This week sees the launch and first annual conference of the Trans Equality Legal Initiative (TELI). The event, taking place in London, draws together human rights lawyers, trans third sector organizations, campaigners, journalists and academics for a day of discussion and knowledge sharing on key areas of the trans legal and activist landscape in the UK and more broadly.
Topics to be explored by panels both inside and outside the legal profession include health, justice, strategic litigation & impact of exclusionary provision, education and international protection.
Beginning with the all-day conference, TELI seeks to “build a collective and strategic response to the widespread and entrenched discrimination and inequality experienced by members of the trans community”. The founders came together with these aims after the UK Government’s ‘Transgender Equality Inquiry’ published its report earlier this year, which the group highlights “was the first Government Inquiry into the discrimination and abuse suffered by members of the trans community in the UK [and] outlined the systematic discrimination faced by this community in almost every aspect of their private and public lives.”
Among more than 30 recommendations, the inquiry’s report calls for mandatory training for police officers on transphobic hate crime. It also recommends the extension of hate crime laws to cover gender identity, official recognition of gender to be based on self-declaration rather than a medicalized assessment, and more training for school staff to better support trans young people.
Figures provided by Stonewall and sourced from studies published between 2012-2015 paint a staggering picture. Nearly half (48%) of trans people under 26 said they had attempted suicide, and 30% said they had done so in the past year; while 59% said they had at least considered doing so.
Close to half (42%) of trans people who are not living permanently in their preferred gender role stated they are prevented from doing so for fear of threatening their employment status. 59% of trans youths in the study said they had deliberately hurt themselves, compared with 8.9% of all 16-24 year olds.
The Trans Equality Legal Initiative brings together a coalition that can push for “clear and concrete measures to secure equality and safety for members of the trans community”. By acknowledging the need for information sharing between legal practitioners and campaigners (although the separation isn’t always clean cut), TELI places importance on the shared goals and understanding necessary to build a movement for trans justice.
TELI’s founders themselves span a number of spheres, bringing wide experience:
- Jess Bradley is the Director of Action for Trans Health, the UK’s largest campaign for democratic trans healthcare.
- Michelle Brewer is a Barrister at Garden Court Chambers and advises members of the community on areas such as access to health, inclusion in education and challenging discriminatory practice.
- Allan Briddock is a Consultant Barrister at Blake Morgan LLP and specializes in immigration and asylum with a particular interest in LGBTI issues.
- David Bufton is an Associate at Linklaters LLP whose pro bono work for the firm sees him represent LGBTI asylum seekers to assist with their applications for asylum and provide legal counsel for Pride in London.
- Tara Hewitt is a NHS Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lead at the University Hospital of South Manchester and also works as a Diversity Consultant, supporting organizations across the UK.
- Kate Hutchinson is Director of Training at Wipe Out Transphobia, where she provides training and support for a number of organizations including Barnardo’s, Welsh Women’s Aid and the NHS.
- Cathy Jaquiss is a Pupil Barrister at 10KBW and intends to specialize in public law, drawing on human rights work in Togo, West Africa and experience of immigration law in the UK.
The launch conference comes during Trans Awareness Week (14th-20th November), an international push to increase the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people and to address issues faced by their communities. The week culminates with the Transgender Day of Remembrance on Sunday 20th November – a day devoted to honoring the memory of the victims of transphobic violence.
The day was founded by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil for Rita Hester, a transgender woman of color who was found murdered in her apartment in Allston, MA, in 1998. Smith said that the Transgender Day of Remembrance:
“seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence. I am no stranger to the need to fight for our rights, and the right to simply exist is first and foremost. With so many seeking to erase transgender people – sometimes in the most brutal ways possible – it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice.”
In addition to the vigil, Smith launched the Transgender Day of Remembrance website, to record those lost lives. The main page features a post ‘memorializing 2016’ which, alongside photos where available, features a list of names, ages and causes of death. The post features over 80 names (some are unidentified) of transgender people – predominantly trans people of color – who were murdered this year across a number of countries, in some cases before their twentieth birthday.
The disproportionate instances of violence against trans women of color (particularly black trans women) has driven scholars and activists to call for the advance of an intersectional approach to transphobic violence that acknowledges the overlapping of race, gender and class.
This has been extended to questions over the nature of the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Sarah Lamble, faculty member of the School of Law at Birkbeck College, University of London published an article in 2008 titled ‘Retelling Racialized Violence, Remaking White Innocence: The Politics of Interlocking Oppressions in Transgender Day of Remembrance’. The paper questioned the act of memorializing as creating an innocent white spectator:
“None of us are innocent. We must envision practices of remembrance that situate our own positions within structures of power that authorize violence in the first place. Our task is to move from sympathy to responsibility, from complicity to reflexivity, from witnessing to action. It is not enough to simply honor the memory of the dead—we must transform the practices of the living.”
During the conference, time will be given over to Kate Hutchinson of Wipe Out Transphobia for a remembrance section. Positioning a memorial within a line-up of panels engaging with legal, policy and campaigning issues for the trans community contextualizes it as part of a process rather than a fixed moment in time.
The hope is that bringing together activists, human rights lawyers and voices from the trans community through the Trans Equality Legal Initiative can advance the discourse surrounding trans rights, and can foster a political and legal landscape able to deliver them in the UK and elsewhere. At the same time, through pushing for greater legal protection, wider education and greater representation and visibility, the pain of remembering so many names can one day fade away as the rights of trans people to exist can be universally upheld.
For more information on the Trans Equality Legal Initiative click here