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Are trans rights under attack in Sheffield?

Activists fear an increase in hostility as a result of the so-called 'gender critical' movement and a growing national culture war.

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transhappiness.sheffield on Instagram.

LGBTQ citizens and human rights activists fear that transphobia is on the rise in Sheffield, following moves by some of the city's biggest institutions to distance themselves from trans rights.

Both Sheffield City Council and the University of Sheffield have quietly left one element of a national scheme designed to promote trans rights at work, which has become embroiled in a culture war.

In December, Sheffield Hallam Constituency Labour Party passed a symbolic motion in support of "single-sex services" that would exclude some trans people on the grounds of their gender.

Campaigners also report an increase in day-to-day attacks and discrimination directed at trans people in the city, following the rise of the so-called 'gender critical' movement nationally.

“I’ve really noticed that the amount of transphobia, whether on the streets or online, is rising,” Sheffield resident Helen, who has lived in the city for five years, told Now Then.

“Several months ago a man in the street threatened to stab me simply because I’m transgender. When I rang the police, and told them I feared for my safety as well as being blind and unable to see the perpetrator, they told me they would come 'very soon'."

"They contacted me about a month later and I told them to get lost – I needed help when I was being threatened with violence, not a month afterwards."

Marginalised and demonised

Despite huge progress for gay, lesbian and bisexual rights over the past few decades, trans people remain one of the most marginalised and demonised groups in the UK.

A staggering 45% of trans young people in the UK have attempted suicide while 84% say they have self-harmed, according to 2017 figures from the charity Stonewall.

Anti-trans activists have attempted to frame their campaign in the language of human rights, using terms like "women's and girl's sex-based rights" that initially sound difficult to disagree with. They even claim this can work in tandem with supporting trans rights.

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Trans rights protest in London, November 2021.

Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash.

But in reality, this means excluding trans people from spaces and institutions based on their gender – including many people who transitioned decades ago and now risk being forced back into the closet.

Human rights activists say much of the hysteria around issues like toilets and prison cells is not based on evidence, and is used as a proxy to attack more fundamental rights of self-determination.

"Trans people are now being told that simple rights – such as changing our birth certificate by making a statutory declaration – are part of an agenda to dismantle the rights of cisgender women," wrote activist and trans woman Shon Faye in The Guardian.

"But there is no evidence for this: the gender recognition laws sought here in the UK are already present in Argentina, Belgium, Malta, Denmark, Colombia, Norway, Ireland and, most recently, Portugal. Sweden is soon expected to follow suit."

City centre town hall 3

Sheffield City Council have left part of a Stonewall scheme designed to promote the rights of LGBTQ people at work.

Rachel Rae Photography.

"That’s a combined population of 64 million women and girls whose rights and safety do not appear to have been compromised."

A four year wait for healthcare

Sheffield's Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) is one of only eight clinics that offers gender identity appointments to adults across the whole of the UK.

Although their website says they are "passionate about providing culturally competent, developmentally appropriate and trans-affirmative professional care," long waiting times mean people struggle to access their services. As of April this year the longest waiting time to use the service was 49 months, with people referred in March 2018 – two years before the pandemic – only now being able to book appointments.

With the government currently making political capital out of attacking trans rights, it appears unlikely that significant funding will be made available to bring these waiting times down.

"Trans healthcare is effectively completely privatised," Ollie, a trans man who has lived in Sheffield for ten years, told Now Then. "It's the same kind of wait for the children's GIC too, so what you've got is working class people and children waiting years and years without any support."

In addition to long waiting times for gender identity appointments, the government recently dropped plans to outlaw so-called 'conversion therapy' for trans people (the rules will now only ban treatment on the grounds of sexuality).

In April queer activists in Sheffield protested against the U-turn that saw trans people excluded from the legislation, with one protester telling Now Then the decision was "really harming trans and non-binary people."

"While our experiences might be slightly different, we have the same shared battles," said Sophia about the wider LGBTQ community. "A lot of the transphobia that we’re seeing now is just reheated homophobia from a few decades ago."

Stonewalled

Now Then reported in January that Sheffield City Council has quietly left part of a Stonewall scheme designed to promote the rights of LGBTQ people in the workplace – despite being named one of the top 100 LGBT friendly employers in 2020.

The University of Sheffield have also left Stonewall's Workplace Equality Index (though not the separate Global Diversity Champions programme), despite being named the UK's eleventh best employer and second best university in 2020.

The University told Now Then they had taken part in the Index for seven years, and sent us a Twitter thread from their LGBT staff network which said they had withdrawn "due to the resources committed to developing a comprehensive LGBT+ Strategy this academic year."

Trans conversion therapy demo

A protest in April against the decision to exclude trans people from the conversion therapy ban.

Peak Queer Adventures.

In December 2020 UCL became the first university to cut ties with the charity completely (which was once considered a rather conservative organisation), following a culture war instigated by the right-wing press.

Sheffield Hallam University told us that they continue to take part in the Workplace Equality Index and are planning to submit an entry this year, as well as remaining a Global Diversity Champion.

Labour motion

Last December, members of Sheffield Hallam Constituency Labour Party (CLP) voted in favour of a motion that supported "the continuing provision of single sex services". The motion, which was just for discussion rather than having any effect on party policy, was seconded by local Women's Officer Jean Hatchet, who will not run for re-election at tomorrow's AGM.

Writing in The Critic magazine, she said that the motion was "much weaker in tone" than the one she originally proposed, and railed against "the assaults on women’s rights from trans activists" in the party.

Away from trans rights, Hatchet tweeted in January that Olympic gold medallist Tom Daley, who has a child with his male partner through a surrogate, was a man who "buys the womb of women."

Minesh Parekh, a councillor for the Crookes and Crosspool ward within the Hallam constituency, told Now Then that trans people are facing an "onslaught" from the government and the media.

"Our duty as the Labour Party must be to stand up with them, affirm our support for trans rights, and demonstrate what solidarity means in practice."

Trans joy

Despite the recent wave of hostility towards trans rights in the national media, queer people across Sheffield continue to celebrate trans joy and experience in their daily lives.

One Instagram account, transhappiness.sheffield, is documenting creative expression across the city, with stickers reading "TRANS RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS" and simply "TRANS HAPPINESS IS REAL".

Queer arts organisation Andro & Eve put on events across Sheffield that amplify marginalised voices, while Peak Queer Adventures is an outdoor activity collective of queer people who go climbing, hiking and cycling.

"Peak Queer Adventures has grown into an incredible queer community in Sheffield," said co-founder Sims about the group which formed late last year.

"As well as celebrating our queerness collectively in the outdoors we have begun to support each other through skill sharing, mutual aid and protest."

For Helen, the idea of trans joy represents a powerful act of resistance in its own right.

"It’s easy to become focused on the hostile newspaper headlines, Twitter threads and chat show debates," she said.

"But whatever detractors say, trans people are living overwhelmingly happy lives in every corner of Sheffield. To be proud of who we are can often feel like an impossible act, but we are showing that it doesn’t have to be."

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