I lied to her. Well, not exactly lied – it was just a simpler way of expressing the truth – but I told Caroline I’d voted for her in Brighton. What really happened is that I never bothered to register; realised I did in fact want to vote, and ended up urging a friend who’d been sitting on the fence to vote Green.
Thing is, I never lie. My honesty’s one of my defining qualities: it gets me out of trouble as often as it gets me in to it, but it’s always there. I lack tact. But it would have felt weak saying: “I got my friend to vote for you Caroline!” I wanted her to know I’d been following her campaign closely, rooting for her. It was chit chat. Consider this the confession.
Anyhoo…. I’m pleased to report that she’s a lovely woman, warm, genuine and, above all, smart. I got the impression she doesn’t mess about, and she clearly had a sincere handle on trans issues, which is probably not surprising considering that Brighton Pavilion – the constituency which voted her into Parliament last year – contains more trans people than you can shake a disco stick at.
I’m usually late for everything, and was on course to be tardy for out meeting, but through extraordinary effort – and a completely unnecessary cab – I managed to get there 5 minutes. early. She was 10 late. Sods law. Maybe I should’ve asked her to introduce a bill to repeal that particular law…
The Southbank has so much energy and character; it’s hard to feel pissed off when you’re there. A familiar face nearly prompted me to ask a complete stranger which house party I knew her from – then I realised she used to be in Spooks. Yeah, her, what’s-her-face. Cute guys skateboarding. People looking smart on their way to dinner, the sun about to set on the Thames. A year living in the capital still hasn’t dampened my romance.
After recording a message for TMW, Caroline told me that she was very aware of the prejudice and harassment people in her constituency face, sometimes on a daily basis. I asked if she felt that any of the other political parties were doing enough when it comes to trans:
Caroline: Certainly my feeling is that there isn’t enough focus on this. I know that hate crimes are increasing in certain parts of the country and I think that’s a real concern because I think politicians generally are complacent in thinking this is something which has been tackled in the past, when it clearly hasn’t. The fact that there’s still those kinds of crimes in a place like Brighton, which is really sort of famed for tolerance… if it’s still an issue there then it’s certainly an issue the rest of the country.
Me: Not sure if you heard Baroness Warsi’s recent comments about Islamophobia “passing the dinner table test” which follow on from previous claims she’s reported to have made that hatred of Muslims was one of the last socially acceptable forms on discrimination in the UK. I take exception to her statements – made by a Muslim member of the Government when there are no trans people in Government. What do you think?
Caroline: That’s a very good point: I think you’re right to challenge her comments in a way. They came from a good place – they describe a form of discrimination which is very real and which she sees – but to say that somehow that is the last one that we need to tackle is sadly, itself, a bit discriminatory. There’s a lot in the media at the moment about gay people coming out but we need to have far more positive role models and far more understanding and acceptance of trans people.
So what are the Greens doing about it?
Caroline: Just yesterday, we launched our local election manifesto, specifically for the LGB and trans community, so it’s something we’re really aware of in Brighton. As the Green party we want to ensure that our policies are ones that can make life better, promote genuine equality and understanding amongst all people, and especially trans people who face so many difficulties at the minute.
What would you say to people thinking about the local elections coming up in May?
Caroline: That for the Green Party, equality, in all it’s manifestations, is so crucial to what we stand for, so look at our manifesto, see what we’re offering to LGBT people. Also I think the fact that we’re standing up against these cuts that are affecting the funding of so many third sector groups and other charities that work with trans charities and others. I think the future could be looking a bit bleak in many respects under this coalition government and so I hope very much that trans people will look at our manifesto and see we’re serious about the things that we say and that we have a good track record of trying to deliver them.
Caroline’s answers made me quite curious as to what the statistics for hate crime actually tell us about different forms of bigotry. Well, this Home Office data seems to suggest that Islamophobia is far from our biggest problem of prejudice, at least when it comes to hate crimes:
Total of recorded hate crime from regional forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland during the calendar year 2009:
Race – 43,426
Religion/Faith – 2,083
Sexual Orientation – 4,805
Transgender – 312
Disability – 1,402
Total – 52,028
Anti-Semitic (included in previous total) – 703
A quick glance tells us that you’re twice as likely to wake up on a bus covered in blood (as a gay friend of mine did last Summer) for your sexuality than for your religion. And you’re up to twenty times more likely to get abuse for the colour of your skin than what church or temple your visit. (NB: though the figures for trans are seemingly low, they are actually very high when you consider just how small the trans community is.)
Of course, there are problems with simplifying the data in this way. Though the figures for racially motivated hate crimes are considerably higher, we cannot ignore the fact that there is a huge overlap between race and religion. Somebody who “hates pakis” and attacks someone on that basis is very likely to be a bit funny about Islam too. But we don’t have a breakdown for how many of the race-related crimes were also linked to Islamophobia. We do however know that at least a third of faith-based crimes were Anti-Semitic – so clearly that is still a big problem, though one we seldom hear discussed these days.
I want to make one thing very clear: I despise any form of bigotry, and stand opposed to Islamophobia. This may sound cheesy, but here it goes anyway: some of my very closest friends are Muslims, (from Saudi Arabia no less) and they welcomed me in to their home when I was first transitioning. They showed me hella lot more understanding and acceptance than did some of my English, secular ‘friends’.
It just upsets me that Warsi can see so clearly the problem with hatred against Muslims, yet doesn’t seem to want to challenge transphobia and homophobia. Quite the opposite I’d say, and do say in my 4ThoughtTV appearance next week (Tues, 7.55pm, Channel 4). I’d have loved to have seen Caroline challenge Warsi on this issue on Question Time this week, but I guess nuclear power and Gaddaffi were more pressing subjects.
I had a word with Imaan, Europe’s largest support group for LGBTQI Muslims, whose spokesperson told me of the unique pressures faced by trans and gay Muslims in the UK. Turns out it can feel a bit lose-lose sometimes: “Damned by some Muslims for being queer, damned by some queers for being Muslim and mistrusted by many in wider society for being both.”
“LGBTQI people, like Muslims and others, are not a homogenous group and most do not fall into the prejudice-trap. Imaan works with LGBTQI groups campaigning for cohesion between LGBTQI communities, but we rather wish that the work was not so necessary and that more of the energy of our communities could be directed solely at combating the people and the views that seek to harm and limit all LGBTQI people, regardless of race and faith.”
I couldn’t agree more. It drives me insane that the queer ‘community’ is so fragmented and eager to engage in internecine squabbles. We should all be working towards eliminating all forms of discrimination, though it’s easy to feel like your particular minority group is the most hard done by sometimes. I should know: I’m terrible for it.