This was the speech I gave to PiPP Staff Networking event in March 2018.
Good morning lovely people – it is fantastic to be here.
When Kate asked me to come and speak here, at your wonderful Pride in Prisons and Probation staff networking event, she asked me talk about what keeps me motivated to continue to fight against discrimination, and promote positive representation.
Maybe I should start by telling you more about me, because right now you’re all thinking one thing. The very same thing I think every day when I get up and look in the mirror. Who the fuck are you?
So who am I, what have I done – why I am still alive age 44? Let’s get the obvious things out the way first.
And yes, you are right. I am amazing.
But it’s not just me that is amazing. You are all amazing too. You’re here. You LGBT or an LGBT ally – and you’re out.
The deserves a big round of applause amazing people! You are all amazing!
OK so I am not civil servant, I work for a small IT business that proactively recruits and deploys diverse people. Like me. Like you.
But that’s enough about work.
In the late 1990’s I setup a number of online social networks focusing on the trans community, pre Facebook, that in the end attracted 10’s of thousands of members. It’s initial aim was to simply to find people like me – it worked.
I also got involved with Sparkle – the national transgender charity, just over 12 years ago. And I took the Sparkle weekend from being a few hundred people in a park, to be the largest free to attend trans event in the world – with over 13,000 visitors. Thankfully now I am just a patron, and I get all the accolades and none of the stress.
I had found my cause, trans rights and equality and I was selfishly fighting for it.
In the last couple of years I have turned my attention to bringing my passions together – I am on the board of Series Q – an enterprise for LGBT entrepreneurs and start-ups. People in smaller organisations don’t have the ability to create staff networks like PiPP, and many entrepreneurs stay in the closet for fear risking their chances for funding. I want to change that.
People that are out and open about their sexuality or gender identity perform better than from inside the closest. But you probably all know that from your own personal experiences.
And most recently I have jointly started InterChange – and community for LGBT project, programme, change and transformation managers and leaders. Our first event is in May.
Things like that help your ego. But I’ve also worked with the AKT and LGBT Foundation in Manchester supporting young adults – it was there, doing that, I realised how lucky I was.
When I say out loud the thing I’ve done, it sounds like a lot. And when I say how lucky I am, what I really mean, is how privileged I am. The privilege I have gave me the mental tools and connections for me to do all those things.
For a start I was born male. I am white. For most of my life I was straight. I live in the UK. My parents are fairly middle class, now old, but still together. And apart from living in Hull, what could possibly go wrong?
What Doesn’t Kill You
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Obviously there is a rub. And it wasn’t until I was 24 that I came out to my then partner and parent of my youngest child, my son is now 21. At the same time I told them, I also told my parents I was on the trans spectrum. But it wasn’t until well over a decade later that the permanent gender drift happened. It takes years to transition – many people don’t understand why it is not overnight.
But being trans wasn’t the issue – if anything it saved me. And it obviously made me woman I am today.
Between the ages of 4 to 11 I was sexually abused by my parental grandfather. [Rub joke?] One of the default scripts that follows, is going off the rails – flunking school, having few friends, low self-esteem – and ultimately ended in me fathering a child age 17. Of course the other default scripts are criminality, depression, suicide.
At which point I did what every self-respecting teenager would do. I ran away to London – and 25 years later I’m here.
At age 17 I was broken. Riddled with guilt and shame about so many things – abuse, unplanned parenthood and constant underlying gender dysphoria. And like any teenager I told nobody about anything.
I now recognise if it was not for the privilege I had had – I would most likely be dead.
Like I said, what doesn’t kill you. Makes you stronger.
— PiPP (@HMPPS_PiPP) March 10, 2018
I said early you were all amazing for being here. And you are.
