“None of us are the same, and that’s okay—that’s what makes women beautiful and unique, the fact that we are all different.” That’s what Lucia Blayke, founder of London Trans Pride and the brains behind Harpies, the UK’s first LGBTQI+ strip club, first said when speaking to Screen Shot about International Women’s Day 2021.
To celebrate this year’s IWD as well as Women’s History Month, Screen Shot partnered with three inspiring women who, through their community, platform, and online presence have challenged gender inequality each in their own way. Among them is Lucia Blayke, a passionate trans activist and scene figure who’s made a name for herself not only through her impressive projects mentioned above, but also by constantly speaking up about the specific issues the transgender community faces on a daily basis.
When it comes to challenging gender inequality, fighting for transgender rights and against discrimination and violence against trans people regarding housing, employment, public accommodations, education, healthcare—and more—should be at the top of the list. Both should go hand in hand, regardless of what the likes of J.K. Rowling think.
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Through her work, Blayke aims to help trans people “feel so much stronger and comfortable in themselves,” by bringing the community together. But, as she explained herself, there is so much more that needs to be done. “To me, challenging gender inequality in 2021 means continuing to hold our government accountable for any transphobic changes to legislature. This includes deciphering the deliberately vague announcements and propaganda in the media, to analyse that and raise awareness on what the government is trying to sweep under the carpet.”
As trans and gender diversity has become a regular topic of public debate (and a favoured target of rightwing attacks), the UK government used the COVID-19 induced chaos as an additional distraction to help hide its transphobic actions. Public figures such as politicians or even high profile newspaper columnists have used the pandemic to further demonise trans people—be that in print or on air.
According to a 2020 research conducted by the LGBT+ anti-violence charity Galop, in the last year alone in the UK, a quarter of trans people had experienced or been threatened with physical assault. Nearly one in five had experienced or been threatened with sexual assault.
The first step to start tackling transphobia is to recognise and understand transphobic hate crime. The second is to report such hate crimes. But along with those two necessary actions comes the need for more—the need for real support, for a community.
“My mission as the founder of London Trans Pride is to continue to show trans people everywhere that there is a community out there for them, that there is a place for them and that there are people that will love them and understand their struggles,” shared Blayke, adding that “it’s important now more than ever.”
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For International Women’s Day 2021, Blayke’s message to all women, but specifically to trans women, is one of self-love, unity and defiance, “Women come in so many different shapes and sizes, from so many different walks of life. How you know you are a woman comes from your intuition, not from society. It’s our patriarchal society’s messed up views that suppress women and trans people, and our unique power. But we’re still here, and we’re still shining bright. We cannot be erased, and that’s the most beautiful thing in the world.”
Challenging gender inequality in 2021 equals fighting for trans rights every day of the year. It means being courageous enough to speak up about injustice, even when you’re not the main target of it. And it also means taking part in the conversation and getting involved with Blayke’s movement in one way or another in order to promote the same message she does: “To all the trans women out there, keep your heads held high, be proud of who you are. Know that there’s a community out there that loves you and has your back.”
Last week, two black transgender women, Dominique ‘Rem’Mie’ Fells and Riah Milton, were murdered in the US, just as protests against racism continued to spread throughout the country. The killings of Fells and Milton, however, went largely ignored by mainstream media outlets and had failed to inspire collective outrage—indicating that rampant transphobia remains a roadblock on the path to racial justice and equality.
Fells was murdered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. According to local authorities, Fells’ body was found on the banks of the Schuylkill River on 8 June, with both legs dismembered. The motive and circumstances behind her killing are still being investigated and no suspects were apprehended thus far.
On the following day, 9 June, Milton’s body was found in Liberty Township, Ohio. Local investigators reported that Milton was fatally shot during an attempt to rob her and steal her car. Two suspects were arrested in connection with her murder, one of them a 14-year-old girl, and a third suspect remains at large.
News coverage of the murders was sparse and conspicuously absent from mainstream media outlets. And while some prominent political figures, such as Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, did condemn the killings and call to escalate the fight against transphobia, acknowledgement of and outrage over the murders largely came from within queer circles and activist groups.
