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What It Means To Be The First NUS Trans Officer

10/03/2017 16:37
James D. Morgan via Getty Images

This week I had the honour of being elected to the role of Trans Officer at the National Union of Students, making history as the first person to be elected to a role of its type in Europe. It's not often you get to say you've made history so I will lean into it: the existence of this role and the Trans Campaign will provide a vital campaigning resource at colleges and universities, a national platform to organise for trans liberation, and a democratic voice to trans students across the country.

This election is especially important in a climate where so few trans people are being paid to work on trans issues, and unemployment rates for trans people doing any sort of work well exceed the national average. Whilst we should be proud of the NUS for breaking new ground here, it feels almost bitter-sweet that 'trans person gets a job' is a cause for national celebration. It does shine a light on just how under-resourced the trans community is, though, and I hope other organisations can follow the NUS's lead here in helping to redistribute resources more equitably.

It's interesting to see the public's response to my election. I've not started the role yet and I am already bored of being asked about No Platform policies for transphobes within universities and colleges. Trans people have so much more to say than to talk about the people who hate us. Don't get me wrong, I think keeping our educational institutions safe for trans people is important, it's just there is this rich and nuanced conversation about trans rights happening within the trans community that gets derailed every time someone writes an editorial in a national newspaper saying that trans women aren't 'real' women. It's a distraction from the real work that needs to be done, and they know it.

Instead, we could be talking about access to healthcare. We could talk about the reproductive injustices that trans people face when accessing IVF or gamete storage. We could talk about why groups like Action for Trans Health have to constantly fundraise to provide grants to trans people to access healthcare because we are so frequently denied basic healthcare in our nation's hospitals and GP surgeries. We could talk about the illegally long waiting lists at gender clinics, and how underfunded they are. Better than just talking, we could be organising for an NHS that is well funded, kept in public domain and accessible to all.

Access to safe and stable housing for trans people is another key issue worthy of our time and attention. With employment rates for trans people low due to transphobia, and benefits hard to claim for when your name or gender marker might not match up across official documentation, trans people are especially at risk of homelessness. Many trans students come out at university or college and get cut off by their families, and can no longer afford the somewhat extortionate rent in halls of residence. Our plans for the year ahead include campaigning for reversals to the government's recent cuts to housing benefit for young people, training halls officers how to better support trans residents, and supporting the growing student rent strike movement.

We could be talking about the incarcerated trans people. In January, Jenny Swift, a trans woman housed in the all-male HMP Doncaster, was found dead in her cell after she was refused access to hormone medications. Prisons and asylum seeker detention centres, which are gender segregated, face a huge challenge in housing trans and gender non-conforming inmates due to the face that these facilities were not built with trans people in mind. On the inside, incarcerated trans people face violence and intimidation from both staff and fellow inmates. Yet recent campaigns, such as the one to move Tara Hudson from the 'wrong' (male) prison to the 'right' (female) prison, fall short of questioning whether prison and detention centres are the 'right' choice at all. With the government planning on building 5 new factory mega-prisons - essentially modern day workhouses - against a backdrop savage cuts to welfare and social support mechanisms, its clear what the real plan for marginalised folk in this country is. We will be working to advocate for incarcerated trans people, as well as campaigning for transformative alternatives to prisons and detention centres.

So next time you see a headline talking about the controversies of no platform at our universities and colleges, remember that instead of talking about transphobes, trans students are taking a leaf out of Tracey Chapman's book and talking about a revolution.

Jess Bradley is the NUS' first elected Trans Officer

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