams and YouTube Vlogs! Vlogging isn't just reserved for the selfie egotists and future BBC presenters and journalists! Provided you have access to camera equipment and a positive message to impart, you can't go wrong! Equally involving trans people in doorstep canvassing in the same way a party would want straight or gay young people to do would be great!

Why aren't there more transgender people get shortlisted for local council elections?

I think one important reason why trans people get shortlisted for local elections is because those trans people affiliated to a particular party are afraid to thrust themselves deliberately into the spotlight to be open to an intense level of scrutiny about their gender identity choices from different types of voters; they may believe social media "trolls" would focus on their appearance rather than consider the ideas they espouse and want to put forward that may have been carefully formulated during their academic or working lives.

I'm sure most constituents would be in favour of cutting down on bureaucracy in the NHS, so why not scrap the requirement for trans people to be assessed by psychologists and save the NHS millions at the same time? Or more broadly, why not try and lobby the council to invest in NEETs business funding to allow them a chance to test their ideas out without fear of being left penniless in the process? Such ideas could benefit local communities for years to come. The fact is trans people are not "one issue council candidates" as some on the Right wish to categorise us as on a regular basis. Having a desire to improve the lives of those share our traits in any form is not selfish! Sometimes trans people just have to "come right out and say it" in plain, simple English to their potential constituents: "I refuse to be classified as a victim anymore!" I am not ashamed of who I am, what I choose to wear, how I choose to act on the street and how I address others that disagree with me. I'm not ashamed to have an opinion on any topic and I will speak up for those who feel disenfranchised in this supposed "modern equal society". Such a bold stance would impress a great swathe of the local electorate, especially if you are proud to say you come from that local community ward to begin with!

Part of the blame has to lie with local constituency parties who may be reluctant to put a transgender person on the ballot because they fear they may lose core voters as a consequence of their actions. In certain areas of the country it would be safe to say that transgender people wouldn't even get on the ballot paper for council elections. This may be due to a proliferation of religious attitudes (Leicester, Luton) or due to societal prejudices that have never really been challenged in an overt manner at a local level (Boston.....). For this reason I believe urban areas such as Manchester, Leeds, York or London and most Scotland constituencies would be much more likely to be open to having a transgender person on the ballot paper just because the trans population levels may be higher or trans people are more visible to the local constituency population at large. That means trans candidates are more likely to have a supportive team behind the scenes to help them get elected at a council level when it comes to a General Election.

Why aren't there more transgender people get shortlisted to become an MP and represent their local constituency?

A lot of the issues I have discussed above also apply when thinking about the lack of transgender people being shortlisted by their local parties to become a potential MP for their constituency. However, unlike council elections where the stakes might be considered less risky for political parties, especially in areas like Lincoln where Labour already controls the city council and Lincolnshire County Council which has consistently been in Conservative control, General Election candidates have to be seen as electable in the constituency where they choose to stand, otherwise the cost of marketing the candidate will be seen as wasteful. I have wondered at times whether there is downward pressure coming from national committees to prevent candidates being shortlisted that may potentially damage the reputation of the party with core voters if they were to be elected.

To give an example, look at the bureaucracy network of the Labour Party (they say it is socially democratic but currently I am  trying to reserve judgement after the increased levels of Anti-Semitic insults being spouted by MPs and their "left-wing" supporters in Momentum). There are many different factions who may use their influence to prevent a trans candidate from being selected if necessary. Imagine if a trans woman wished to run for the Labour seat of Blackburn, currently held by Kate Hollern where 24.8% of the population  identified themselves as Muslim on the 2011 census. There could be hard-line  Muslim constituents who complain to their local Branch manager because they believe a non-Muslim trans woman can never represent their views in a meaningful way. If the Branch manager won't change their mind, they can then go to the Constituency Party (CLP) members. If they still endorse the trans candidate, the Muslim opponents may try and go to the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) or CLP representatives on the National Executive Committee (NEC) and threaten to withdraw their support if the trans candidate is not immediately deselected. Of course the Labour Women and Labour Youth sections of the party may try to advocate positively for the trans candidate but only if evidence of discrimination and harassment came to light during the campaign. In any case, it would come down to the key figures of the CLP in cahoots with the NEC whether the trans candidate would be deselected (with the reason given based as hollow perennial favourite: electability).  Based on the make-up of the population it seems unlikely (at least on the face of it). Anyone interested in the Labour Party political structure should read the information provided on their home page here : http://www.labour.org.uk/pages/how-we-work

There have been a few examples of hope in amongst those of despair for the LGBTQIA community; for example, Emily Brothers, (who also happens to be blind) transitioned in 2007 and had full gender reassignment surgery in 2009 and has been living as a female politician ever since. She doesn't want to be labelled as transgender because it's not her "calling card" which is her choice, but I've never been ashamed to own my transgender label and to be seen as different from those who are biologically born as female. Trans people need politicians who can have the moral courage to be defiantly open in the face of criticism. Otherwise what would be the point of trying to advocate an increase in trans political representation in the first place?

Constituencies such as Lincoln may be a much more favourable seat for a trans Labour candidate; the electorate is diverse, engaged and I believe highly independent thinkers. Having a fast growing university in the city has increased LGBT representation in the city in a positive way. Our local economy is diversifying for the better to employ talented trans graduates in the marketing and financial services sectors. I'm sure the Labour party would be fair in their selection process and look at the character of a candidate based on the views they espouse rather than the way they look. I posit that trans people can make great politicians! Here's why:

Why trans men and women can be great politicians:
  • Transgender people can certainly be seen as beacons of integrity and loyalty, both to trans individuals and to their constituency at large. This is because trans people can demonstrate a high level of empathy towards those constituents who are suffering as a result of the Tory Government's "Austerity measures" because they themselves know what it is like to be punished and denigrated for trying to be who they are. I'm sure if I was on the ballot paper I'd be spending most of my time getting to know constituent's backstories and asking them directly what specific issues they would want me to try and raise at a council or Parliamentary level.
  • Most transgender people do have excellent communication skills and possess the level of  interpersonal skills needed to allow them work with MPs on a cross party basis to get socially progressive legislation passed through quickly and efficiently to hopefully benefit their constituents in a direct way.
  • Transgender people can possess a strength of character to rival any Old Etonian; they can stand up and say what others are unwilling to say rather than telling the plebiscite what it wants to hear.
  • Transgender people can make unpopular decisions if it is for the benefit of the majority of the population or helps the country to advance progressively. For example, making the provision of gender neutral toilets for customers and clients compulsory would seen draconian at first but would help dramatically increase the amount of conveniences (toilet facilities) available in shopping centres, supermarkets and businesses which would benefit the majority of the UK population.
I'd sure like to be the first politician to break conventional dress codes and go into Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) dressed in a gold lurex jumpsuit with vintage 70's gold pearl earrings and 6 inch blue glitter platforms and see how many grungy old Tory cages I can rattle for the sheer hell of it! Well actually it may prove to young people that don't need to be a baggy Savile Row champagne swigging Old Etonian to be a great politician! That'd be quite something to be proud of!