Current Affairs

Julia Grant, trans rights pioneer, dies aged 64

Ella Braidwood January 2, 2019
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Julia Grant

Trans pioneer Julia Grant, who was the subject of one of the first ever documentaries made about trans issues, has died following a short illness.

Grant featured in the ground-breaking BBC Two documentary series A Change of Sex, which followed her transition using the NHS, including her surgery and hormone replacement therapy, from 1979 to 1999.

A Change of Sex, directed by David Pearson, is believed to be the first time a trans person’s transition was documented on mainstream television.

Julia Grant passes away following short illness

The series, however, proved controversial among the trans community, with some condemning the intrusive methods used in the filming and the usage of Grant’s dead name.

Melvin Taylor, a friend of Grant’s, confirmed to PinkNews that the trans campaigner passed away in the early hours of Wednesday morning (January 2) after suffering from a short illness.

“Julia gave many people the courage, like she had, to become the butterfly they wanted to be.”

—Melvin Taylor, a friend of Julia Grant

Born in 1954 in Preston, Grant was brought up in the Lancashire town of Fleetwood, before moving to London in 1974.

She was first shown working as a caterer manager in A Change of Sex.

Grant later moved to Manchester, where she owned and operated gay venue Hollywood Showbar.

She published a book called Just Julia: The Story of an Extraordinary Woman in 1994, which detailed her own transition and the struggles facing trans people in the UK.

In recent years, Grant has campaigned to protect Manchester’s Gay Village, which is under threat from property developers.

She also helped to set up Benidorm Gay Pride.

Trans campaigners pay tribute to “pioneer” Julia Grant

LGBT+ rights campaigners have paid tribute to Grant.

Taylor and his wife Anne told PinkNews: “When Julia first did her televised operation in 1979 it lay the ground for the many beautiful trans people to see the light.

“I have to say Julia gave many people the courage, like she had, to become the butterfly they wanted to be and become the person they wanted to be.”

Taylor said Grant’s work had helped “thousands” of people.

“She was larger than life and what you saw is what you got, but she had one great big heart of gold,” Taylor continued.

“She did so much for charity and the gay community.”

Helen Belcher, co-founder of Trans Media Watch, told PinkNews: “I only met Julia once, and she was obviously a forceful character. Folk are bound to find such people controversial.”

Belcher continued: “She was the first person whose transition was documented on television. It gave information across the mass media which was in very short supply in 1979—even if that information was distorted through the media’s desire to simplify.

“She gave hope that transition was possible under the NHS to people who had huge difficulties in finding any kind of support network.

A Change of Sex was very much of its time.

“Many documentaries have sought to do the same thing since, so it does come across as intrusive and prurient now, but there had been nothing like it before.”

Belcher also posted on Twitter about one controversial scene from A Change of Sex, in which Grant takes a “grilling” from John Randall, the then head of Charing Cross Hospital’s Gender Identity Clinic, GIC, about how she knew that she is a woman.

Belcher said: “And that question also stayed with me for years, delaying my own transition.”

She said the documentary showed “how the media and medics have treated trans people for years,” but added thad she has seen “some improvement since then.”

Tributes to Julia Grant on Twitter
Trans campaigner Theresa Davis pays tribute to Julia Grant. (helresa/Twitter)

Trans activist Theresa Davis posted on Twitter: “Today I received the sad news that Julia Grant passed away last night, Julia was a pioneer in allowing the TV cameras to follow her transition and treatment in the late 70s.

“I had the pleasure of meeting her early in my transition.. Shortly after my own TV appearance.. RIP Julia.”

Gay rights campaigner and Manchester Liberal Democrat leader John Leech said in a statement: “I’m really sad to hear the news that Julia Grant has passed away.

“She was rightfully looked up to by many as a leader in the LGBTQ+ community, in particular here in Manchester, but also across the country.

“Throughout her life, she took on issues that others couldn’t quite bring themselves to and, in the process, changed the course of thousands of people’s lives.”

Scottish actor Annie Wallace wrote on Twitter: “So sorry to hear the sad news today of the death of an old friend, Julia Grant.

“A true trans pioneer on British television and beyond. Had the pleasure of working with her on several pride events as well as running her websites.”

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