Lesbian Visibility In Public Life Is Still A Problem - Divisions Over Trans Inclusivity Are Not Helping

Our community has always been about respect and mutual support. It saddens me we’re losing that cohesion over issues like trans inclusivity
Corinna Kern / Reuters

Until around ten years ago, lesbians were like badgers. Everyone knew they existed, but few had anything to do with them.

The past decade has seen huge changes. Lesbians and bisexual women are more prominent than ever before in politics, the arts, media and business, and gay footballers who remain loath to come out could learn a thing or two from their lesbian counterparts.

And yet, compared to the vociferously out and proud community of gay men, we remain marginalised. Here’s an example: earlier this week, two women in Malaysia were publicly flogged having been convicted by a sharia court of attempting to have lesbian sex. Although the British press, including the BBC, The Guardian and others, ran the story, there has been very little public outcry.

Compare and contrast the furore of a couple of weeks ago which greeted the casting by Disney of straight actor Jack Whitehall as a gay character in a forthcoming movie. Social media went crazy, and chat shows cleared their schedules to dissect the rights and wrongs of Whitehall’s casting – I know, I was on one of them.

I accept that this is not a zero sum game. It is quite possible to be annoyed by straight men being cast in gay roles, while also being outraged at the events in Malaysia, and yet the coverage – from both within and without the LGBTQ community – has been disproportionately skewed.

Similarly, the casting of Scarlett Johansson as a trans man in the movie “Rub and Tug” caused uproar earlier this year, while the ongoing tragedy of so-called corrective rape, so prevalent in South Africa and elsewhere, receives precious little attention.

Some of the blame for this lies with the lesbian community itself, which now seems overly concerned with issues surrounding transgender rights. This debate - although shouting loudly at each other in real life or on social media can hardly be called debate - has become increasingly poisonous and aggressive, with each side taking entrenched positions and refusing to enter into any sort of dialogue.

People like author Stella Duffy, Stonewall CEO Ruth Hunt and I have been viciously abused on social media for taking a more inclusive stance, while some in our community are not moving with the times and are beginning to sound like the anti-LGBT hatemongers of 30 years ago. I and others have even been accused of not being ‘proper lesbians’ (and far worse) because of my views on trans inclusivity. Our community has always been about respect and mutual support, and it saddens me that we’re losing the cohesion which has hitherto made us stronger together.

Of course, I understand the concerns about women-only spaces and, at the same time, am able to acknowledge the hysteria and misinformation about trans rights disseminated through the media. And yet this single-issue obsession is drawing attention away from genuine matters of life and death.

I am hugely disappointed in some of my lesbian sisters, especially those high-profile journalists, influencers and activists who have done so much for our community in the past. While some obsess over trans rights, lesbians and bisexual women are being criminalised, imprisoned, flogged, raped and murdered simply for being who they are.

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