At the 2014 local elections in Islington, I was proud to be elected to represent my community and to help make a difference for local people.
It was an incredible privilege to receive the support of my neighbours, in the community I have called home for more than 20 years, and it meant all the more to me as an openly trans person.
I’m what you might describe as a ‘reluctant politician’. I never thought I’d stand for election, let alone win. But my career in the NHS and my passion for social justice led me to the Labour Party, and eventually to stand for the ward in which I live.
Over the last four years as an Islington Labour councillor for Highbury East ward, I have met, worked with and helped many local people. From helping people in poor housing conditions, to supporting local community groups - it’s been a challenging, but incredibly rewarding experience.
At the same time as I have been attending committee meetings at the Town Hall, listening to local people at my surgeries and campaigning to help make a difference for people in my ward, I’ve also completed my transition.
It is my values and commitment to helping people that define me as a person and as a councillor, not being a trans person. However, we do need to hear more trans voices in politics, and one way to do that is to help more trans people to be elected.
I am proud to have supported Islington Council in marking International Trans Day of Remembrance - bringing fellow councillors, staff and the community together to recognise the shocking levels of transphobic abuse and violence people suffer and to foster solidarity to tackle it. The Council has also developed its first trans staff policy, to support trans staff and to help all staff to better understand how we can foster an inclusive and supportive working environment.
But we need to see more trans people elected across the country. The challenges trans people face are more likely to be addressed if our voices are part of local and national conversations.
With more trans people as councillors and MPs, it would be easier to make the case for cutting the red tape around changing identification documents - when you’ve been through incredibly personal medical treatment, the last thing you need is to be jumping through admin hoops that are completely unnecessary.
With more trans voices in our public debate, we’d be able to challenge the unforuntate tendency for people, including doctors, to view being trans as some sort of medical condition, particularly a mental health condition. Of course, being trans can have a impact on your mental health, but each individual is different and we mustn’t generalise all trans people. One of the most challenging things trans people face is not getting access to appropriate treatment, which attitudes like this can make even harder.
Having trans voices heard would also help to call out the abuse and violence that trans people face. It is shocking how common this is. But without more prominent people, particularly those with the power to help urge the authorities to do something about it, progress in reducing transphobia is too slow.
I am lucky to have been supported at every step of the way by my friends, colleagues, Jeremy Corbyn and above all, local people. It is an incredibly humbling experience to be able to help someone who needs your support as their elected representative. For me, it is extra special when people see me as a Labour councillor who is on their side, not as their ‘trans councillor’.
I am standing again on Thursday to once again ask for the support of local people to be their community champion. If I am re-elected, I will still be one of only a handful of openly trans people elected to political office in the UK. We need this to change to help support the rights of trans people across the country.
Osh Gantly is the Labour councillor for Highbury East in Islington