Stonewall

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Ben Summerskill resigns from Stonewall UK, what is the future of LGB and T lobbying and education?

Published January 24, 2014 by Katy J Went

Stonewall diversity champions?After 11 years in the post, Ben Summerskill has stepped down from Stonewall, the UK LGB lobbying and rights group. I say LGB rather than LGBT as over the years it has been infamous in promoting the understanding of gay or LGB rights, as opposed to the whole gamut of LGBT+, not that many bisexual friends felt represented either. There is no doubt that it has done tremendous work, although it was criticised for being slow to support equal marriage.

Ruth Hunt takes over as Active Chief Executive and has promised to speak to trans voices, but also reiterated that Stonewall had “always spoken to trans groups – I have hosted round tables at Stonewall with trans groups, and there are a lot of conversations to be had with a lot of people who have strong opinions”, in an interview with Pink News.  She went on to say that, “The more conversations we have the better, but I wouldn’t predict the outcome of any of those discussions.” – So no change there then.

Stonewall with the T

Just as there now 2 fewer stripes in the rainbow flag, so too are 2 groups, T&I, excluded from Stonewall’s diversity championing

Transgender activist groups have long been debating whether to give up on Stonewall and go it alone. Many have used the slogan “don’t forget the T in S onewall”.  From one such group‘s About section: “Stonewall UK excludes T from the equality index and other leadership training for UK employers.This is a discussion group to help them understand that they need to be fully LGBT inclusive”.

Of course trans groups and activists are difficult to work with, we are angry and we are diverse – I mean we can’t even agree among ourselves! But that’s diversity for you.

Being a member of the trans community and fighting for understanding and representation of trans, intersex and queer, identities and issues, at various tables, committees and forums, I find that Stonewall has lived up to its name, but not its founders. The original Stonewall Inn riots of 1969 saw a subsequently selective history transmitted. One in which the many African-American transvestites and transwomen were ignored from the original explosion in LGB activism, both for their colour and their gender identity. Stonewall became an edited history of white gay male privilege.

Michael Cashman, MEP and former Eastender’s actor – famous for the first gay kiss on British television, is very supportive of trans rights and spoke at a TGEU conference in Berlin that I attended in 2008. Cashman was also one of the founders of Stonewall UK in 1989. Cashman criticised Stonewall in 2010 for its slow and grudging response to equal marriage.

It should be pointed out that Stonewall Scotland is trans inclusive and campaigns for and with transgender groups, from its website: “Stonewall Scotland works for equality and justice for transgender people, as well as lesbian, gay and bisexual people.”

In England and Wales, at least, it seems it would be better to walk our own path and clamour “foul” loudly when Stonewall speak on LGBT or gets LGBT equality funding but only serves LGB ends. I have been fighting for 2 years to get the local police to stop lumping homophobic and transphobic hate crimes into the same statistic when all the other protected diversity characteristics get their own independent stats. I’ve also experienced opposition from LGB activists for trying to get intersex inclusion added to our campaigning and representation, not from the public sector – they were only too happy to follow the European Community’s lead in becoming LGBTI supportive. All this seems reminiscent of LGBT rights history. Anyone who has watched “Milk”, the film about the assassinated first gay in political public office in the US, Harvey Milk, will know what I am talking about. It seems the gay rights movement was reluctant to have lesbian “assistance” and to become LG rights. Even more so were both unwilling to add “fence-sitters”, aka bisexuals, to their campaigns. Finally, they did not want the weird tail to wag the now established, respected and assimilated dog, and let transsexuals be part of their political voice. I’ve been told that to add intersex representation would “confuse issues”.

In 2008 and again in 2010 Stonewall nominated transphobic journalists for journalist of the year awards for promoting equality! One of those same journalists was cited in a 2007 report by Stonewall Scotland for transphobia.

Stonewall has made educational videos raising gay awareness and confidence to come out, and targeting homophobia – but getting it wrong on transgender. One video had a mother hearing her son’s coming out and proclaiming “at least you are not trans”, another gets transgender differences, mixed up, and again, certainly, seen as worse than being gay. There is palpable relief when someone is told “there’s as many ways to be a girl as there are girls”, helping a tomboy realise she need not be trans. The school’s training video also inappropriately explains and uses the word “tranny” for transgender.

In 2012 Paddy Power ran a transphobic advertising campaign including a “spot the tranny” competition on Ladies Day, subsequently banned by the Advertising Standards Authority. This year, Stonewall teamed up with Paddy Power to supply rainbow laces to football teams (largely unsuccessfully) to combat homophobia in the sport. Redemption is all well and good, but when Stonewall’s media manager appeared to endorse the use of transphobic stunts as furthering the issues of homophobia, all was well and good? Apparently, the piece in the Guardian was edited after Stonewall submitted it, but it represents yet another own goal in their dealings with the trans community.

