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Monday, 7 December 2015

Trans People are Still Frightening some Parts of the Nation.

Under the Headline "Fast-track transgender teachers for a £30,000 grant, school heads told" (Monday 7th December 2015) in today's Telegraph, we are told that Schools are being offered £30,000 extra funding to hire and promote gay and transgender teachers.

It is clarified later in the article that "Schools can get a grant of up to £30,000 per project to provide training to existing teachers or recruit new staff to plug gaps in diversity, such as low number of gay or older teachers or staff with children. The fund encourages applications on the basis of so-called protected characteristics, defined by the Equality Act in 2010."

So in other words Schools don't have to promote Trans people to get the £30k; they have to become more diverse in their staffing to get £30k.

Why Headline Trans Teachers when it is really about Diversity?

The Telegraph (and I am sure the Mail tomorrow) singled out trans people, primarily because for their constituent reader group we are are still terrifying.

It is only 16 years ago that in the 1998 Consultation on the Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999, the (then Labour) government sought the public's
“views on whether there should be a specific exception (to the employment of Trans people) for jobs which involve working with children. If so should all children be regarded as vulnerable up until 18 … or is this unnecessarily restrictive? Information would be helpful about the merits of (i) a comprehensive approach permitting discrimination against transsexuals for all jobs in schools, and for any work involving substantial contact with children under age 18, during the gender re-assignment process plus one year, ... or  (ii) a narrower approach which allowed employers to exclude transsexuals from work bringing them in contact with children regarding changing facilities (e.g. swimming trips) and sleeping accommodation (e.g. boarding schools) during the gender re- assignment process…)."
In those pre-social media days, PFC was given less than 3 weeks to respond to the consultation. The kitchen table was turned into a mail room, with our kids and their friends paid a fiver each to pack envelopes as we endeavoured to quickly inform the trans community of the proposals so that they could respond to the Consultation. Ultimately, over 800 trans people and friends did respond pointing out, amongst other things,that the proposals would ultimately lead to the dismissal of many teachers, nurses, and doctors who were trans and already satisfactorily doing this work with children and vulnerable people. 

Thankfully the proposals were watered down, but less than a year later we had to support a trans woman at an employment tribunal. A social carer fought to keep a her job attending to a disabled young person - a job which she had been already doing satisfactorily for more than a year (DA-v-Suffolk County Council (Employment Tribunal, Nov 1999). The young person, and their parents knew about her transition. Thankfully they were more than happy to attend court and state that they were extremely happy with the service she provided and wished it to continue. Fortunately, her local authority employer did not succeed - but their assumption all along had been that the family would prefer not to have a trans woman as a carer.

It is a frequent assumption - usually by middle-managers who are primarily concerned with what the customer, client, patient, student, etc. will think. They never actually ask the customer, client, patient, student., etc what they think. Instead they assume that 'of course' they will not wish to receive a service from a trans person. Sadly in many quarters, the 19650s-1970s attitude that trans people are mentally unstable, sexual perverts, whose very presence will harm children and the vulnerable still persists. 

The truth is that we are still the people that Telegraph Readers think will harm the kids.

What is it like to have other people being frightened of you? 

It is grim.
I had always wanted to teach, but had left teacher training college in 1973 because I knew I needed to transition if I hoped to live. Eight years later, with several years of experience as a TEFL teacher, I applied again. The doctor who undertook the medicals for prospective teachers took one look at my history and said
"absolutely no way - YOU People (I used to hate the way they said that) cannot possibly imagine you could be let near other people's children".
Ten years later, in 1991, when my partner and I wanted to try for a family, we knew that no adoption agency would even look at any application of ours, so instead we hoped to obtain donor insemination through a licensed fertility clinic. I won’t bore you with the whole story (and it went on and on and on ….) but eventually we reached a clinic with a visionary clinician. He was all for it, but he did have to have the matter put before the clinic’s Ethics committee. The committee decided (and I am paraphrasing here) that my partner (now wife) Sarah could never be a good enough woman to be allowed to become a mother whilst she was in love with someone like me.
My anger knew no bounds. It was then that I realised why I had spent 5 years taking a part-time law degree; to fight that sort of injustice.

We challenged the clinic, and of course they backed down rather than have a precedent set in court, and we were then lucky enough to have the opportunities and adventures that come with raising four amazing, well balanced, carefree, children – whom we are often told are a credit to us.