“Her name is Dominique ‘Rem’mie’ Fells and there shall be no peace until justice is had!… #SayHerName #blacktranslivesmattertoo,” read an Instagram post by Sisters PGH, a Philadelphia transgender advocacy group.
The deafening silence in the face of the brutal killings of Fells and Milton can’t be rationalised by the turmoil unfurling across the country and the world right now, or the dizzying pace of news cycles. Rather, it should be acknowledged as a pattern of public indifference and permissiveness around what has become a global pandemic of violence against trans and gender non-conforming people of colour.
“While we’re talking about racism, while we’re talking about the changes that need to be [done] in this country, we need to talk about the hate towards trans people… particularly towards Black trans women,” said Deja Lynn Alvarez, a trans activist and advocate, in an interview for TIME.
According to Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an LGBTQ rights advocacy organisation, at least 26 transgender and gender non-conforming people were killed in 2019, most of whom were black trans women. Since the beginning of 2020, at least 14 trans women have been killed, including Fells and Milton, HRC reports.
This pandemic of violence does not exist in a vacuum, and is a direct manifestation of a culture that actively erases, marginalises and abuses trans individuals in virtually every sphere of life—healthcare, housing, employment, and civil rights. The situation has markedly deteriorated since Trump took office, as his administration has launched an onslaught on trans rights.
Just last week, on the fourth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre and during a global pandemic which disproportionately affects LGBTQ people of colour, the Trump administration had announced the official erasure of protections for LGBTQ people in the healthcare system—a move that would open the door for insurance companies to refuse coverage to trans people. A plea by the Department of Justice to reverse a lower court ruling and permit employment discrimination against trans people is currently being deliberated on by the Supreme Court.
And then there is Besty DeVos, Trump’s Education Secretary, who took it upon herself to deprive trans students of every vestige of dignity and recognition by, for instance, forcing schools to discriminate against trans athletes as a requisite for federal funding.
Even within the queer community, trans people, and especially trans people of colour, continue to be discriminated against and abused, and although LGBTQ rights as we know them today exist largely thanks to the sacrifice and courage of trans women of colour, their monumental contribution to the movement is only now beginning to, gradually, be recognised.
Policy solutions that would protect trans people and secure their rights are critical—but would not be enough. It would take a complete transformation of the discourse around trans visibility, trans liberation, trans history, and trans rights, and a drastic shift in who gets to shape such narratives, in order to create real, long-lasting change in their status and circumstances.
A quick look at the social media and news landscapes reveals that the discourse the public is exposed to concerning trans rights is heavily dominated by cisgender heterosexuals, primarily white ones. This was most recently exhibited by Daniel Radcliffe’s letter condemning J.K. Rowling’s series of transphobic tweets, in which he, shrewdly, remarked that “transgender women are women.” The letter instantly went viral, had made numerous headlines and was extensively covered by a wide range of publications.
While Radcliffe’s allyship is certainly important, and although (some) media outlets’ attention to his letter was undoubtedly well-intentioned, they nonetheless highlight the ways in which we get it all wrong and, paradoxically, contribute to trans erasure while trying to eliminate it.
As opposed to placing the limelight on cis heterosexuals and waiting for them to grant their stamp of approval or make trans people more palatable to mainstream society, we should clear the way for trans people, particularly of colour, to dominate headlines and magazine covers, lead conversations, speak on news channels, host news programs and have a path to hold political offices both locally and nationally.
To uplift black trans women, as is the case with any marginalised group, means investing resources directly in their endeavours and giving them the platform to tell their own stories, voice their own experience and make their own demands.
“When it comes to serving and protecting trans people, the conventional way of doing things and thinking about these things will not work. It’s time to invest in actual trans leadership,” said Deja Lynn Alvarez to Insider.
The momentum being built against racism could never be fully ceased, and the movement for racial justice reform would never effectuate meaningful change as long as only some black lives matter.