TransLondon announces boycott of Pride London, 2009
In a busy meeting on May 19th, members of TransLondon, London's largest support group for all trans-identified and genderqueer people, voted overwhelmingly for a boycott of the Pride London 2009 march and rally. As a result, for the first time since the group was formed, TransLondon will have no presence in the parade, nor at the rally.
This is part of an ongoing estrangement from Pride. Last year, a successful Pride march was marred at the rally in Trafalgar Square when a number of trans women were denied access to the women's toilets by Pride security stewards. One woman was subsequently sexually assaulted after being told to use the male toilets. Roz Kaveney, one of the women targeted in the 2008 "ToiletGate" incident, explained how she felt Pride London had only ever provided a grudging apology under threat of legal action, and that she felt they had never taken the discrimination against trans women in the 2008 rally seriously.
During the meeting on May 19th 2009, members heard how the democratic and transparent structure used in 2008 to co-ordinate participation of trans groups and the funds made available for transgender attendees, through the elected Trans@Pride committee, has been abolished by Pride London for 2009. Instead, Pride London have imposed their own unelected "representative" for the trans strand. Furthermore, requests for information about funding, how decisions were made and who participated in the decision-making process, have been rebuffed.
Last year, the elected Trans@Pride Committee consulted repeatedly with over a dozen groups and hundreds of individuals over before arranging travel bursaries for trans people to attend from around the country, hosting a breakfast for marchers on the day, commissioning artwork from a local queer artist as a rallying point for trans marchers, producing banners and bunting, arranging trans performers for all of the Pride stages including the main stage in Trafalgar Square and publicising the arrangements widely. In stark contrast, the meeting heard of how Pride London's appointed trans "representative" for 2009 has simply imposed Pride’s vision for trans participation in the march and rally.
The 2009 pride participation is, so we are told, to consist of a float at the very back of the parade which would pander to the most tired and inaccurate media stereotypes of trans people. Trans women would, in Pride's vision, be dressed in sequins, high heels and fairy wings and, apparently as an afterthought, a few trans men would be invited to pose in football strips. The Pride representative explained that the trans float would complement a float at the front of the march with members of the cast of the West End musical, "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert". In her vision, onlookers would be delighted to see "Priscilla at the front and Priscilla at the back". As a coup de grace, a visible cordon of security stewards would surround the trans float, ostensibly "for our own protection".
Rather than address the true diversity of the trans community, members of TransLondon felt that participating in such an event would serve only to bolster the kind of negative media stereotypes which portray trans people as "the cast of Grease", and that these undemocratic plans constitute an insult to London's diverse trans community. Sarah Brown, a member of TransLondon, an elected member of Trans@Pride 2008 and co-founder of the London Transfeminist Group said, "If I am to march at Pride, it would be as the lesbian woman I am, not dressed up as a corporate parody".
To determine TransLondon's official position on participation in Pride London 2009, three options were put to the vote:
Option one, to participate in the march under the terms we felt were being dictated by the Pride London board, received no votes.
Option two, to participate in the march independently of the "official" trans strand, as a form of direct action to show our dissatisfaction, received 31% of the votes cast.
Option three, to boycott the parade and rally received 65% of the votes cast.
There were some abstentions from members who wanted to see what their friends in other groups were doing before making a decision.
The democratic decision of the membership of TransLondon is therefore that the organisation will have no official presence or banner at Pride London, 2009.
Christina Alley, co-organiser of TransLondon and elected member of Trans@Pride 2008 said, "Volunteers from a dozen trans groups worked incredibly hard for Pride last year. Members of TransLondon are extremely disappointed at being betrayed, marginalised and stereotyped in this way by Pride. Members have made their disappointment clear in a democratic vote to boycott this year’s march and rally."
TransLondon is keen to hear from other trans groups, allies and any groups from other parts of the LGBTQ community who also feel disenfranchised by Pride London this year. We would like to discuss alternative arrangements for a celebration of the diversity of the LGBTQ community, free from cynical corporate politics, where we can enjoy the true spirit of Pride.
I want to use this opportunity to make a personal statement about my own involvement in this decision. As people will be aware, I spent months last autumn trying to get a firm undertaking from London Pride that they would be more sensitive to our concerns; it was never acceptable that trans people be discriminated against at Pride in a way that would not happen anywhere else. Part of the background to my eventual acceptance of Pride's apology, when they finally chose to make it under threat of legal action, was a clear understanding that they try to do better.
None of the assurances that London Pride gave us have been honoured; they appointed a trans worker, but they did so without consultation with the trans community. After what happened, only a completely transparent set of procedures about staff training and resource planning would have been acceptable and there has been no such thing.
It is not acceptable that this year, after such a debacle, Pride decided to exclude TransLondon and other groups from the consultation process until a very late stage, and only after questions were asked at City Hall, and that their trans worker be someone who has expressed publicly her disappointment and disgust with the original protest against the behaviour of the stewards in the Trafalgar Square toilets. It is especially unacceptable that Pride decide to impose on the entire trans community a set of outdated sexist stereotypes - particularly in a year where we have had to make another public protest, against Julie Bindel and Stonewall.
We are not all Priscillas and football players; we are not the cast of Grease. We are trans women and trans men and gender-queers and neutrois and a whole bunch of other people getting on with our lives and expressing our identities in our own individual ways. Our Pride is about our identities; London Pride does not have the right to tell us who we are or should be, any more than Julie Bindel does.
Some people are very unhappy with Diane Taylor, the Pride trans worker, but I think it important not to attack her personally. She has her own perspective on what her job is, even if it is one we reject. It is not necessarily her fault that large parts of the trans community have been excluded from the consultation process - my view is that she has been kept isolated from us as much as deliberately choosing to ignore us.
As to her attitude to Toiletgate, the discussion we had with the Borough Commander of Westminster, in which he showed us CCTV footage which he sincerely believed showed one of the demonstrators assaulting a steward, demonstrates that that footage is open to misinterpretation. (If you look at it carefully, keeping track of the timings, and then look at the other camera angle doing the same thing, it is actually clear that one steward pushed a demonstrator into another steward - from one angle you can see the steward's feet as she steps forward to shove and from the other angle you can see her shoulders as she shoves and her hands on the demonstrator- but if you are told that what you are seeing is an assault by a demonstrator it is easy to miss it.)Diane Taylor's attitude is the result of misunderstanding what she saw.
The important thing is that, after a year in which Pride screwed up royally, they have chosen to be petulant and Not Listen To Us, because we are troublemakers. Last year, some of us worked very hard to make Pride, and trans involvement with Pride, a success, and we deserved and deserve better than to be ignored.
The trouble last year was never of our making.
Trouble? They don't know Trouble.