‘Not fit for purpose’: LGBT Foundation call for change after Vicky Thompson suicide

The suicide of transgender woman Vicky Thompson in an all-male prison this week has led the LGBT Foundation to call for the end of outdated gender legislation.

Thompson of Keighly, West Yorkshire, was sent to Armley Prison in Leeds after her request to be sent to a female prison was refused.

Trans Programme coordinator Louie Stafford believes the incident, which occurred during Transgender Awareness Week, raises serious questions about the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

“When things like this happen it’s a reminder that we need to be pushing for government change,” he told MM.

“One clear thing is that we need the Gender Recognition Act reformed, abolished and something new come in because it’s not fit for purpose.”

The current act means that a trans person must obtain a gender recognition certificate to be placed in a prison of their chosen gender identity.

“It was created in the guise of protecting transgender people but what its actually doing is creating this interim, where if you haven’t got one its legal for people to discriminate against you,” added Stafford.

“It’s absolutely tragic when someone takes their own life – especially when it so obviously could have been avoided if it hadn’t been for a system process that’s bureaucratic and out of date.”

Transgender Awareness Week ended on Friday with Transgender Remembrance Day, to reflect upon those who have lost their lives due to transphobia.

Although not all statistics include suicides as a result of transphobic behaviour, they are among those who are remembered in services and memorials.

Stafford said it is a time of grief but also to search for the motivation behind transphobic violence and understanding of the issue.

“Trans Day Remembrance is a day where we’re grieving for people lost to transphobic violence,” he said.

“Why does that happen? Why do we live in a society that targets and hates on transpeople in such a tangible way? A lot of that is just about stigma that we’re conditioned to think like that.”

As part of Trans Awareness Week, the LGBT Foundation has been publishing case studies each day to raise awareness of transgender issues and give people a voice.

“[It puts] trans people’s voices out there and tells people about their experiences whether good or bad,” Stafford said.

“To talk about their lives and say ‘here’s what people are doing – they’re not just transpeople there’s more to them – they’ve got personalities, they’ve got lives and here’s what’s going on.’

“So often we see transgender representation in the media and it’s very sensationalised and it doesn’t represent trans people as normal people – it makes them look like aliens or something we don’t understand.

“You probably know a trans person, you might not know it – they might not be out – but you probably do. They might have already transitioned and you’re not aware of their past.

“It’s about broadening people’s horizons and thinking outside of the box not just assuming that you don’t know any trans people.”

Stafford hopes that future progress can be made within the health and social service to support trans people or those who think they may be transgender, with legislative change at the forefront.

“The waiting lists for transgender people to get help in the NHS are obscene,” he said.

“The current waiting lists are well over 12 months and could take up to three years, a lot of people feel left in limbo – without support – doctors often don’t know how to help their patients.

“Legislative change is huge – now we’ve got equal marriage – but we still have the spousal veto and the Gender Recognition Act and these negatively impact on a lot of transgender people so it’s about looking at tangible legislation and how that impacts on trans people and coming up with solutions.

“Health inequality and legislation that is built on a binary gender system that is quite damaging and restrictive for transgender people.”

“There’s something to be said for people not taking the lives and needs of transgender people seriously and not believing people when they talk about mental health and the impact it has on someone when they’re not taken seriously for questioning that they might take their own life.”

But despite the progress that needs to be made, with Manchester not having its own Gender Identity Service, Stafford believes that the city is a good place to be for transgender people.

He said: “Manchester has a long and rich history of trans people coming together and organising. It’s a unique and brilliant thing.

“I think Manchester is a really great place to be for transgender people. There’s a lot of services already available and what’s not available is being looked at and reviewed.

“We have the backing of the council, the police are working with us to report and challenge hate crimes – I think it’s a positive time to be working for change because things are moving and I think it’s a great place to come if you want to meet other transgender people.”

Image courtesy of Kevin Goebel, with thanks.

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