Perhaps, then it is time to realise that LGB and T/I need to go it alone – politically, at least, to reinforce the idea that sexuality and sex/gender are two different things. Although I personally believe there are huge areas of overlap, in identity, sexuality, hormones and gender.

Bi Visibility Day – Celebrating Bisexuality

Published September 23, 2013 by Katy J Went
Today is Bi Visibility Day (celebrated since 1999), because everyone needs a day, right? Actually, bisexuals are in many respects one of the least visible members of the LGBTIQ alphabet soup and, yet, they may be the majority.

Bisexuality is common in hundreds of animal species, especially the giraffe! The anthropologist Margaret Mead noted, ironically, that Western culture imposed a “straight jacket” on bisexuality whilst other cultures embraced non-specific gendered attraction.

bisexual triangles
Attempts to reclaim people as bi rather than gay or lesbian are fraught with historical and contextual difficulties. The ancient Greek poet Sappho from Lesbos, if “turned” bi, would remove sapphic and lesbian from the “women-who-love only women” dictionary.

The ancient world was rife with bisexuality in cultures that were more about power, status, class and penetration, than sex or gender. When laws and religion criminalise and stigmatise homosexuality, coming out as gay or lesbian is likely to be from a position of heterosexual cover. Thus, many older gay people are historically and serially bisexual rather than “gold star” straight virgins. People of “bisexual history” one might say.

Today’s youth are far more likely to embrace bisexuality in open experimentation and disregard for society’s narrow binarism and heteronormativity. Whilst a third transition to gay and lesbian, they do so from a position of reduced fear and phobia than the generation that preceded them, meanwhile the majority of young bisexuals now remain that way.

Being a person of bisexual history myself and maintaining what I call bisexual appreciation rather than attraction/orientation I had no problem when reading Wolff’s Bisexuality: A Study in agreeing with her idea that the majority may be closet bisexuals. It is just that opportunity, cultural restraints, fear of judgement, exposure and stigma, and the course of attraction or love, prevent many acting on it. Indeed, along with Ancient Greece, the famous sexologist Krafft-Ebing suggested that bisexuality was our original and natural state when he first used the term in 1892.

Dr Charlotte Wolff was a Jewish lesbian feminist physician and psychotherapist who fled Germany during the 1930s when her non-Jewish female lover left her out of fear. Before this she had been detained by the Gestapo as a spy for being dressed as a man. Although born female and into a Jewish home she preferred male clothing and female partners – something that pre-Nazi liberal Germany and her Jewish family initially accepted.

Just after the War, in 1948, Alfred Kinsey had found that “46% of the male population had engaged in both heterosexual and homosexual activities, or ‘reacted to’ persons of both sexes, in the course of their adult lives” (Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 1949). And that was the 1940s! A 2007 survey in the US showed 10 times as many young people identifying as bi than the 18-44 age group.

Kinsey further noted that the term bisexual was unfortunate, given that in nature it referred to hermaphroditism rather than a bi or pan gendered attraction. Ambisexual – from Latin ambo “both” not “ambiguous”, may have been better or pansexual, for many bisexuals claim to be gender blind in attraction and would also consider relationships with trans and intersex people.

US surveys from 1993 to 2007 showed a declining figure for people comfortable with calling themselves bisexual whilst a growing number were confident to be gay or lesbian, until the latter now exceed the former. Both are beginning to be eclipsed by those that answer surveys as “other”.

UK Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index questionnaire in 2009 found that bisexuals were less happy than gay people to be “out” at work despite making up at least 4% of the workforce. Their experience of biphobia often came from gay colleagues telling them to “get off the fence”.

In the Sex and the City episode “Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl” (2000) Carrie and Charlotte discuss bisexuality:

Carrie: “I’m not even sure bisexuality exists, it’s just a layover on the way to gaytown”

Charlotte: “I’m very into labels, gay, straight, pick a side and stay there” 

Kinsey again commented that sexuality was a continuum not a both, either/or situation.

“Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behavior, the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.” (Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 1949)

The American second-wave feminist and bisexual, Kate Millett, said that “Homosexuality was invented by a straight world dealing with its own bisexuality.” (Flying, 1974).

Bisexuals have fought to defend themselves from the slur that they “sleep around”. That said, studies show that they do have a greater sex drive, increased biological masculinisation, higher levels of testosterone, sexual confidence and fewer insecurities.

The UK gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell, has said of future sexuality that:

“[The] picture of human sexuality is much more complex, diverse and blurred than the traditional simplistic binary image of hetero and homo, so loved by straight moralists and – equally significantly – by many lesbians and gay men. If sexual orientation has a culturally-influenced element of indeterminacy and flexibility, then the present forms of homosexuality and heterosexuality are conditional. They are unlikely to remain the same in perpetuity. As culture changes, so will expressions of sexuality.” 