But we also need to recognise there are many people not here. The ones that didn’t join PiPP and amy other number of staff networks or community groups for LGBT people. The one’s that can’t make it like you have. Because their culture doesn’t tolerate LGBT people and they must hide their true selves. Or because they will never have the opportunity to work in an organisation like this, through lack of education, or because of the lack of role models in their lives that showcase you can do anything you want, you can love anyone you want. Or simply because their lives ended too soon.
Let’s pause for a moment and think about who is not here, even though they are LGBT but don’t feel able to join a community like yours.
Time to Change
As a successful white, straight man – standing at the edge of a metaphorical cliff. It felt like a lot to give up. To become lesbian, trans, woman. But I did it.
I simply didn’t realise what utter bullshit I was thinking at the time. To have had privilege, is to be privileged.
And I still have lots of privilege, and just knowing that actually means I have even more.
For example, men hold the door open for me and let me go first. Fucking idiots. Like for all women, it just means we’re even further ahead of them.
But if it wasn’t for the privilege I was born with. The privilege that enabled me to survive what life threw at me – letting me make mistakes and yet coming through them. I wouldn’t be the stronger, better and happy human being I am today.
I didn’t realise it, but it enabled me to give back. To want to do more for other people – to help others succeed like me, but in some cases for them to simply have just a slightly better existence.
A Different Life
My life could have been so different.
- I will never know what it is be like to be black, in a room full of white people.
- I will never know what it will be like to be a child and thrown out of my family home by parents because they discovered my gender identity or sexuality. Or like the story of my ex who saved up their money before telling their parents they were gay, knowing the very likely hood they would be homeless that night.
- I hope to never know how to navigate public transport as a blind person.
- I hope never know the feeling of being told I am HIV positive, or that my partner is dying of AIDS.
- I have never had debilitating anxiety and depression because of things I have experienced, or I simply unable to cope with everyday tasks because of post traumatic stress.
- I HAVE been verbally abused and spat on in the street on for being LGBT – BUT I have never been beaten up or left for dead for simply being my true self.
- I have never had to sleep with someone in order to keep the roof over my head, or spent one night on the street because I couldn’t afford to rent somewhere. Max, a young teenage trans guy from Manchester once told me he had a choice of living in a tent, sleeping with his 55 year old “boy-friend” or being bullied, harassed and mis gendered in a hostel. They are not choices I would ever want to make.
- I have never been gang raped in an effort to change my sexuality.
These things are happening every day to someone, somewhere – in this country and more often abroad.
In the UK we are moving forward. We have gay marriage. And trans rights heading in the right direction. We are on the right side of history, along with many other forward thinking countries.
Sadly in other countries things are in reverse. America has already taken away the right of trans people, and there are movements to overturn gay marriage too [of course there is a chance everyone might have be shot dead before then]. In Russia gay people are being rounded up and tortured. We don’t need a miracle – what we need is to fight for the rights for everyone, everywhere.
Everytime I talk. I have to say something about allies.
Have we got any allies in the room today?
[Thank you for being my ally]
The rights of black people didn’t change, until white people walked along side them.
Our rights as LGBT people didn’t properly change until straight people held our hands and marched down the street with us together.
For the LGBT staff and prisoners with rainbow flags flying over prisons during LGBT history month – they knew they had allies.
We only make progress when our allies walk side by side with us. We must embrace our allies.
As lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender… and everyone else under my the rainbow, under our rainbow – we are strong together. And we are even stronger when we join and support other minority groups that want equality just like we do.
I want to remind you what Kate asked me talk about today. What keeps me motivated to continue to fight against discrimination, and promote positive representation.
I hope by now you have realised I am not the perfect, positive, representation – I’m just lucky.
But I hope you realise that everyday, I think about people that are discriminated against because of who they. The colour of their skin. Their social background. Their disability. Their gender. Even their sexuality or gender identity.
On paper I am a lesbian, trans, women. I’m probably not ranked as someone with huge privilege. But as I explained already, I have too much.
If you have got extra, then give some of it back.
Find a cause. Make someone’s life better.
In short, find your cause. And lead the fight for it.