Tackling homophobia in school? You need to start with your own language

Former teacher Jonathan Charlesworth explains how our confidence to provide support to someone ‘coming out’ or to stop, then prevent, homophobic name-calling or bullying all starts with having self-assurance about the words we use.

If you’re a school teacher, college tutor or university lecturer eager to support your pupils or students regarding sexual orientation matters, and keen to challenge homophobia or biphobia, may I suggest the best place to start is with vocabulary. I’ve worked for over thirty years in Education: as a teacher and successively as the Executive Director of Educational Action Challenging Homophobia. EACH was established to affirm LGBT+ people and help employers and institutions meet their legal and social responsibilities regarding homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying or harassment through training, consultancy and resources.

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Why is LGBT+ teacher training so important?

Dr Elly Barnes MBE is CEO and Founder of Educate & Celebrate, a leading charity who work with schools to transform them into being LGBT+ inclusive. She was voted #1 in The Independent on Sunday’s Rainbow List 2011. 

Who would like to live in a world where we are all treated equally and fairly?… Then let’s begin our journey to LGBT+Inclusion…

As teachers, we all have enough to do on a daily basis in our school already without adding in yet another initiative….which is exactly why at Educate & Celebrate we do not advocate that you write more lesson plans, but simply employ strategies that make LGBT+Inclusivity part of the fabric of school life.

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LGBT exclusion in politics – how far have we come?

Jennie Kermode reflects on the election of the UK’s first openly gay candidate, a historical moment in LGBT history, and considers the extent of homophobia and transphobia in politics today. How far have we really come?

Who will be the UK’s first trans MP? Labour has most big names in the running, with student Lily Madigan, comedian Eddie Izzard and TV presenter Sophie Cook all clear about their ambitions, whilst civil liberties campaigner Zoe O’Connell and former Trans Media Watch officer Helen Belcher are prominent in the Liberal Democrats, and Aimee Challenor has wide support in the Green Party. It may not happen at the next election or even the one after that, but it’s only a matter of time. Trans candidates report that the voters they speak to are less and less interested in their gender and simply want to know what they have to offer as potential representatives. Things were not always like this.

Back in the late ‘eighties, I was an active member of the Labour Party in Sheffield. I progressed from taking minutes for my local ward to sitting on the Housing Committee and working with members of the city council on a number of policy development issues, including insuring that the World Student Games, held there in 1991, left a lasting legacy for ordinary people who wanted to engage with sport. It was a challenging time to be in politics, especially on the left. Thatcherism was at its height and morale was low. The party was keen to make the most of what young talent it could attract and I was continually being encouraged to take on more. People saw me as a potential future MP. But there was a problem.

I was leading a double life. It might sound scandalous, but back then it was commonplace. In one life I wore suits, went to meetings, met elected officials and dignitaries, had discussions about strategy. In another I wore leathers, went to clubs whose names many in the city couldn’t speak without scowling, met women, had intimate encounters in toilets and alleyways with the mutual assurance that they would never be spoken of again. It wasn’t that I was appalled by the notion of settling down with a nice girl, but that seemed like a hopeless fantasy, and it would have met with an equal amount of social disdain.

I knew it couldn’t go on. One life or the other had to go. And I knew that if I chose politics, if I sacrificed my sexuality, there would still, always, be the risk of one of those women reappearing, or of somebody noticing my eyes linger on the wrong person for a fraction too long. Back then, suspicion was all it took to ruin a career. If I could be blackmailed, there was no promise I could ever make that I could be sure to keep, no means by which I could guarantee being able to stand by my principles. If I were exposed, it would all be over, and the people who had nurtured my career would consider me a traitor. This wasn’t just about political opponents and Clause 28. There was plenty of homophobia in Labour, too.

So, I left. There were other reasons, but more than anything it was that lack of hope, that sense that meaningful, respectable politics had no place for creatures like me. And then came 1997, and I was lying on the floor of my flat in Glasgow (part of what had coincidentally been Scotland’s first ever gay club), drinking Guinness with my American girlfriend, watching Michael Portillo (whom everybody in the scene knew was gay, though he was still in the closet and supporting anti-gay policies) lose his seat to the openly gay Stephen Twigg. It was an amazing moment. Twigg was seven years my senior, but he’d stuck it out, found the nerve somehow where I had not, made it happen. Still, I’ll never forget the look of astonishment on his face.

There are now 48 openly gay, lesbian or bisexual MPs in the House of Commons. Here in Scotland our elected party leaders include a lesbian and a bisexual man. Homophobia has not gone away, but candidates’ sexuality simply isn’t a consideration for most voters. Nevertheless, there remains a lot more open transphobia, and the hateful articles published in the Times and the Daily Mail over the past six months have reminded many people of the mass media homophobia that surrounded Clause 28. They have included a number of attacks on Lily Madigan, and have whipped up a storm of social media hatred which she found difficult to bear. This kind of attack is designed to say what those ‘eighties articles said to me: politics is no place for a creature like you.

