Today marks Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR). Every year on 20 November, clusters of people gather to remember the hundreds of transgender people whose lives were cut short by violence in the preceding year. In 2020, like everything else, the candles, the readings and the list of names will be Zoomed across the aether. But who are these people? It’s true that they were trans but overwhelmingly they were disadvantaged and living on the edge – often in prostitution – and mainly in the global south. It’s a far cry from the experiences of many trans people living in the relative safety of Britain.
Of the 350 people who died in the year to 30 September 2020, 82 per cent were from Latin America, including 152 from Brazil and 57 from Mexico. The stories are heartbreaking in their brevity: ‘Two people arrived riding a motorbike and one of them shot her indiscriminately while she was with a friend.’ That was Hilary Medina, a sex worker from Huila, Columbia. She was number 93 on the list curated by TransRespect. Aged just 22, Hilary was the same age as my own kids.
Fortunately, the UK is a much safer place for transgender people like me. We are protected by the law, and we have the same opportunities as everyone else. Our voices are heard in the press – including here in The Spectator – and we contribute across society. This year, there were no British names among the 350. That surely is something to celebrate.
Our problems are trivial by comparison; more often they are disputes over words and labels. This week, for example, Freddy McConnell finally lost a two-year legal battle to be registered as a father or a parent. McConnell, another transgender journalist, gave birth to the child in 2018; the courts decided, rightly in my view, that the child’s right to have a biologically accurate record was paramount.
But what about the reported increase in transgender hate crime across the UK? According to Stonewall UK, it demonstrates that ‘transphobia is everywhere’. Not in my experience; I’m inclined to agree with the Home Office, which suggested that the increase was largely due to better reporting and recording. That seems to be a reasonable analysis when transgender groups took offence to a sticker campaign by feminists in Edinburgh. The slogans were rooted in biological truths such as ‘Female is a biological reality’ and ‘Woman. Noun. Adult human female.’ James Morton, manager of the Scottish Trans Alliance, said: ‘Please log it by reporting on the Police Scotland online hate crime form. We need the stats.’
These stats are a far cry from those that included Hilary Medina, or the Counting Dead Women stats collected every year by Karen Ingala Smith. Ingala Smith’s list is sourced purely from the UK. She records the names of women killed by men or where a man is the principal suspect. Last year there were at least 115. It is similarly distressing reading: human beings whose lives were cut short by violent men. Jess Phillips reads them out in Parliament every year to mark International Women’s Day. Ingala Smith told me: ‘I support anyone who defies the gender stereotypes associated with their sex and certainly don’t think anyone should face violence, abuse or discrimination for doing so. But I wish that those who spout their platitudes on TDoR paid proportionate attention to men’s violence against women, girls and children.’
Today, as we transgender people enjoy the support of others, maybe tomorrow we could also spend more time reflecting on Ingala Smith’s list and rather less time taking offence at stickers, slogans, labels and words.
Debbie Hayton is a transgender teacher and journalist.
* This article was first published by The Spectator on 20 November 2020: Ignore Stonewall: Britain is a tolerant country for trans people like me.