March 31st is the annual International Transgender Day of Visibility. In recent years, even a casual observer may feel that transgender people are already very visible, and query the need for it to be marked by a day in the calendar. Whilst campaigning groups have promoted the message that “Some People are Trans,” the press have published a seemingly endless stream of news reports and feature articles about trans issues. Editorial policy might not always be sympathetic, but the battle for visibility seems to have been won.
Sadly, however, society has yet to “Get over it.” Trans people may be viewed as brave or fearful, heroes or villains, or rescuers or victims, but they are routinely labelled as trans and – as such – dismissed as some distinct homogeneous group, different to everyone else . Rarely are they seen as people, ordinary people indeed, going about their business and facing the daily challenges that are familiar to most people across society. Society still needs to get over the fact that “some teachers just happen to be trans; some engineers just happen to be trans; some accountants just happen to be trans.” Those are just three examples from employment. The same sentiment could involve family, friends and neighbours. To re-phrase the campaigning slogan, how can we promote the message that “Trans People are People. Get Over It.” Ordinary life and normal routines, however, do not sell newspapers, so this message needs to be fostered by trans people themselves in their own communities where they are valued as individuals who contribute to society. For those that wish to be visible, Transgender Day of Visibility is a great opportunity to raise their profile and say, “I happen to be trans as well”, safe in the knowledge that they are far from alone.
The Trade Union Movement provides another context for trans people to be visible safe in the knowledge that they are not alone, and one that is not limited to a single day. Trade unions are active throughout the year as they have been for over 150 years. Equalities are at the heart of the movement and, and as I write, the TUC is surveying the experience of LGBT workers, with a specific focus on trans people.
TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady said “We hope that this comprehensive research will let us shine a light on the range of issues faced by LGBT workers across the UK”.
But trade unions are far more than service providers. They are democratic organisations that are owned and run by their members to provide mutual support in the workplace and in society. My message to other trans people on TDoV is to join a trade union. They exist to support their members, including members who just happen to be trans. The policies and priorities of trade unions are influenced by those who are active within them and take on responsibilities, so I would follow up that message with a plea for trans people to also attend branch meetings, then take up training opportunities so that they can support their colleagues. Mutual support works both ways. My day-to-day work as a Union Rep involves bread and butter issues such as pay and conditions, health and safety, and policies and procedures. My colleagues know me as trade unionist who just happens to be trans. It isn’t an issue for them, but I know that I can count on their support on those occasions when trans issues need to be promoted in my workplace, across my union and across society.
Together we are stronger.