Thursday, July 17, 2008

Transphobia, Pride and the Police

An open letter to trans organisers and Pride 2008 participants in London

Facebook Group: Stop Transphobia At Pride

"UK: Public Statement on the Incident at the women's toilet at Pride involving a Trans woman" from Pride London forwarded by email on July 8th by Press for Change

Letter to the trans community by Steve Allen (Metropolitan Police) of 11 July, 2008

We were very sorry to hear that Roz Kaveney, a well-known trans activist who has made important contributions to trans organising, was harassed in the middle of the Pride march when trying to use the women's toilet, first by a steward sub-contracted by Pride and then by an LGBT liaison officer.

The two people, both presumably LGB:

· abused Roz by refusing her access to a women's toilet
· demonized her by comparing her to a man who had assaulted a woman (even though, as was later discovered, the victim had actually been trans)
· flagrantly used recent gains in gender citizenship legislation as a weapon against her by demanding a Gender Recognition Certificate
· attempted to criminalize Roz and those who spontaneously came to her support as an unlawful demonstration on private property (and had verbally abused them as a 'trannie mob')
· and threatened detention.

We welcome the debate that this incident has provoked, about the relationship between trans communities, wider LGB communities, and the police.

However, we believe that the debate has remained limited in several respects:
The representation of trans people and their interests.

In the debate, some individuals (particularly those involved in the public and voluntary sectors) appear to have appointed themselves as leaders and representatives of the trans community. We see several problems with this:

· Where do these individuals derive their accountability from?

Both Pride and the police have 'apologised', whilst defending their sub-contractors and officers. As solutions, diversity training (Pride) and a meeting and 'dialogue' (London Met Police) have been offered. As members of the trans community, we would like to know:

Who attended these meetings, and what entitles these individuals to represent 'the trans community'?
Whose interests exactly are being represented? How reflective are they of the trans community, which as we know is very diverse in terms of race, class and immigration status?

Who will carry out this diversity training?
Who will train stewards, and in what will they train them?
Whose trans issues will Pride volunteers and police be sensitized to?

Whose political voices have been heard?

In the debate so far, only the most conforming of trans voices have been heard. The political solutions suggested will likewise benefit mostly those who are already heavily networked up with the corporate LGBT sector and the police, and are regular participants in local government 'consultation and participation' settings.

How will this exacerbate existing divisions and hierarchies in the trans community, and lead to a new class of self-appointed 'community leaders' who claim the right to speak on everyone's behalf?

One trans 'leader' has urged trans people to refrain from writing angry letters to Pride, stating that this will endanger the "recommendations" and "negotiations taking place at the moment". She was uncritical of Pride's decision to report the letter writers to the police.

We want to know:
What are these recommendations?
Who is making them?
What gives her the authority to speak for all trans people?
Whose voices are being sidelined?
Whose interests are being represented?

How will we reflect the full spectrum of views and political responses to this incident, if we are not allowed to voice them?

· What kind of a society are we envisioning?

The strategies that have dominated the debate so far rely upon a citizenship model that reduces trans people to a 'minor/ity'. Do we want to be minors, who receive rights and privileges in return for our obedience and deference to a patriarchal state - which will protect our own best interests, which we cannot define and contest for ourselves? What other visions of society are possible?

2. The relationship between trans people and coercive gender norms

Some of the responses to the incident affirmed dominant gender binaries and hierarchies. For example, one trans organiser commented on Facebook that Roz was able to pass as a woman. In a different forum, a transman highlighted that Roz had had surgery. This would imply that those who resemble non-trans standards of gender most, are the least deserving of abuse. It leaves intact the hierarchy of obedience towards gender norms among transpeople – where rewards are due to those who pass most authentically.

A second example of such hierarchical thinking is on the Trans at Pride website. A butch lesbian, it is argued, would never have been excluded from the women's toilet in the same manner.

· This ignores the routine harassment experienced by gender-nonconforming people, and those who do not choose to pass as (non-trans) men or women.

· It also normalises the idea that binaried gender identity is a justifiable criteria for personhood and citizenship.

