This week has been Trans Awareness Week, where organisations and people around the world attempt to raise the visibility of transgender people and bring to attention the issues trans and gender variant people face by educating the public about who transgender people are, sharing stories and experiences, and advancing advocacy around the issues of prejudice, discrimination, and violence that affect the transgender community. This culminated on the 20th November in the Transgender Day of Remembrance that was started in 1999 by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honour the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998. The vigil commemorated all the transgender people lost to violence since Rita Hester's death, and began an important tradition that continues today.
Why is this needed? Although trans visibility is far more commonplace than it ever has been, media still promulgate polemic and bellicose rhetoric around trans people where trans women are reduced to perverted fetishistic men attempting to prey on ‘real’ women and girls in order to commit acts of sexual assault, trans men are confused lesbian women, and non-binary individuals simply can’t make up their mind or ‘want to be different and push boundaries of gender for attention’. Recently a conservative and religious organisation called Truth in Science sent a DVD to all schools in England outlining a theory of the ‘Transgender Agenda’, couching an idea that medical professionals believe that ‘transgenderism’ is an ideology that cannot be supported in science, that any gender variance is a mental illness, and that supporting trans people may act as a failure in a duty of care by education providers and result in safeguarding concerns. Although more and more research links gender variance to genetic neurodivergence, the symbiotic relationship of biopsychosocial determinants of health cannot be ignored; more likely, there is a constellation of aetiologies predisposing an individual to be trans or non-binary.
As social media plays a greater role in manipulation of echo chambers and therefore thought management, intelligent and respectful discourse seems to have given way to binary thinking and as such it seems that people are either 100% allies of trans people, or believe that sex is an immutable characteristic and gender is meaningless, therefore myself and every other trans or non-binary person is mentally ill and/or perverted with a nefarious agenda. The issue with this can also be seen worldwide: violence against trans people is increasing, and in America healthcare providers can refuse to offer lifesaving treatment of trans people if it does not fit within their personal or religious belief. “Trans panic” as a stated legal defence in some American States “which asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant’s violent reaction, including murder.” Hungary recently ended all legal recognition of trans people, and Poland has “LGBT-free zones” supported by a right-wing movement gaining in traction where Jews and Muslims are also being targeted. Anecdotally, most of my trans and non-binary colleagues and friends report suffering greater hostility, violence and negative attention than they have previously.
As registered healthcare professionals we have a duty to give exceptional care, free from personal judgement and without fear or favour. The time is now to become a vocal ally to the trans and non-binary community; silence is no longer enough.
The College of Paramedics diversity pages can help signpost members who would like more information. Additionally, the Diversity Steering Group can help with all matters relating to equality and diversity from personal to board level. The National Ambulance LGBT Network recently released a Trans Toolkit which can be accessed here.
Rebecca Connolly, Senior Advanced Clinical Practitioner and member of the College of Paramedics Diversity Steering Group