OPINION: The L must stand with the T and support trans rights

Monday, 15 April 2019 13:01 GMT

A rainbow flag flies with the Union flag above British Cabinet Offices, marking the first day Britain has allowed same sex marriages, in London March 29, 2014. Prime Minister David Cameron hailed Britain's first gay marriages on Saturday, saying marriage was not something that should be denied to anyone because of their sexuality. Campaigners have spent years battling to end a distinction that many gay couples say made them feel like second class citizens and Saturday was the first day that gay couples could tie the knot in England and Wales. REUTERS/Neil Hall

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Lesbians must stand alongside their trans sisters in support of equality for all in the LGBT+ community

Linda Riley is publisher of DIVA Magazine and board member of the U.S.-based LGBT+ campaign group GLAAD

On April 12, Openly published an opinion piece by Angela Wild that claimed that lesbian identity is being erased by trans women and those who support them. 

Paradoxically, Wild was advocating for the “L” to be removed from “LGBT+”, something that would contribute to “lesbian erasure” far more effectively than opening one’s hearts and minds to a community that has been – and continues to be – vilified and marginalised by much of society. As a group of people who have also suffered from abuse, ridicule and exclusion, my lesbian sisters should know better.

Wild talks about the backlash against her and others for “the fact that a small group of lesbians were marching at Pride in London”. This is disingenuous. 

She does admit that her participation was uninvited but fails to mention that groups marching at Pride in London need to register, be allocated a starting point and generally adhere to the not-especially-onerous regulations laid down by Pride, the Metropolitan Police and Westminster City Council.

It could be argued that Pride in London was not a particularly wise choice of event for these protesters to target.

The co-chair of Pride is a lesbian and the DIVA Women’s Stage in Leicester Square is one of the largest spaces at any Pride event in the world (if not the largest) dedicated solely to women, most of whom identify as lesbians. Do Wild and her “Get The L Out” colleagues really want lesbians not to enjoy the sort of visibility that, frankly, we have never had before?

Let us now discuss Wild’s research and its conclusions. This research is unconvincing and seems to be limited to 80 responses from various unnamed women’s groups and her friends. There is nothing wrong with writing an opinion piece based on anecdotal evidence, but this should not be dressed up as serious research to reinforce already spurious points of view. Such a tiny pre-selected sample adds no value to a debate.

Let’s face it, in a country of 65 million people, it is not difficult to find 80 people to support any argument.

A few months ago, I appeared on the BBC’s Woman’s Hour radio programme alongside the lesbian feminist writer and campaigner Julie Bindel to discuss trans inclusivity. Julie and I hold opposing views but our discussion was undertaken with respect and courtesy.

I made the point, in my capacity as publisher, that DIVA Magazine was inclusive of ALL women and that in 40 years of being an out lesbian, I had never come across anyone being coerced into having sex with a trans woman.

Of course, there are people of all sexualities and gender identity who do not understand that no means no – mainly straight cis-men – but I see no evidence of any greater incidence of this reprehensible attitude to sex among trans people when compared with men and women across the wider UK population.

After my appearance on Woman’s Hour the online abuse I suffered was obscene. My choice of sexual partners was dissected; I was the victim of class abuse (I have a working-class London accent) with comments about me “sounding thick” or being expected to “break into a chorus of ‘My old man’s a dustman’”.

I was informed that “I have thrown lesbians under a bus”, was called a “villain” and a “pimp” while insulting and untrue stories were circulated about me across social media. I was told I was not a “real lesbian”.

Remember, all this was because I said on the radio that DIVA Magazine was trans inclusive, and that I had not seen any evidence of lesbians being forced to have sex with trans women.

To be clear, I am speaking out as a cis-lesbian with a platform. Many cis-lesbians agree with me but are afraid to speak out, not least because they have witnessed the harassment and the bullying that has come my way.

If a trans woman says she is a lesbian, nobody has the right to question that self-identification.

It wasn’t that long ago that people were denying lesbian identity by claiming that “they haven’t met the right man yet”.  Do we, as lesbians, really want to go down the same road? And it is our choice if we wish to have relationships with trans women who are lesbian identified…or not.

In my experience, trans women are highly unlikely to want to have any sort of relationship with someone they deem to be transphobic. I am reminded of life back in the 1970s and ‘80s when straight women avoided lesbians in case we wanted to sleep with them when, frankly, we did not want any sort of intimacy with lesbi-phobic people who thought like that.

Let us now come to the thorny issue of public loos and changing facilities. All I will say is that I wish there had been people who had leapt to my defence when as a cis-woman and mother of two daughters, I have been blocked from entering women’s facilities, presumably because I do not conform to some people’s ideas of femininity.

Finally, I should say that I have never met a trans person who wants to erase or marginalise lesbians so, if only as a matter of common decency, we should offer the same respect to trans people.

I have no doubt that, as a result of publishing this piece, I will receive yet another onslaught of insult, vilification and abuse. I can handle this but spare a thought for one moment for those trans women whose lives are blighted by constant bullying…and try to find some compassion and understanding.


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