Comment: Stonewall does great work for gay kids but what about anti-trans bullying?

Paris Lees January 23, 2014
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Transgender broadcaster and journalist Paris Lees writes on trans bullying in schools, and asks why Stonewall campaigns only against anti-gay bullying, and not anti-trans.

Did you hear about the schoolboy who killed himself following months of homophobic abuse? Ayden Keenan-Olson was 14. He made 20 reports of homophobic bullying to his school. And that’s it now, because of the ugly way he was treated he’ll never be able to see how beautiful the world can be. And how many of us – gay or trans – can say we don’t know what it feels like to be afraid to go to school?

On the whole, parents are becoming more understanding these days and kids are coming out sooner. Previous generations may have been less likely to come out at school, but they weren’t less likely to be bullied. I was bullied for ‘talking like a girl’ and ‘walking like a poof’ and had constant taunts, ridicule and the occasional kick in the face. When I got home I was bullied by my father for the same reasons. Stop talking like a poof, he’d shout, as he gave me a clip ’round the earhole. I was terrified of going to school and terrified of going home. The only time I felt truly safe was when I walked the dog, miles into the woods, where I’d imagine being old enough to move away. Smalltown boy, or something.

Stonewall is doing great work to tackle homophobic bullying in schools. Good for them. They have the resources and clout to actually get into classrooms and make a real difference. There are other organizations doing similarly wonderful work – LGBT History Month and Schools Out, for example. The difference between those two and Stonewall, however, is that Stonewall only works to stop gay kids from being bullied. They’re going into classrooms and teaching kids that it’s wrong to pick on someone for being gay, but they’re not telling those same kids that it’s wrong to pick on someone for being trans. Hang on, you might ask, why isn’t there a trans charity doing that? The answer is: there aren’t any. At least none with the funds and reach that Stonewall boasts.

Imagine an anti-racism campaign that only told kids not to pick on their Chinese classmates, while ignoring the tide of racist abuse directed at other ethnic minorities. Why bother having the conversation about racist bullying if you’re not going to look at all racist bullying? The same is true of gender-based bullying – aka homophobia, transphobia and sexism. Ask yourself: If kids are killing themselves because parents, charities and schools can’t protect them from homophobic bullying, what do you think it’s like for trans kids? I remember what it was like and it was awful.

My father’s family no longer speaks to me after I wrote an article for the New Statesman last year discussing the violence and verbal abuse I endured both at school and home for being ‘different’. They say I’m a liar. This is what happens, isn’t it, when we speak out about abuse? I’m a big woman now, though, and I won’t be bullied or silenced by anyone. No matter how painful it might be to sever ties with the very people who should be there to support me.

How do you find that strength when you are 12 though? And how many children, today, are too scared to catch the bus that will get them to school on time? How many boys will ‘forget’ their PE kit because they don’t want to be humiliated for being ‘girly’? How many will bunk off and run into the woods so they can be alone for a while?

I was considered a ‘problem child’ and I agree I must have been challenging at times. Now that I’m no longer bullied, though, people seem to get along with me just fine. I’ve been allowed to enjoy my potential. I can’t get the image of Ayden out of my head, and every other desperately lonely kid out there who feels like life is hopeless. Even a kid like Ayden, who was fully supported at home, couldn’t be saved. When are we going to allow all our children to enjoy their potential? When are we going to stop trans kids from being bullied? And what are you going to do about it, Stonewall?

In October, Paris topped this year’s Independent on Sunday Pink List. Along with being a columnist for GT and DIVA, she regularly writes articles for the mainstream press.

A version of this story was originally published in  for Gay Times magazine‘s January edition.

Following the announcement on Ben Summerskill’s resignation, Ms Lees told PinkNews: “There is no doubt that Ben Summerskill has achieved great things for the gay community in Britain, I also have no doubt that Ruth Hunt will continue this good work. I hope, however, that this is an opportunity for Stonewall to reinvent itself and look at what it stands for in 21st century Britain now that many of the legal and social struggles it was set up to combat have been won.

“I understand that in the past prominent trans activists asked Stonewall to let trans people campaign on their own issues. I certainly understand that request, but we can’t ignore the fact that Stonewall is well funded, respected and professional, and I firmly believe there are many areas where we cannot separate combatting homophobia from transphobia. I look forward to the discussions that now look likely to happen happen between Stonewall and the trans community.

“I wish Ruth and Stonewall well, sadly we still need charities that fight prejudice.”

As with all comment, this does not necessarily reflect the views of PinkNews.

More: Ben Summerskill, comment, paris lees, Ruth Hunt, Stonewall

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