I had been a scout leader and group scout leader for 10 years, but in 1992, just after our daughter was born and just before I came out (in the full ‘public glare’ sense) I resigned, knowing that the Scout Association would have felt it had no choice but to dismiss me. However, one former scout very kindly wrote to say that it didn't matter one jot and he thanked me for being the very best scout leader he and his mates could have ever had. He was right of course; I was the best scout leader they could have had – not least because I knew all that campfire training in the Girl Guides had to be put to some good use, one day. 

At the time I also gave up a post I had held every summer for 8 years, as head of a language school – again knowing that the Company of which our centre was a part, would have felt they would have no choice but to dismiss me.

And so it went on. In 2001, the parents of our daughter’s best friend rang up. The mother said she was extremely concerned to have discovered my background – and as her daughter regularly came to stay with us and they were 'naturally' concerned. I listened carefully to what she had to say and then replied;
“Yes, I really do understand how very difficult it must be for you and that you do have concerns. I must say I had very much the same reaction and level of concern when I discovered that you and your husband are ‘born again’ Christians.”
It was one of my wittier moments, and I will give Debbie her due - she roared with laughter and replied “touché”. We have been very good friends ever since, much as our daughters have remained friends despite moving to different parts of the country and moving into very different lives.

Is this Fear Real?

Yes it is. But it isn't a real fear.
In 2005, when the Gender Recognition Act 2004 was in the process of being developed, the government held a private and limited consultation with both the Anglican Church and Press for Change. PFC stuck by the rules and we responded without seeking further consultation with the trans community. We had however been naïve. The Anglican Church had forwarded the consultation to all of its ministers, and consequently over 800 of them responded to the Government. That consultation resulted in the religious exemptions in the The Gender Recognition (Disclosure of Information) (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Order 2005 which allow church ministers to grass on transsexual people, so as to ensure nobody accidentally conducts a marriage in an Anglican church of two people, one of whom is trans. I have copies of the responses made by Church Ministers to that consultation, and have gone through them all. 21% of them mentioned their concerns for the safety of the children in their churches if they were not allowed to discriminate against trans people. That was just ten years ago.

For some people, Trans people are still very frightening – mostly I suspect because they don’t know any of us, or rather they don’t know whether or not they know any of us. Partly that is our own fault; if we all came out, on mass, then they would certainly know that they knew at least one of us, possibly many more. 

Having now taught at a University for over twenty years, I know that by always being out as a trans man, I have personally ensured that thousands of my former students; young lawyers, HR managers, senior civil servants, judges etc. know that we really, really, are not at all frightening.  

Having said that, however, I still think we have a right to our privacy.

Some years ago, on her retirement, our friend Carol, who had been a primary school teacher for our each one of our four children came to visit. She said, she had something very important to say to Sarah and me. This is what she told us; Apparently, when she had been told that the children of a woman living with a transsexual were joining the school, she was sure she would meet 4 very damaged children. But, she wanted to tell us that having known our children and us, she now wished every child in that school could have had parents as thoughtful as Sarah and myself, in fact she wished every child in the school could have actually had Sarah and me as their parents.

It was the best thing that anyone I think has probably ever said to us. A vindication of the commitment we made to be truthful, fair, and considerate of our children as beings independent from ourselves. Carol had exonerated us of the guilt we had from daring to be so selfish as to want to have children and raise them.

And what has become of those children about whom everyone felt great concern because of me? In February, we as their parents will be bereft as all four of them will be in different continents, not one of them even in Europe. Our eldest daughter is going to teach and continue her own music in China, whilst our son is in Canada at University for a year, playing his cello with a local symphony orchestra and his trombone in a jazz ensemble. One of our twin daughters is in Australia picking oranges amongst other jobs on a gap year before going to University, and her sister is heading out to South and Central America to improve her Spanish and work on conservation projects before she also goes to University. 

As for us, we will be desperately waiting for next July when these wonderful young people will come home for a short while before the next series of adventures start. I am, of course, and rightly so, very proud of our kids – they are true contemporary world citizens, each with a strong conscience, an actioned environmental awareness, a tolerance which also means they do not judge others, a cleverness which they don’t flaunt, and a depth of understanding of what it is like to be comfortable in their own skin, which somebody like me could only dream of at their age.

These are the children people least needed to be worried about, because they were always truly wanted and will always be loved. As their parents we knew how privileged we were to be given the responsibility and role of helping them grow into themselves. But all we had to do, when we could stay awake, was tell them we loved them, often, and be true to them. Subsequently, we have been rewarded with children whom we now know as our friends. 

They are people of whom it will never be said that they are a waste of the world’s oxygen.