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Trans Day of Remembrance Interview Series #3: Lena

Our LGBTQIA Liberation Officer, Lollie, speaks to Young Greens about issues facing trans youth in the Green Party and beyond. Opinions expressed are those of the interviewees.

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I spoke to Lena, a Green Party member who has fairly recently become involved with the party again, and who works on green politics in her own way.
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Hi, welcome, and thanks for doing this with me. Let’s start by hearing a bit about your involvement with the party.

I first joined the party in 2009. In 2018 I left because I wasn’t happy with how the party was dealing with transphobia. It was Sian Berry that made me return – I really appreciated what an active ally she was and I remember thinking “Yes. I want to be in the same Party as her.”

How able do you feel to get involved politically?

So, I’m co-chair of the LGBT network at my university, I’m also an Equality and Diversity advisor so I’m usually willing to put myself out there. But party politics is different for me because at work I know there’s a process for me to complain and for it to be dealt with. It’s imperfect, but I know how they work and that those processes are functional. I don’t really see the same of that necessarily within the party.

I came out in 2018 and I used to be really involved in my local branch but stopped attending during my transition, because I didn’t want to find out people I’d worked with closely were transphobic. And I actually haven’t been back to local meetings at all since because I don’t know what will happen.

I’m sorry to hear that. What can be done to make things safer for you?

There needs to be a value shift. We need changes in mid party leadership and how that runs, because at the moment it feels as if things get to disciplinary and then they vanish. Personally, I just need to know that things are going to get resolved when incidents do happen.

It’s notable that some quite extreme comments are just considered acceptable against trans people. And in my ideal party they wouldn’t be. If someone says something inflammatory or bigoted about is it would be considered as inappropriate as it should be.

In your opinion, is the situation worse now than it has been? Because it really does feel as if this has reached a boiling point in recent years.

In some ways I think so. It’s certainly more noted now. In 2016 when we were discussing gender self ID – people were happy to stand up and misgender people, it was acceptable. There were lots of attempts to improve things and tokenistic actions that missed the mark. Lots of things that came from a place of ignorance, nowadays we have more knowledge and that’s good but it means at the same time that the opposition are more vocal and feel they can be more visible.

Things have just ramped up and problems that were always there have been brought to the forefront.

What’s driving this? What’s behind the upsurge in transphobia?

That’s a massive question.

I think it’s a question of radicalisation – we understand radicalisation of young men but we don’t really understand radicalisation of middle aged white women. And what’s happening to these people, being exposed to transphobic rhetoric often at very vulnerable times in their lives is a kind of radicalisation.

There are a lot of people treating the transgender ‘debate’ as it were as an issue of women’s rights, or even as one of protecting children. How would you respond to someone who is coming from a place of genuine fear perhaps because they themselves have been badly mistreated?

What I would say to people impacted by this…it’s tricky really, because I try not to talk to people who want to remove me from society.

That’s fair enough.

I guess a point I could make is…we’re going through an oestrogen shortage right now. That’s a thing that effects menopausal cis women as well as trans women. That’s an example of something we have in common and could be working on together.

We shouldn’t be pitched against each other. Our needs and what will work for us absolutely align. It’s not an either-or thing. We’ve got to find ways to work together.

And also on the safety point, if abusive behaviour is taking place then it needs to be called out regardless of a person’s gender identity or what ‘side’ of the ‘debate’ they fall on. We’re not in support of violence regardless of who it comes from. We don’t need that behaviour.

What’s the most important issue of focus for you right now when it comes to trans rights?

What I’m seeing right now in my support work with young trans people are problems within families and relationships. I’m seeing trans people in abusive situations who are not recognising them as such. I’m seeing families breaking up because of issues related to a person’s transition.

The focus for me is just ‘how are we supporting people who don’t have housing?’ – that’s the key issue.

You mention your work with young trans people, obviously this has been a pretty eventful year with lots of heated debate going on about issues to do with young people and accessing trans health care. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on what happened with Tavistock and how that played out.

I’ve seen first hand what happens when a trans child gets support from the outset. They are happy and self-actualized and my fear was that we would stop seeing those young people if the original Tavistock ruling held, that we would lose that.

Do you have hope that this will get better? And what do you think needs to happen in order to get there?

For a long time, I think, LGB people have been telling trans people it’ll get better in ten years maybe…it’s a continuation of similar conversations we had around gay marriage. We’ve been told to wait and to hope for so long. It’s unhelpful, because it’s not getting better it’s getting worse. I’m pessimistic at the moment. But we are winning some fights!

I’m thinking of Green politicians throughout Europe that are in office now who are trans and in senior positions – that’s what’s going to do this. Making ourselves unignorable. We need more representation both so that we can advocate for ourselves better and so that young trans people can see that it is possible to have a successful future.

What does Trans Day of Remembrance mean to you? What would you like us to hold the day as?

When I look at the list of names of murdered trans people – it comes to mind that those names are sacred, those are names that have been chosen at personal risk.

It’s a list largely of POC and often sex workers and that’s often used by transphobic groups as an argument to dismiss us or they try to say that these people bought it on themselves, we need to challenge that urgently. We need to take the time to think about the most vulnerable. Think of these names as the names of people who deserve to live long and happy lives.

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This interview was held to mark Trans Day of Remembrance 2021.

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