3. The relationship between trans people and the state

What is the relationship between transpeople and the state and its monopolies of power? Do we really believe in the myth of police protection?

Historically, the police have been perpetrators of gender violence rather than protectors against it. However, there is an increasing belief among queer and transpeople that the police are part of our community. Besides Pride, trans organisers, too, have invited police into our spaces. The 'Trans Community Conference' was even held in the headquarters of the London Met.

Who or what exactly are the police 'protecting' us from, and what does this 'protection' look like?

What if the police pose a threat themselves – who will protect us then?

Is it a coincidence that the 'LGBT liaison officer' joined in with Roz's abuse, rather than protecting her - and attempted to criminalise her and her supporters?

The shock with which participants in the debate reacted to this shows the success which the police have had in promoting themselves as 'pro-diversity' and 'equal opportunities employer', through such measures as sponsoring Pride and the Trans 'community conference' – or indeed years of expensive advertising campaigns.

If LGBT people are now the major symbols of police diversity, this was not always the case. It was the MacPherson Report into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, and its verdict that the police were 'institutionally racist', which created the need for the police to present themselves as pro-'minority'.

What has changed since then? The 'war on terror' is the new context for diversity politics. While the police are advertising themselves as diverse (largely through LGBT inclusion), police violence overall is again on the rise. If in the 1990s, there was wide-spread opposition to the routine 'stop and search' of non-white people, this is now widely accepted as necessary for 'our protection'.

Queer and trans people are increasingly buying into ideologies of 'terrorism' and 'Muslim homophobia'. [1] The unspoken subtext behind involving police of community events is often that LGBT people (assumed to be white) need 'protection' from Muslim people (assumed to be homophobic and transphobic). At the same time, white, middle-class queer and trans people participate in processes of gentrification, by organising events in brown, working-class communities which are perceived as very different from the queer/trans participants – at times exotic, at others threatening.

What does this mean, on a national and international level?
In consenting to police protection and inviting the police to enter our events, how do we participate in the Security Ideology which is serving to terrorise non-whites and other criminalised groups, such as sex workers? In presenting ourselves as a collective object in need of protection, how are we allowing the state to use us as an excuse to brutalise racial others in Britain and abroad?

Wherever there are people in uniforms there will always be gender violence. This is the case internationally – from the Stonewall riots in New York City in 1969 to transphobic and homophobic violence in present-day occupied Iraq (where American soldiers are joining local militia in attacks on gender and sexually non-conforming people). Is it really surprising that the police attack us when we invite them as a mass presence into LGBT spaces?

Finally, not all LGBT people have the same relationship with the police. Some are safer in the presence of police than others, some may actively seek out proximity to the police, while others (such as undocumented transpeople, non-white transpeople and trans sex workers) are targeted by police as criminals.

One example of this was the asylum strand in the 'Trans Community Conference', held at the headquarters of the London Met. The conference, and its venue, were widely celebrated as a step for inclusion, even though it actively excluded transpeople to whom this venue would have been dangerous or inaccessible. However, whose inclusion are we talking about, and what does this inclusion mean? Are we talking about a safer society for transpeople, or about status, funds and positions for the most powerful of transpeople?

In summary, we see an urgent need for a queer and trans politics which:
stays autonomous of the police.

goes beyond tokenism, opportunism and paternalism, and seeks to empower all queer and transpeople rather than a select few.

refuses to be enlisted into racist backlash and imperialist war.

challenges corporate LGBT interests rather than training them to hide their hatred of us behind more 'pc' language as well as meaningless policy acronyms (LGBT-BAME, more of the SAME).

We look forward to hearing allied voices.

Pride and Solidarity,
People's Revolutionary IDeas Eatery

[1] For an example of LGBT racism and imperialism, see issues 706 and 709 of Pink Paper ('Blood and Sand' and 'Ready for War'), which celebrated the gay participation in the war on Afghanistan. Confer also Leslie Feinberg's critique of Peter Tatchell in Workers World: Anti-Iran protest misdirects LGBT struggle, (17 July 2006) and Jasbir Puar's book Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times, Durham: Duke University Press (2007).

