Trans and non-binary people and their allies have been gathering in cities across the UK to protest the Section 35 order being used for the first time ever to stop the Scottish government’s gender recognition reform bill receiving Royal Assent and becoming Scottish law. In Yorkshire there were protests in Leeds on Saturday 21 January and York on Sunday 22 January.
Doxxing at the trans rights protest in Leeds
I attended the protest in Leeds on Saturday to get an understanding of how other trans people are feeling about this latest attack on our rights and to join others in solidarity. I found about 300 people with handmade signs and flags gathered on the steps of Leeds Town Hall.
That seemed an excellent turnout given the freezing conditions and the spontaneous nature of the protests. There were people of all ages. Many were wearing masks, not so much to prevent the spread of Covid but more to prevent opponents of trans rights from identifying and ‘doxxing’ those who were attending.
It turned out not to be groundless fear. I saw a solitary figure equipped with a very professional looking video camera approach from the far end of the Town Hall and begin to film the crowd. As the protest meeting began, from the top of the steps the first speaker asked people not to take photos or videos.
The man with the video camera continued to film despite being asked directly to stop. Eventually a group of protesters, including myself, politely gathered around him and asked him to stop filming individuals. He agreed to this and some of those present gave interviews. One of the protesters eventually found out that he was a contributor to a far-right streaming service.
Speakers at the protest rally
A PA system had been brought for protesters to make speeches but it had a fault and didn’t work which meant that the speakers had to use a handheld megaphone. The first was from Trans Leeds and they outlined how the Westminster government had blocked the Scottish gender recognition reform bill and what a gender recognition certificate (GRC) is used for. They seemed well informed and articulate.
After that, other speakers followed. There were trans men and women, non-binary people and allies. All age groups from old to young people made speeches. I was particularly impressed by the young people who clearly knew what gender they were, and had done so from childhood through adolescence to young adulthood. They all described the problems lack of gender recognition was having on their lives as they attempted to find work or training.
I joined them on the steps and discussed with them the problems they were having in getting support and treatment and moving on in life. They were angry about the assertion by Keir Starmer that young people are not able to make the decision to transition.
Speaking with James
As I spoke to the young people another protester, James (he/him), was stopping people passing by to explain what was happening. He told me that about 20 people stopped. Nobody seemed to have any negative reasons for not stopping – they were just in a hurry to get somewhere else.
James explained the reasons for the protest, explained the current system and the delays and problems as well as what a GRC is used for. He described the Scottish law and that this type of process was in place in other countries. He talked about the allegations that the reforms would endanger women and girls and why this wasn’t realistic because birth certificates aren’t needed to access any spaces.
James told me that everyone started with little or no knowledge of the issues but by the end of these conversations everyone supported a self-declaration process. Nobody argued against reform. He said that there were some testing questions but these were based on a need to have greater understanding. As he put it, pennies dropped with every conversation.
James described some of the conversations as “spine tingling”, with one mother and daughter couple suggesting that the gender binary of man and woman be abolished completely. Another person married to a Kenyan woman drew parallels between their experience of having to “prove” their love to get a visa, and that of obtaining a GRC.
The fight to be heard
Although I’d been uncertain about whether I was going to make a speech in the end I did. I spoke about my ten-year struggle to obtain legal recognition and how I’d only needed a GRC on one occasion, when I’d been sexually assaulted.
I spoke of my sense of betrayal by Starmer’s Labour opposition and that in 2020 my own constituency Labour MP, Stephanie Peacock, had sent me a long email promising to support reform but that last week she’d abstained from the vote in the House of Commons as had most Labour MPs. There was loud applause when I said, “Shame of them and shame on Keir Starmer”.
After the protest finished, I went to have lunch in a nearby pub and reflected on what I’d heard. There was a great deal of resolve and determination coupled with anger at both the Conservative government and the Labour Party.
I was particularly impressed with the young people. They’re not going to give up. The conversations that James had with ordinary Leeds people demonstrated how they aren’t hearing the reasons for reform of the gender recognition act because the press and media are overwhelmingly presenting the issues in a negative light.
The willingness of so many to listen, think and then support change shows that these prejudiced messages don’t have as much traction with the ordinary public as might be expected. Perhaps trans people should be listened to instead of dismissed.