Written By Dr Natacha Kennedy
Transphobic hate speech has an effect. Statistics on hate-crimes directed at trans people, have quadrupled since 2015 and that is despite only 1 in 7 trans people ever reporting crimes against them to the police. In other words this huge increase in transphobic hate-crime is the tip of the iceberg. In one report 80% of trans people had been victims of at least one hate-crime in the previous 12 months. Transphobia has become endemic and has increased exponentially since transphobic hate groups started their campaigns against us with media support.
When an anti-trans campaigner claims to have been “silenced” they get the full support of the media, whether they are transphobic academic, a “journalist” or a fading celeb, indeed rarely a day goes by without such a claim being made somewhere. Yet when trans model Munroe Bergdorf was permanently forced off Twitter last week by a constant barrage of transphobic hate, the media was silent.
The disparity could not be more extreme. Every time an anti-trans activist runs to the media to claim they are being silenced, they are effectively making a self-refuting statement. The fact that the media is repeatedly giving them the opportunity to make these claims means they are obviously not being silenced. The plethora of opaquely-funded transphobic campaign groups that have sprung up in recent years have spent a great deal of time loudly claiming that they are being “silenced”. The fact that they make these claims regularly in mainstream media confirms one thing above all else; that they are not being silenced at all.
In contrast trans people are systematically denied access to mainstream media to put our case. For example, according to Jeffrey Ingold of Stonewall, The Times published 324 articles about trans people last year, none of which were authored by trans people. Meanwhile anti-trans campaigners’ narratives are well-represented and repeated in most media platforms with no right of reply by trans people permitted.
This puts the Tories’ “freedom of speech” proposals for universities in context. Gavin Williamson is proposing to force universities and student unions to give platforms to homophobic and transphobic speakers. In effect the Tories have introduced official protection for hate speech in the UK; homophobia and transphobia are no longer to be considered hate speech. They have now been given full endorsement by the government, as “free speech”. Until trans people have the right to put our case in the Times, the Mail, on the BBC etc, on an equal footing to the transphobes, these “free-speech” measures will be nothing of the sort. Hate speech for transphobes is protected, free speech for trans people suppressed.
So while it is clear that trans people are being systematically silenced, or “no-platformed” by the media, transphobes are being given multiple platforms pretty much daily to say whatever they like however baseless or ridiculous. We know that when hate speech is permitted the groups at which that hate speech is directed are effectively disenfranchised and themselves become silenced. The contrast between the way the Tories are “protecting” homophobic and transphobic hate speech at universities and the way they are ignoring the, far greater problem of the exclusion of trans voices from mainstream media, is telling. Their excuse for protecting this hate speech is that students need to be “exposed to a variety of ideas”. As if transphobia and homophobia are not already widespread in our society. Like other forms of bigotry transphobia is not a set of ideas to be debated, it is a prejudice to be fought. There is no validity in any of the “arguments” against trans people, just as there is no validity in homophobia or any other prejudice. Trans people exist, any attempts to restrict our human rights is oppressive, there is no “debate”.
Finally you will have noticed that Williamson has indicated he will not only protect transphobic but also homophobic hate speech, as well as effectively promoting Islamophobia and racism through Prevent and its attacks on decolonising initiatives and the inclusion of Critical Race Theory. Since the current wave of transphobia started trans people have consistently said this will not stop with us. The evidence is that there is a huge amount of right-wing money pouring into “anti-gender” campaigns around the world, especially Europe, literally billions of dollars. This money is not just supporting transphobes, it is supporting homophobes, misogynists, anti-Semites, Islamophobes and racists. There is no hierarchy of oppression, only divide-and-rule. Just look at Poland where LGBT people are “banned” in parts of the country and women no longer have the right to choose what happens to their own bodies. In a country where transphobia is as widespread as it is the UK, you may think you are safe, but you are not.