At last, the equal marriage bill has become law. It would have been hard to miss the ecstatic celebrations of the bill’s proponents and of the same-sex couples who will now have equal marriage rights. It is a tremendous achievement, which has justifiably delighted those who campaigned for it tirelessly. Commentators have declared that ‘Britain can now proudly claim to be a beacon to the world for gay equality’ and have described the Bill’s passage as an ‘historic moment’.
Yet, even with the progress this bill brings the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual community there is still a lot to be done to combat societal repression and homophobia both in our own community and those around the world. Given the huge presence of international students at Oxford, it is important to consider that seven countries still mandate the death penalty for homosexuality and 41 out of the 54 Commonwealth Nations, from where there have traditionally been a great number of students at Oxford, still criminalise homosexuality.
Additionally, some trans people, who have historically been and are still too often marginalised by society, are beginning to feel increasingly marginalised within the LGBTQ community. Struggling to get their voices heard amidst the equal marriage celebrations, some members of the Trans community were more reserved in their celebrations, not least because of one aspect of the new marriage act – described by opponents as a ‘spousal veto’. Now that the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual community have achieved ‘full equality in law’ some Trans people have a completely reasonable concern that their issues and challenges will continue to be sidelined. As president of the university’s LGBTQ Society, I want to make it clear that the society will work hard to make sure trans students do not feel marginalised in Oxford.
Some people argue against the inclusion of trans issues alongside LGB issues because they consider sexual orientation and gender identity to be incompatible. Yet, historically, the gay rights movement has been inextricably linked with the struggle for trans rights as the prejudice and discrimination facing the whole community stems from assumptions surrounding gender-appropriate behaviour. These include certain ways one is ‘supposed’ to act as a member of a particular gender, including being attracted to those of the ‘opposite’ sex. The whole community faces similar challenges. Ensuring equal status for transgender students requires strong advocacy from everyone and it is in the community’s interest to work together.
This year I’ll be encouraging the society and the whole university to ‘come out’ as trans allies. As it is likely that we will meet someone who is transgender at some point in our lives (even if we don’t realise it), we can all make the effort to do some extremely easy things to help make trans people feel comfortable and respected. This could include using the name and pronoun that a person asks you to, being respectful of individuals’ privacy, refraining from using offensive language such as ‘tranny’, being aware that not everyone fits into, nor wants to fit into, the ‘male’ or ‘female’ category and, perhaps most importantly, having the humility to recognize that we might be ignorant of many of the issues trans people face in their daily lives. Taking even small steps to get to grips with those issues ourselves is a step in the right direction not only for trans people but also for our own personal growth.
Trans people are an important part of Oxford’s LGBTQ community and we can’t let them feel ignored. We must work hard to ensure our community does not become fragmented. You can be sure that Oxford LGBTQ Society will work hard to represent the whole community including trans students, gay and bisexual students, students from abroad and ethnic minorities. We’re stronger together.
If you would like to read more about the ‘Spousal Veto’, consider Sarah Brown’s excellent blog on the topic: http://www.sarahlizzy.com/blog/?p=154