In some non-coronavirus news, Cambridge’s transgender community are being let down by pub closures
The university city of Cambridge only has one transgender support group – Diamonds.
Started by a woman called Diane Aitchinson, Diamonds began as a cosy pub meetup for “girls who like to sparkle”.
But the disappearance of the city’s pubs is threatening its existence, because without LGBT+ friendly pubs, members of Diamonds – who come from Cambridge itself and surrounding counties – have nowhere to meet.
Diamonds has been quietly making history in Cambridge’s pubs for the past 20 years, with meetings beginning at a time when trans people weren’t met with the acceptance that is more common today.
And while information is now readily available online, Diamonds continues to be a lifeline for trans and non-binary people to meet other trans folk in real life.
Transgender group meets in gay pubs.
Gem Taylor, 52, moved to Cambridge 14 years ago and said that Diamonds had been a lifeline for her.
“I’d always had these feelings and kept them a secret. The major problem was that until the internet came along I had no idea [being transgender] was really an option. I didn’t see myself as gay, but I didn’t have the language for it,” she told Cambridge News.
She said: “I had gone looking [for a group] a few years before and had this notion that the Bird in Hand on Newmarket Road was a gay pub.”
But the Bird in Hand had changed management, and the new owners weren’t so gay friendly – meaning that Diamonds had moved bases.
“I finally found them mentioned in a review online. I web-searched ‘transgender people Cambridge’ and there was nothing else that came up,” she said.
“Someone had been to the Rose and Crown [on Newmarket Road] and had to walk through a crowd of seven-foot transgender women to get to the bar, so had put their ‘horrible’ experience in a review,” Gem said, explaining how she found the group for the first time.
Going to the Rose and Crown, Gem said: “I walked in and found them all there. Di looked at my long hair and nails and said ‘you’re not a biker are you? You must be one of ours then.’”
Since then, Gem has become a key figure in the group, which she says is crucial for trans people given how much misleading information is online.
Gay pub closures in Cambridge.
Cambridge has one of the largest populations of LGBT+ people outside of London in the UK, making it vital for some of those people to have a place to meet.
But the closures of gay pubs is following the same trend as in the rest of the country.
Gem said that Diamonds has “a habit of closing down pubs”, pointing out that they’ve attempted to make seven pubs into their regular haunt, but seen landlords die, be bought out and the atmosphere change.
In some cases, the pub itself has actually been demolished. “A new gay pub just never turned up in Cambridge,” said Gem.
It takes, on average, 18 months for a trans person in the UK to see a specialist at a Gender Identity Clinic after being referred by their GP. Some people wait two or three years from first coming out to their doctor to seeing a gender specialist.
This makes groups like Diamonds even more important.
Hate crimes against transgender people in Cambridge.
The number of transphobic attacks in Cambridge have risen every year since 2015, just as they have in the rest of the country.
For a group like Diamonds, meeting in a pub where members can feel safe is of the utmost importance. This is especially true because many of the trans women attending the meetups will be at the very beginning of their journey with gender.
“Very occasionally there are issues with over-friendliness from the other customers. You can only cope with one person saying ‘are you having a good night?’ so many times,” Gem said.
“It very rarely amounts to anything, but there are people who have aggressive friendliness down to a fine art.”
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She explained further: “Sometimes men or women who are emboldened by their drink want to know a little bit more than is appropriate. Sometimes they are overly critical about why we are there.
“Under those circumstances, we need the staff to step in. We need managers who can see we might need a bit of protection.”