POLITICS

Transgender Equality A 'Totemic' Issue Of Our Time And Abuse Is 'Shocking', Says MP Leading Commons Inquiry

22/12/2015 07:25 | Updated 22 December 2015

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"I have gone through hell and have begged them to please move me to a female estate. If I had already been there I would not have been raped and assaulted, I’m so down and alone." So reads one sentence from just one piece of written evidence, from a prisoner, to the parliamentary transgender equality inquiry.

Action to tackle discrimination against trans people is "urgently" needed, says Maria Miller, the Tory MP for Basingstoke and chair of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee. "It is probably one of the last groups of people where discrimination is almost accepted by society and we have to stamp it out.

Miller has been overseeing the inquiry - the UK's first political examination of transgender rights - since July. "What has been most shocking is to hear the personal experiences of trans people who have had almost had to accept the unacceptable: which is day-to-day abuse on the street by members of the public shouting at them, and almost having to accept that is part of their life," she says. "That is not acceptable."

Speaking to The Huffington Post UK for its TransBritain series, Miller says her aim is that the report produced by her committee, which is made up of MPs from different political parties, "will challenge the government, challenge society, to treat people fairly and equally".

From Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair front cover, to the upcoming Eddie Redmayne film The Danish Girl, in which the British star plays a transgender character: Trans issues are in the cultural spotlight like never before. However, Miller cautions against being blinded to the struggles of ordinary people.

"The day-to-day life of trans people isn’t as glamorous as perhaps some of the reporting or recent announcements," she says. "It must be quite difficult for trans people to see that glamour alongside the reality of their own every day lives.

"Trans people have had to endure such incredible levels of personal abuse and discrimination that it felt to me it was one of the biggest issues we should be dealing with. Trans issues affect at least 600,000 people in the UK and the way it is dealt with is out of date."

One of the main focuses of Miller's inquiry has been how transgender people are treated in hospital and in prisons.

"In the public sector we would expect there to be a better understanding of these issues. But it appears to simply reflect the views that are held more generally in society," she explains.

"So the sort of discriminatory activity that we have evidence of happening both in the prison service and NHS is really unlike almost any other discrimination we see in those services."

READ MORE: Fear, Persecution And Death: Why Prisons Are At Crisis Point Over Trans Inmates

caitlyn jenner

In November, one of Miller's fellow Tory MPs described the creation of her committee as "one of the most depressing things to happen recently". It is fair to say Miller does not agree with Philip Davies, who used a debate on International Men's Day to attack "militant feminists and the politically correct males who sometimes pander to them".

Miller says: "Phillip does his cause no good by the way he expresses it sometimes.

"But the underlying theme is absolutely right. Men today face very, very, particular pressures in conforming to gender stereotypes. Gender stereotyping is pernicious and destructive for both men and women. We are stronger as a society if we embrace people for who they actually are."

As culture secretary in the last parliament, Miller piloted the same-sex marriage Bill past opposition from many on her own benches and into law. That experience spurred her on to tackle discrimination against transgender people. This is, she says, a "totemic" issue.

"I think we should be proud as a country, we have done so much to support lesbian, gay and bisexual issues, not only though the equality art but through equal marriage. Some would say we lead the world in that respect. But when it comes to trans issues we are letting ourselves down," she says.

"There are few events I go to without someone coming up and saying 'thank you'. They don’t really mean to me, they mean to the government of the day for putting in place that piece of legislation. Not because they wanted to get married. Because it gave them a feeling of legitimacy and equality.

"There can be many different ways we can achieve a more equal society, there are messages we send by pieces of legislation that may not directly affect one group, but will embolden and legitimise and give strength to other section of society."

SEE ALSO: Why 2015 Really Has Been The 'Year To Be Trans'

How long before parliament sees its first elected transgender MP?

"You are making an enormous assumption there," Miller immediately shoots back, gesturing around the atrium of parliament's Portcullis House office building. "That a) people should tell people they are trans, and b) there isn’t somebody here already who is a trans individual."

However, Miller predicts that given the public nature of an MP's job, the chances are a trans politician would be "quite transparent" about it.

"But, frankly," she adds. "Trans people deserve privacy in the same way we all deserve privacy. Maybe one day there will be somebody who is willing to discuss they are a trans individual in parliament. Maybe there won’t."

Useful websites and helplines:

  • The Gender Trust supports anyone affected by gender identity | 01527 894 838
  • Mermaids offers information, support, friendship and shared experiences for young people with gender identity issues | 0208 1234819
  • LGBT Youth Scotland is the largest youth and community-based organisation for LGBT people in Scotland. Text 07786 202 370
  • Gires provides information for trans people, their families and professionals who care for them | 01372 801554
  • Depend provides support, advice and information for anyone who knows, or is related to, a transsexual person in the UK

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