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#ClawsOutForTrans: the fight for trans representation continues

By Louis Shankar

Nov 20, 2018

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Emojis are everywhere nowadays. In just a few years, they’ve gone from being unusual to ubiquitous. Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2015 was the crying with laughter emoji. But who makes the decisions that go into creating the emojis that become a staple aspect of our communication?

The Unicode Consortium, a non-profit organisation founded back in 1991, was set up to develop, extend and promote the use of the Unicode Standard, which gives every character — from letters and numbers to emojis and Mandarin characters — a unique number supported across every platform, programme and device.

But how many emojis do you actually use? Who types with the rolodex emoji, or the handball player, or the “water not suitable for drinking” sign? Groups have often petitioned for more diverse support: the LGBT+ flag, different skin colours, gender parity across the sports and professions.

The trans flag—horizontal stripes of light blue, pink and white, designed in 1999 by Monica Helms, a trans activist and author—has repeatedly been one of the most requested additions, but Unicode has still not introduced one.

Emoji 12.0, scheduled for release next year, has an emphasis on inclusivity: there are draft emoji candidates for men and women in wheelchairs and with canes, a guide dog and a service dog, an ear fitted with a hearing aid. But still no trans flag.

One campaigner has now taken it into their (perfectly manicured) hands to ensure the community is not forgotten again. Charlie Craggs, a trans activist and founder of Nail Transphobia (and Nail It) has launched Claws Out For Trans, a new campaign run in conjunction with brand strategy consultancy Revolt that aims call out Unicode for their repeated failure to include the trans community, while this year managing to add a lobster emoji.

Writing on her change.com petition, Craggs explains: “Emojis are a way for the world to connect, and trans people shouldn’t be left out of the conversation.Unicode granted the Lobster emoji proposal, which argued that people suffered ‘frustration and confusion’ at having to use a shrimp or crab emoji instead of a lobster. Imagine if that was your gender.”

Claws Out For Trans plans sets out to use the lobster emoji as an unofficial trans emoji, a surrogate flag, plastered over Instagram, Facebook and Twitter so that it’s inescapable and evidences the collective desire—across countries, continents and languages—for trans representation in digital media.

She adds: “P.S. In a twist of fate: Lobsters can actually be Gynandromorphs (an organism that contains both male and female characteristics). So we’re going to take it as our symbol, until we get the Trans emoji we deserve.”

Apple, Google and Microsoft, along with the likes of Adobe, Facebook and, strangely, the Government of India, are all members of the Unicode Consortium;: they have the power and influence needed to introduce new emojis. Moreover, these are all companies that, this month, signed the Business Statement for Trans Equality in response to the Trump Administration’s mooted policy to define trans and non-binary identities out of Federal recognition.

The statement reads: “We … stand with the millions of people in America who identify as transgender or gender non-binary, or who are intersex, and call for all such people to be treated with the respect and dignity everyone deserves… We call for respect and transparency in policy-making, and for equality under the law for transgender, gender non-binary, and intersex people.” This is hugely important and deals a major blow to Trump as 176 major companies have signed the statement, who employ a total of more than 7 million individuals and have a collective annual revenue of over $3.2 trillion.

But such activism and solidarity need to happen at every level. Trans and non-binary lives are punctuated by microaggressions—being misgendered, someone using the pronoun, whether intentionally or not—and small gestures, which such titans of tech have proven they are capable of, can have a huge impact.