One thing we can thank television and media personalities for is that people say the more positive role models in characters or real life the more confident people are to come out themselves. True Blood, the deep South US vampire series has endless bisexual liaisons and its lead actress Anna Paquin who plays Sookie, despite being married to vampire Bill Compton in real life, came out as bisexual in 2010. British Dr Who spin-off series Torchwood was also famed for its positive portrayal of bisexuality and its lead actor John Barrowman being ogled by men and women alike. What we need is more positive bi visibility to combat both aspects of biphobia – fear of coming out and the prejudice that leads to bi erasure.

11 year old trans girl Sadie reminds the President Obama what ‘full’ inclusion and equality for ‘all’ mean

Published January 24, 2013 by Katy J Went

Words of wisdom and a personal plea from an 11 year old trans girl to the US President. 

‎”Sadie was so proud of President Obama for including the gay community in his inaugural address on Monday; however, she felt like the trans community wasn’t included,” Sage, Sadie’s mother, told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. “That inspired her to write her own ‘speech.'” www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/23/transgender-girl-obama-speech_n_2533298.html

President Obama made history during his Inauguration Speech on 21 January 2013 when he said everyone should have equal rights under the law:

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls [the influential women’s-rights Convention, probably the first to be organized by women in the West], and Selma [1965 Black rights marches on the Alabama capitol], and Stonewall [1969 LGBT uprising]…”

The US President continued:

“It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/21/obama-inauguration-speech-stonewall-gays_n_2520962.html

This the first time that a US president has addressed gay rights during an inauguration speech, but the trans community hoped that he would have gone further and been even more inclusive after mentioning women, Afro-Americans, gays and lesbians and the Stonewall uprising. Trans were a significant if not majority presence at Stonewall. The 1969 homophobic and transphobic NYPD police raid on a bar featured a large proportion of trans people including Afro-American trans and drag queens, and yet both trans and non-Caucasians have been somewhat airbrushed out of this part of LGBT history, not only by politicians but by the gay community and LGB historians. 

It’s a great start and Obama is the best President yet in that department (Clinton was pro-LGBT too), however, some trans have been waiting 44 years for recognition of their leading involvement in Stonewall (it was after all, in part, the NYC ordinance prohibiting wearing more than 3 items of women’s clothing that gave the dubious basis in US law for the raid on the Stonewall Inn – ie it was transphobic & dragphobic repression). 

 

 

It is a shame that many LGB/T organisations such as Stonewall England & Wales (Scotland is more inclusive) forget that you can’t spell S’onewall without a ‘t’. Neglecting trans rights on the basis that it would ‘drag’ the process because we are less politically acceptable could be classed as short-term practical expediency, but 44 years? Take the UK Equal Marriage campaign, no mention of trans, who have to divorce to transition, just of gays and straights. No mention of intersex at all. 

 

Now an 11 year old kid reminds us was true inclusion means. Sadie’s speech in full:  

“The world would be a better place if everyone had the right to be themselves, including people who have a creative gender identity and expression. Transgender people are not allowed the freedom to do things everyone else does, like go to the doctor, go to school, get a job, and even make friends.

 

Transgender kids like me are not allowed to go to most schools because the teachers think we are different from everyone else. The schools get afraid of how they will talk with the other kids’ parents, and transgender kids are kept secret or told not to come there anymore. Kids are told not to be friends with transgender kids, which makes us very lonely and sad.

When they grow up, transgender adults have a hard time getting a job because the boss thinks the customers will be scared away. Doctors are afraid of treating transgender patients because they don’t know how to take care of them, and some doctors don’t really want to help them. Transgender patients like me travel to other states to see a good doctor.
 
It would be a better world if everyone knew that transgender people have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else. We like to make friends and want to go to school. Transgender people want to get good jobs and go to doctors like they are exactly the same. It really isn’t that hard to like transgender people because we are like everyone else.”

 

Sadie transitioned from male to female in kindergarten, was then home schooled until recently and is now in public school fifth grade. Her mother is supportive and actively encouraged her to write the ‘essay’ to help her express herself. With affirmation at home, she has remained confident despite open discrimination and according to her mother, Sage:

“isn’t shy or ashamed of who she is,” who adds, “I’m always ‘on’ when we go out because I never know when she’ll strike up a conversation with the person in front of her in line at Trader Joe’s. When she chats with people, she introduces herself as, ‘Hi, I’m Sadie, my favorite color is pink, I’m vegan, and I’m transgender. Who are you?'”

Discrimination does not exist in the womb, being transgender does. It is great when young people teach adults a lesson in history, identity and hope.