Since the late ‘nineties I’ve been living openly as a non-binary person (something that was largely unheard of back in my party-political days). I now chair Trans Media Watch and work every day to educate journalists and work towards eradicating this kind of hate. I believe it can be done. What is painful is seeing other people’s ambitions destroyed in the meantime, and it is painful not just because of what it does to them, but because of what it does to society. People are always complaining about politicians who are in it for themselves and lack any real interest in serving the electorate. Nobody would endure being attacked like this just for themselves. These are people who have real passion and, often, a lot of talent – and all that is wasted if they are driven out of politics simply because of who they are.

We are all poorer when LGBT people are unable to fulfil their potential and contribute to society. This is true in politics and it’s true in the workplace where, a recent Stonewall survey revealed, a shocking one in eight trans people has been physically attacked. It’s something that all of us need to step up and take responsibility for. There will be a trans MP, sooner or later, and we will live in a more inclusive society, but history doesn’t write itself. If we want to escape the weight of past prejudice, if we want to reach a better future, we have to work for it in the here and now.

This month, will you do your bit to make homophobia and transphobia history?

Jennie Kermode is Chair of Trans Media Watch and author of Transgender Employees in the Workplace.

Take a look at our collection of books on LGBT issues for LGBT History Month here.

Are you looking for books and resources to support your work with gender variant individuals?

 

We publish a range of books for therapists, counsellors and healthcare practitioners who work with gender variant individuals. From informative guides to personal memoirs, our books offer support and promote greater understanding of gender identity and expression. This collection includes books that address themes of gender identity, sexuality, relationships, transitioning and mental health. For more information on new books and to receive a copy of our new catalogue, join our mailing list here

The Voice Book for Trans and Non-Binary People

Matthew Mills and Gillie Stoneham

Written by two specialist speech and language therapists, this book explains how voice and communication therapy can help transgender and non-binary people to find their authentic voice. It gives a thorough account of the process, from understanding the vocal mechanism through to assimilating new vocal skills and new vocal identity into everyday situations, and includes exercises to change pitch, resonance and intonation. Each chapter features insider accounts from trans and gender diverse individuals who have explored or are exploring voice and communication related to their gender expression, describing key aspects of their experience of creating and maintaining a voice that feels true to them.

This pithy, practical guide is a treasure trove of rare and wonderful gems – particularly the exercises for trans men and non-binary people, often neglected but vulnerable to crippling self-consciousness and even phobia around speaking. Clinicians and clients alike, I unreservedly recommend The Voice Book to anyone looking to feminise, masculinise, neutralise or just explore the potential of voice.’ – Dr Stuart Lorimer, Consultant Psychiatrist

Who is this book for? Speech and language therapists, healthcare practitioners, counsellors, gender variant individuals

 

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Exclusive: Read Charlie Craggs’ letter from To My Trans Sisters

Charlie Craggs is an award-winning trans activist…and now author, apparently.

She is the founder of Nail Transphobia and has been travelling all over the UK nailing transphobia since 2013 and has just gone global, taking her campaign stateside in 2017. She uses the proceeds from her campaign to run free self-defence classes for trans and non-binary femmes. Charlie topped the Observer’s New Radicals list of social innovators in Britain, was awarded a Marie Claire Future Shaper Award in 2017 and has been called one of the most influential and inspirational LGBTQ people in the UK by both The Guardian and the Independent. She has starred in campaigns for Selfridges, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and Stonewall, and has written and spoken about trans issues on the news (BBC, ITV and Sky), for numerous publications (Vogue, Dazed and Confused and The Guardian) and at the Houses of Parliament.

Read Charlie’s letter from her new book, To My Trans Sisters, here.

For more information on the book or to buy a copy, click here.

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JKP’s pioneering gender diversity list publishes practical resources and personal stories that encourage greater understanding of gender identity and gender expression. From informative guides for professionals and parents, to children’s storybooks and texts for the general reader, these books provide inspiration and support to a range of readers and promote wider discussion about the diversity and complexity of gender and identity.

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Self-understanding: Guaranteed! Meg-John’s gender identity journey

This is Meg-John Barker here. I’m one of the authors of the new JKP book How to Understand Your Gender. JKP asked me to write a blog post about how I came to understand my own gender identity, so here I am.

Self-understanding: Guaranteed!

When I shared a pic of the book cover on Facebook one of my friends asked whether it came with a guarantee that the reader would understand their gender by the end of the book! They pointed out that they’d already read and learnt rather a lot about this topic and that certainly hadn’t left them with some kind of clear simple understanding of their own gender.

I had to agree. ‘Complex’ might well be one of the words Alex and I use most in the book, because gender is certainly that! As with our sexuality, relationship patterns, sense of self, inner emotional world, and so much else about being human, understanding our genders is probably going to be a lifetime journey for all of us. And it’s made even more of an ongoing process by the fact that both the wider cultural understandings of gender, and our own experiences of it, change over time.

