The transgender community is under strain like never before, from healthcare disparities and housing insecurity, to the impact of the culture wars. Cleo Madeleine, from our funded partner Gendered Intelligence, explores some of the pressing challenges facing trans Londoners, and the need for better conversation.
When we look at the challenges faced by the trans community, there’s inequality across the board, as with any marginalised group. But right now, more than ever, trans people are one of the groups facing particularly serious pressures around healthcare, housing, employment and education.
A lot of this is the result of the worsening political climate towards trans people in the UK and an increasingly hostile media narrative. Since the Gender Recognition Act came into law in 2004, there's been a sharp turn against transgender people, alongside the rise of the culture wars globally.
The consequences of this have been dire. There has been a backsliding on LGBT issues in the UK in general, particularly on the inclusion of trans people. Children are facing exclusion in schools, and loss of support. There are long wait times of four to five years for specialist gender identity services, and trans people are also facing difficulties accessing sexual and mental health support, as well as day-to-day medical care.
Anti-discrimination protections in workplaces and educational establishments are weakening under the guise of free speech. It’s a troubling situation. Trans people are feeling this pressure and ultimately, it’s feeding into a growing inequality in the UK.
Our educational work provides spaces for people to ask questions without any judgement... it’s an opportunity to meet trans people and realise that we’re not these frightening stereotypes that you sometimes see in the media. That like everyone else, we’re just trying to work, find housing, to go to school. That we’re your neighbours, colleagues, friends, families.
Advocating for change
At Gendered Intelligence, we’re working on several fronts to address these issues. Our work involves public engagement, influencing public policy, and improving public understanding of trans people. We're engaging with the media and policymakers to advocate for change.
We also focus on outreach in workplaces and educational establishments, where we provide support and education about trans issues. Youth work particularly, is the lifeblood of our organisation. We directly support young people who are struggling and seeking a space where they can be themselves.
We do a lot of healthcare advocacy work for trans people who aren’t getting the access they need. We’re working to advocate for change within the NHS to try and bring waiting times down, and to try and take some of the heat out of the conversation around trans people's healthcare.
There’s so much misinformation out there. What we’re talking about here often isn’t people trying to get access to what we call medical transition, but just to psychological support or to conversations with medical experts about gender identity. The whole system is really under strain. What you see is a cascading effect where people end up stuck on waiting lists for years and years. There's no support from anywhere else in the system. And that feeds into poor mental health. It feeds into risk of poverty, risk of employment insecurity and a wellbeing crisis.
We’ve started really looking into housing insecurity in the trans community. We know from studies, mainly in the US, that this is a problem in the community. This is for lots of reasons – for example a lack of family and peer support, or people being put into exploitative positions by landlords. Sometimes people are denied housing opportunities in the first instance because they’re trans – turned away by landlords, or sheltered living providers.
These are all situations in which if you’re already in a precarious position, or if you’re struggling with mental health or addiction, you’re already in a situation where you’re struggling. Being trans can end up being a deciding factor in whether or not you get support. We’ve noticed that there isn’t a lot of work being done on housing insecurity, particularly more broadly, when you look at people who are couch surfing, for example.
We're setting up community support groups that provide mutual support, share knowledge and experiences. This allows us to identify those affected by housing insecurity and understand the risks involved. These are still early days, but the results have already been really promising, and we’ve got some initial takeaways. It’s predominantly younger people facing housing insecurity, particularly those without family support. It's lower income people. It's overwhelmingly people of colour. There is a real sense that there is a part of the trans community that is especially marginalised – like trans people of colour that are really struggling and aren’t being reached might now.
We're setting up community support groups that provide mutual support... to identify those affected by housing insecurity and understand the risks involved. It’s predominantly younger people facing housing insecurity, particularly those without family support. It's lower income people. It's overwhelmingly people of colour.
Culture war casualties
Unfortunately, these situations are being aggravated by the direction the UK is going in. One of the silent casualties of the culture war has been the loss of conversation between reasonable people. There's this misconception that either you're for trans people or against trans people. In reality the vast majority of people don't especially care and don't even know any trans people.
A misconception has been allowed to develop that you can't have a conversation about trans issues without offending someone or saying something wrong. And that's where much bigger problems start to breed. It's where you have employers who will turn away applications from trans candidates or who will fail to provide support for trans employees - not because they don’t like trans people, but because they don't know how to provide that support.
Our educational work provides spaces for people to ask questions without any judgement. And because our trainers are trans themselves, it’s an opportunity to meet trans people and realise that we’re not these frightening stereotypes that you sometimes see in the media. That like everyone else, we’re just trying to work, find housing, to go to school. That we’re your neighbours, colleagues, friends, families.
My advice for people and workplaces that are starting to have these conversations is, don't be scared. It’s not going to be as bad as you think it is. As someone who’s been professionally talking about gender identity for five years now, and crucially as a trans person, I still get it wrong all the time. All you can ever do is try, learn and move on. These conversations aren’t always easy, but they don’t have to be combative. What most trans people want – honestly, what pretty much anyone wants – is to be seen, heard, understood and respected.
One of the silent casualties of the culture war has been the loss of conversation between reasonable people. There's this misconception that either you're for trans people or against trans people. In reality the vast majority of people don't especially care and don't even know any trans people.
About Gendered Intelligence
Gendered Intelligence, established in 2008, is a registered charity that works to increase understandings of gender diversity and improve the lives of trans people.
Our vision is of a world where diverse gender expressions are visible and valued, and where trans, non-binary, gender diverse and gender questioning people live healthy, safe and fulfilled lives.
We are a trans-led and trans-involving grassroots organisation with a wealth of lived experience, community connections of many kinds, and a depth and breadth of trans community knowledge that is second to none. The team has a variety of professional and academic specialisms and qualifications including training and facilitation, youth work, policy, the arts, and doctorates in trans-related studies.
We aim to be thought leaders in this field, bringing positivity, passion and professionalism to everything we do. With our open and non-judgmental approach we want to enable nuanced discussion.
Find out more at https://genderedintelligence.co.uk/index.html