A recent example of queer and trans Islamophobia is the facebook discussion which followed an incident of transphobic name-calling at the Transfabulous picnic in June 2008. Photos of the incident were published on facebook and commented on in Islamophobic ways, such as:
'Not to make any assumptions, but they are probably Muslims. Why not tell them that Ayatollah Khomeini spoke in favour of transsexuality and that the Iranian state (which they probably will recognise as an Islamic state) pays for operations? (I know the motives and ways they do it are not wonderful but that's not quite the point here. It's just a way to make those kids change their mind and show them how ignorant they are)....'.

Friday, July 4, 2008

South-Korea's beef with the internet

For the last 58 days, every day in South-Korea has been marked by "candlelight vigils". While these vigils were started by highschool and middleschool students to oppose the import of US beef, they have grown to inlcude every demographic in the country and have become a public platform that shouts out not just against American beef, but against many policies presented by Lee Myung Bak and his administration in the Korean Blue House. Privatisation of medical services, Grand Korean Waterway, His authoritarian crackdowns on free speech and his attempts to control the press, these are but several of the issues that lead thousands and thousand every night to demand his resignation on the streets of Seoul. On June 10th, the day of the Korean people ousted the military dictatorships in 1987, almost half a million people gathered in Seoul alone.

While many of his actions worry me, his stand on the internet and press is one that most concerns me. Especially his stand on the internet is problematic, and reflects in many ways the infamous attitudes of the People's Republic of China. Restrictions of free speech were common in Korea before 1988, during military rule, and the press was in firm control of the government. Only twenty years into democracy Lee Myung Bak seems to slowly move back to just that. He appointed several of this close aides, campaign leaders and close political allies in key positions in several broadcasting agencies such as YTN and Arirang TV. KBS is currently under pressure of the governement because it tended to report about the candlelight protests, something which led to protests by citizens in front of their offices. Yet in the age of internet the influence of the press is limited: blogs, internetboards, independent newswebsites, all of those wield ever stronger opinions, something that didn't go unnoticed by the current administration.

Spam mail from anonymous users and the spread of false and inaccurate information is threatening reason and trust on the internet. The internet needs to be a place of trust. The strength of the internet can be poison instead of medicine if people cannot have faith in it.[1] Those are the words of Lee Myung Bak on Jun 17th. The false and inaccurate information relate to the candlelight protests held every night by citizens, at the start of those protests the Supreme Prosecutor General’s Office already announced that it would look into possibilities of prosecuting those "spreading false rumors about US beef".[2] Yet what would the effects be if such procecution is actually carried out? When claiming the importance of such "Freedom of Trust", "Freedom of Speech" has to clear the way in the mindset of the current South-Korean administration.

While not related directly to the internet, the case of MBC "PD Notebook" shows similar attitudes. "PD Notebook" is news program on the MBC that focused on BSE in the US on April 29th. Currently it's under investigations for "spreading false rumors" about US Beef.[3] Yet whether these are true or false, investigation by a prosecution office shows that the investigation itself is a political one. Because if in the end press, internet users and others can be prosecuted for "false rumors" the current three conservative newspapers: JongAng Ilbo, DongA Ilbo and Chosun Ilbo, as well as the governement itself, should be investigated for spreading rumors that might be potentially false. Such arguments are merely a tool to suppress specific news and opinions, because they provide an excuse for investigation... The simple fact that the Lee Myung-Bak's governement is using it says more than anything he has ever said during this entire crisis.


[1]. "Internet free speech to be restricted: Cheong Wa Dae takes steps to decrease negative public online opinion" The Hangyoreh, June 18 2008.

[2]. "Law enforcement officials pledge to prosecute people for ‘mad cow horror stories’: Gov’t appears threatened by spread of information via the Internet and increased number of candlelight protests" The Hangyoreh, May 8 2008.

[3]. "Investigation into MBC program raises questions about press freedoms: Media insiders say MBC report should be handled within the media community, not by the prosecution" The Hangyoreh, June 30 2008.