November has always been marked by contrasting yet significant events in the UK. From joyous celebrations with bonfires and fireworks on the 5th for Guy Fawkes Night to the deeply solemn Remembrance Day on the 11th, where we honour the fallen armed forces members.
November is also significant for several other reasons, as we highlighted the importance of ToDay last year. This year, we would like to take some time to talk about one of the consequences of intolerance: Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). This annual observance on November 20th honours the memory of the transgender people who were lost in needless acts of anti-transgender violence.
Before we discuss the importance of this day itself, let us take a moment to clarify what being transgender means.
What is a “transgender” person?
Transgender is a term used to describe a person whose gender identity doesn’t align with the sex they were assigned at birth.
When babies are born, they are assigned a labelled gender (male or female) based on physical characteristics. Doctors and parents commonly refer to this as the baby’s ‘sex.’ Most people identify with their assigned sex, which forms their gender identity — how a person experiences their gender.
However, for transgender individuals, their gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth. If someone assigned male at birth identifies and lives as a woman, they are a transgender woman. Similarly, if someone assigned female at birth identifies and lives as a man, they are a transgender man.
It is worth emphasising that being transgender is not a choice or a phase. It is a fundamental aspect of a person’s identity that emerges before a person can articulate it. Just like cisgender individuals who are comfortable with the gender to which they are assigned at birth, transgender people also have a consistent gender identity. Some transgender people choose to identify as neither a male nor a female (or as a combination of male and female) but still consistently use terms such as “non-binary” or “genderqueer” to describe how they identify.
Instead, some transgender individuals will choose to undergo a process known as “Transitioning” to live as closely in a way that aligns with their gender identity as possible. As this is a personal journey, not all transgender individuals choose to undergo the same steps, as each person has a unique experience. Some steps might include:
Name and Pronouns - Many transgender individuals choose a name that aligns with their gender identity and ask others to use correct pronouns (such as he/him, she/her, or they/them) that reflect their gender.
Presentation - Transgender people might change their clothing, hairstyle, and overall appearance to be more congruent with their gender identity.
Hormone Therapy - Some transgender individuals opt for hormone therapy, which involves taking hormones (such as estrogen or testosterone) to induce physical changes like voice deepening or breast development.
Surgery - Some transgender individuals choose to undergo surgeries, such as chest surgery (mastectomy) or reconstruction surgery, to align their physical characteristics with their gender identity.
Gender Marker and Name Change: Transgender individuals can legally change their gender marker and name on identification documents like passports, driver's licenses, and birth certificates to reflect their gender identity.
Protection Against Discrimination: Legal steps may also involve advocating for legal protections against discrimination based on gender identity in areas such as employment, housing, and healthcare.
Emotional and Social Support
Therapy and Support Groups: Many transgender individuals seek therapy or support from mental health professionals who specialise in gender identity issues. Support groups also provide a safe space to share experiences and advice.
Family and Friends: Emotional support from loved ones can be crucial during this time. Acceptance and understanding from friends and family often play a significant role in a transgender person's well-being.
Numerous studies and research in the fields of psychology, medicine, and neuroscience confirm that being transgender is a valid aspect of identity. Here are some of the most influential organisations in the UK that support this:
The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP): One of the leading psychiatric organisations in the UK recognises that being transgender is a natural and normal human variation. They advocate for affirmative and supportive approaches in the treatment of transgender individuals and emphasise the importance of respect for their gender identity.
The British Psychological Society (BPS): The professional body for psychologists in the UK promotes inclusivity and diversity in its guidelines. BPS also provides resources and training for psychologists to support transgender individuals, fostering a positive and affirming therapeutic environment.
NHS England (National Health Service): They offer guidance on gender dysphoria and transgender healthcare, emphasising a patient-centred approach. NHS Gender Identity Clinics provide specialised care for transgender individuals, including access to hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgeries.
Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS): A specialised service in the NHS for children and adolescents experiencing difficulties with their gender identity. They work closely with families and young people, acknowledging the significance of early intervention and understanding in developing a child's gender identity. They are based in London and Leeds.
To summarise, the answer is in the question — A person. Regardless of identity, everyone deserves the same respect, dignity and equal treatment. Tolerance is pivotal in fostering a society in which diversity is embraced.
Reflecting and Remembering: Transgender Day of Remembrance
The history behind Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) goes back to the early ’90s. Remember when AOL (America Online) had an instant messaging service? The excitement of logging into a chatroom with a screen name to talk to friends? This virtual space acted as a safe place for trans people. Still, most virtual spaces were constantly banned after AOL falsely kept declaring the rooms as “sexual content”, and embargos were placed on chat rooms for associated words to do with being transgender. It wasn’t until 1994 that AOL finally gave in to customer demands to lift the frustrating embargo.
