Trans people aren't a threat to women's rights, the state is

Trans people aren't a threat to women's rights, the state is
A call for unity — As far-right radicalism escalates in the UK, it's time we started treating transphobic hate crimes, anti-migrant protests, and police violence against women as part of the same problem.

On Saturday afternoon, two demonstrations took place in London. One outside New Scotland Yard and Charing Cross Police Station to stand against The Metropolitan Police in light of the serial rape and and child sex offence cases brought against former officers David Carrick and Hussain Chehab respectively. And another in Soho Square to grieve the loss of Brianna Ghey, a 16-year-old transgender girl who was murdered in broad daylight in a Warrington park. The suspects are also teenagers.

These two tragedies and the resulting demonstrations are symptomatic of the current political landscape of the UK, where there is an undeniable attack on women’s rights. Several MP’s celebrated the overturn of Roe v. Wade in Parliament, the highest ever number of rapes within a 12-month period was recorded in the year ending September 2022, while cuts to services for sexual assault, domestic violence and sexual health – as well as social care and welfare more broadly – have left women bearing the brunt of Tory government policy with increasing precariousness. Of what services remain, not all offer support to trans women. All this happening against a backdrop of successive, horrendous revelations about abuse of women by the police.

But when it comes to the media, the conversation around women’s rights and safety avoids these issues and focuses on something else: the trans community. Trans people make up less than one percent of the UK population, and yet a 2020 report showed there had been a 400 percent increase in media coverage of trans people in the 10 years leading up to it. Most of which is negative, opinion-focussed, and by commentators and pundits who are not themselves trans. Trans women are especially demonised; rejected from the definition of women and positioned in the conversations about safety as a threat. This discourse is often presented as a “debate”, but the hyper-fixation on the imagined threat of transness – not only to women, but to ‘normality’ – has created a climate of fear and hostility that is putting trans lives at risk. Beyond that, it has no bearing on reality.

Cis women and trans women face many of the same threats, all of which are rooted in patriarchal violence. A 2018 report from Stonewall shows that 7.5 percent of women experienced domestic violence between March 2017 and March 2018, with that figure rising to 16 percent for trans women. The same report states that trans survivors are one of the most hidden groups of domestic abuse survivors. Women in low income households are significantly less likely to access the healthcare they need and, in 2022, 26,234 trans adults in England were waiting for a first appointment with an adult gender dysphoria clinic. 

As well as shared concerns, in 2017 Stonewall found that one in 10 young transgender people are subjected to death threats and 92 percent have considered taking their own lives, with a further 45 percent attempting suicide. With 40 percent of LGBTQ+ young people never being taught anything about LGBT issues at school, queer visibility and community in other spaces is vital for young people to feel represented and seen. However, queer visibility is being attacked, increasingly by the far right.

More and more, the anti-trans lobby united with the far-right. Classic tactics of divide and conquer are used to pit cis and trans women against each other, destabilising efforts of community and solidarity and stoking hatred under the false pretence of protecting children. 

To contextualise Brianna’s murder alongside other tragedies this month – a Black school girl beaten whilst teachers looked on, a fascist demonstration outside a hotel occupied by migrants desperately seeking refuge – shows an escalation of far-right violence in the UK.  The media and government continuously stokes the flames of imagined threats to society, and yet it’s the same marginalised communities being positioned as threats who are feeling the blistering heat. A white person struggling to feed their family or find work is encouraged to blame a Black or migrant neighbour instead of the Conservative decimation of the economy. Instead of allowing us to unite around the same enemies, cis people are encouraged to see a trans person as their biggest threat instead of the patriarchy.

Women – trans, cis, Black, migrant – all live in fear in a society where bigotry runs the headlines and state violence goes unchecked. It would be hard to forget the death of Sarah Everard, a woman kidnapped, raped and murdered by serving police officer Wayne Couzens in March 2021. But while many rushed to dismiss Couzens as an anomaly or a “bad apple”, an IPOC investigation from 2021 found that more than 750 Met police employees have faced sexual misconduct allegations since 2010. Only 83 were sacked. Everard’s death saw thousands take to the street in protest and The Met vowed to never allow anything like this to happen again. This weekend, almost two years on, Copwatch Network set off rape alarms outside Charing Cross Police station – a nod to a previous action by feminist and trans-inclusive direct action group Sisters Uncut – to bring attention to yet another story of horrific violences performed by the police. 

The demo on Saturday (February 18) was to raise the alarm on men like David Carrick, who was found guilty of ‘85 serious offences, including rapes, sexual assaults, false imprisonment, and coercive and controlling behaviour, which included locking the women in small cupboards and whistling at them as if they were a dog’ and jailed for life. It was to raise the alarm on men like Hussain Chehab, who admitted four counts of sexual activity with a girl aged 13 to 15, three counts of making indecent photographs of a child, and sexual communication with a child.

The Met is riddled with institutionalised racism and misogyny. Officers drunk on power are emboldened by other officers to share rape jokes and pictures of dead women, and then take to our streets to do whatever they want to whoever they want. This is the real threat to women and children, and yet it is being overshadowed by the media storm surrounding the legal and medical rights of trans people, which have little to no bearing on the rest of society. The rhetoric from fascists and TERFs would have you believe that rights and justice exist in scarcity. But the liberation of marginalised communities can only be collective. Nobody has ever gained rights by stripping others of theirs, and none of us will truly be free until we’re all free.

Whilst the flowers we laid for her are already cleared away, Briana Ghey’s legacy must be fighting so that all other trans children can become adults. As trans people we have always been pushing, but more than ever we need our cis allies to join us. We have to link the dots between the systematic state and media attacks on trans people, migrants rights and women’s rights. The obsession with identities must become an obsession with the state, the police, and the mainstream media – institutions that truly hold and abuse their power.

Brianna’s death is devastating and rippled through a community as if we all knew her personally. No candles will ever be bright enough, no vigils quiet enough, and no protests loud enough to mourn our sister.

Liv is a grassroots organiser and performer bouncing between SE15 and N15. They create live art, sometimes alone but more often with bands and collectives. Their sell out night ‘How To Catch A Pig’ is a celebration of creatives who organise against the state with a focus on queer and trans performers.

Tommy is a non binary activist, community organiser, performer and DJ currently living in South East London.

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