So, no the book won’t necessarily leave you understanding your gender in a simple ‘Eureka, I’m a ___!’ kind of way. What it will help you to understand is how your wider world views gender, how you came to experience your gender in the way you do today within this, and what options are available to you as you take your next steps on your gender path.

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Have you ever questioned your gender identity?

‘How To Understand Your Gender’ is the ultimate gender identity bible. Here, we share some of the lived experiences of the many different gender diverse people who have contributed to the book. Do you recognise yourself in any of these accounts? 

 

Sex, gender, and sexuality

‘I just couldn’t figure it out. I was born female, I am attracted to men, but I never felt comfortable wearing skirts, makeup, or spending time with girls, like I felt I was supposed to do. People kept assuming I was a lesbian, and even I wondered about it for some time. Eventually I realised that’s just who I was. I am a masculine woman, attracted to men.’

‘People kept wanting me to choose, but I just couldn’t. I’ve always been sexually attracted to women and femininity, while feeling much more relaxed with, and emotionally close to masculine people, regardless of their gender. I now identify as a bisexual, homoromantic trans man.’

‘Everyone assumes I’m gay because they think I’m “soft” and “artistic” for a man. I guess my mannerisms can be more effeminate than those of most guys. However, I am straight through and through. I just can’t be bothered with proving my masculinity in a way other people want me to.’

‘I love everything about femininity: the clothes, makeup, the fierce feminist history. I am just a proud femme who also happens to be a lesbian. Unfortunately, often people assume I’m straight, even at lesbian events. They also seem surprised at my job as a mechanical engineer. I always liked pulling things apart, figuring out how they work, and putting them back together, or even making them better!’

‘I’ve never felt at home in dresses or lipsticks. I always wanted to play with boys. Eventually I found other people like me and who were into me. I am a stud and proud of who I am.’

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Why the partners of trans people need support too

You’re in a relationship and your partner tells you that they want to transition. How do you feel? You want to support your partner’s choice, but you’re worried it will change what you have with them. Is it fair to feel anxious and uncertain?  

Realising the need for a support network for the partners of trans people, Jo Green set up Distinction Trans Partner Support Group. Here, Jo explains how you may feel as the partner of a trans person, and how important it is for trans partners to find their voice and be supported throughout their partner’s transition too. 

Despite the common narratives in the media, most relationships survive one person transitioning. From working with partners for years, I’ve found that transition means that you need to start communicating much more. And it’s this communication that becomes the key. We went from the average couple to a cohesive unit. Watching my partner transition meant watching her grow into a much better, happier human being. Just being able to witness someone grow from someone quite isolated and unhappy, into someone who glows with confidence and joy is an honour. It’s given me the courage to explore my own gender issues and come out as non-binary. Trans people teach us that nothing is set in stone and there is no such thing as doing something just because you should. It’s all about doing what you feel is right for you, which for me is a wonderful approach to take.

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“I don’t feel bad about who I am anymore” – Wenn Lawson reflects on the positive experiences of his transition

Wendy, pre-transition

I began my transition of physically moving from my cis-gender (assigned female at birth) to the man I am now seen to be, only 4 years ago. Although it has taken a very long time to recognize my gender dysphoria (I was 61 when the penny dropped) inside my very being I thought and felt very male ever since I can remember. I’m saying ‘male’ because it seemed to be the very opposite of female! I know gender is a spectrum of varying experience, and being female can vary from being ‘very girly’ along a line to being ‘Tom boy,’ but still happy to be female. I lived as a ‘Tom boy’ all of my life, but it wasn’t enough. Since knowing my true gender is male and letting go of all the physical female parts of me, I have never felt so much at home. I didn’t know I wasn’t home until I got here. Why did it take so long? Perhaps because of my autism which causes delays for me in building connections.

Being and feeling connected to my male self is now a reality. Some trans individuals decide they don’t need to change their body in order to feel complete in their trans identity. For me though, my dysphoria meant I couldn’t look in a mirror or allow my wife access to parts of myself during times of affection. My female body was alien and didn’t belong to me. Now, the alien has gone and I’m complete again. Living with such a dis-jointed self was literally tearing me apart. Now, those torn and wounded places that were so foreign are in harmony again and I look in the mirror and see the full reflection of all that I am.

The journey has (still is) been long, painful, exhausting and costly. But, the view from the top of this mountain has meant all the effort is worthwhile. If you asked me would I do this again, of course I won’t have to, but, my answer would be ‘yes.’ I cannot emphasize enough the joy of feeling so connected! All my senses and even my cognitive processing is more in line and less fragmented than before. I make decisions with less fear, doubt and indecisiveness. I have autonomy in ways I never thought possible. My autism hasn’t changed and I still have lots of sensory issues that I need to attend to and cater for, but, I don’t feel bad about who I am anymore.

Wenn

To read more about Wenn’s experience of transition, follow this link to his new book, Transitioning Together.