A year later, Gwendolyn Ann Smith started “The Gazebo” after more lenient moderation on the service. Gathering over 20,000 users, the chat could range from humorous activities, such as celebrity gossip and rampant fish puns one moment, to collectively helping a member going through a crisis the next.
At some point in November 1998, several members happened to be discussing the murder of Rita Hester. Rita was a black transgender woman murdered by an individual she allowed in her apartment in Boston. Rita had also previously expressed her views to a local LGBTQ newspaper around the murder of another transgender woman by the name of Chanelle Pickett in Boston, stating that she was afraid of what would happen if the suspect was able to get off with a light punishment, further saying that “It’ll just give people a message that it’s OK to do this.”
Gwendolyn commented in The Gazebo that it was intriguing that both victims had three things in common. Both victims were in Boston. Both victims had visited a bar, and both were attacked in late November. Another member joins the conversation and asks, “Who’s Chanelle Pickett?”. Being a recent case, Gwendolyn was horrified at the thought that a serial killer could be in the local area and that it was shocking how people were not aware of a recent murder.
This event then led Gwendolyn to create the website “Remembering Our Dead”, which is still running today, hoping that the website will not need to exist one day. She also co-founded the first Transgender Remembrance Day back in 1999 (which was also the year when The Gazebo was sadly shut down), where the names of all those killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice are read aloud from the previous November. This annual observance is essential as it proves that the victims are remembered and honoured. This reading also doubles as a call to action that communities can do better to eliminate discrimination.
Even today, there is an increase in LGBTQ+ hate crimes, and to make matters worse, most cases are unreported. In a recent October report conducted by Stonewall (aptly named after the 1969 Stonewall Inn riots), one of the most prominent LGBTQ+ charities in Europe, they highlighted an 11% increase in hate crimes against those who choose to identify as transgender.
Conversion Therapy: More harm than good
Alarmingly, some of these hate crimes take the guise of conversion therapy. It is an archaic practice that has the false allure of “curing” or “suppressing” one's identity, and this can come in many forms. So-called conversion therapy is often connected to personal perceptions around medical/mental health, religion, or cultural backgrounds.
As such, it might involve someone praying over the top of you, being forced to eat/drink something to “purify your body”, being restrained in an electric chair and given a shock to recondition, forced to inhale smelling salts or other chemicals, or outright shame and psychological abuse.
That does not sound like the kind of therapy that helps. This is why this unethical practice is illegal in several countries worldwide, like Canada, Brazil, Ecuador, Spain, Germany and France, to name a few. This is because such inhumane methods can lead to long-term harm, including:
Deterioration of Self-Esteem
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Strained Family Relationships
Isolation and Alienation
If you or someone you know requires support, Galop is a dedicated charity providing compassionate assistance and advocacy services for LGBTQ+ individuals facing hate crime, domestic abuse, or sexual violence and also offer advice and guidance to the survivors of conversion therapy.
Galop also run the National Helpline for LGBTQ+ Victims and Survivors of Abuse and Violence and can be called on 0800 999 5428.
Remembering the present
While all the focus seems to have shifted to the territorial conflict in Israel, the war between Russia and Ukraine continues.
However, it seems that the LGBTQ community in sovereign areas of Ukraine are experiencing increased social tolerance, driven by the country's desire to align closer with its Western allies and protect all LGBTQ individuals by supplying aid and fighting for their homeland.
As reported by Yahoo News, in March 2023, a draft law was proposed in the Ukrainian Parliament to allow same-sex couples to register for civil partnerships, granting them similar rights to heterosexual couples. While the bill has not yet passed, its introduction represents a significant development in advancing LGBTQ rights during the war.
The ongoing war in Ukraine has since disrupted the support systems for the LGBTQ community. Still, there is hope that diminishing social intolerance and further legal protections can mitigate the harm caused by these disruptions.
In contrast, The Guardian reports that Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine have seen a deterioration in LGBTQ rights, with the Russian government implementing anti-LGBTQ laws. A unanimously approved bill passed by the Kremlin now bans the following:
Medical transitioning and intervention, with the only exception being the treatment of abnormal congenital disabilities
Legal transitioning for official documents
Marriage in which a person has “changed gender.”
Transgender people can no longer become foster/adoptive parents
Discussion Points for Equality and Diversity
Why bother understanding and respecting a person's identity?
Do you know what counts as a hate crime?
How can schools, workplaces, and public spaces become more inclusive for transgender individuals, fostering a sense of belonging and acceptance?