This was another event featuring the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (virtual host), Interlaw Diversity Forum (organiser) and Global Butterflies (guests). Held on 24 June 2020.
COVID-19 has impacted everyone across the globe, but we have seen that it is not impacting everyone in the same way. We know from EU studies that the LGBT+ community has been impacted in greater ways, both economically and around physical and mental wellbeing. Their study has also shown that the trans and non-binary community have suffered even more negative effects. We have also seen the roll back (or threatened roll back) of legal rights and protections for trans and non-binary people in the UK, Europe and across the globe. This whole situation is unfolding against a backdrop of discriminatory views and negative attacks in the UK press and on social media.Blurb for the event.
Please join us for a special event from the InterLaw Diversity Forum in collaboration with our partners at Global Butterflies, the leading experts on trans and non-binary issues in the workplace. We have assembled a panel of trans and non-binary talent from the legal sector and the world of business.
We will be discussing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the trans & non-binary community and its impact on Pride season. We will also explore the importance of allies (from inside and outside the LGBT+ community) and what steps they can take to support, especially in the face of possible negative UK law changes.
- Emma Cusdin (She/Her), Director, Global Butterflies; People Director, Avia (Former)
- Theresa Farrenson (They/Them), Customer Experience and Integration Lead, Aon
- Rachel Reese (She/Her), CEO, Global Butterflies
- Luke Williamson (He/him), Law Lecturer and Solicitor, BPP
- Daniel Winterfeldt (He/Him), Founder & Chair, InterLaw Diversity Forum; Partner, Reed Smith
A member of staff from the Solicitors Regulatory Authority began the session by introducing Global Butterflies with this fanfare:
I’m a super fan of Global Butterflies and very proud that the SRA were one the early adopters of services. Rachel and Emma are absolutely super people and do a great job in getting others to understand on a very human level the crosses that they have had to unfortunately bear throughout their lives.SRA host
Interlaw compared the current situation of trans and non-binary people to that of gay people 20 years ago, not being able to be ‘out’ at work. Only a warm welcoming atmosphere at work would allow people to come out at work. Debating the existence of trans people was not on. People were trying to roll back the rights of trans people. It was close to the time that the Government were due to announce the outcome of its consultation on the proposed changes to Gender Recognition Act.
Fireside chat with Rachel and Emma
Reese explained that he had tried to transitioned in the early 90s but found it difficult to get a contract, so he switched back to male presenting and got a position in the College of Law in ‘trojan horse mode’ and then once he felt safe he begun his transition whilst there. The College was supportive but he was the only person there. Reese stated that he is not a qualified lawyer but he worked with the Law Society because they were unable to find any ‘out’ transgender people at the time. He left in 2015 and was surprised how little visibility there was of trans people. He tried to be a magistrate but he had a terrible time because he was a trans woman, so decided to do awareness training for transgender issues. The SRA was the first client he had and he targeted the law sector. Emma Cusdin (his now partner) joined in 2018, which bought banking and insurance into their work. They have now starting working in other countries, including New York, Toronto and Hong Kong.
Reese told us about his romance with Cusdin who had had his own trans inclusion training outfit called Transformations. Initially there was hatred, but then over lunch to discuss business the stand-off melted and were now engaged. They both like to drink champagne and indeed they did throughout the webinar.
What do firms often get wrong with regards to trans and non-binary staff?
Cusdin said that companies thought they could do one event and then that was the box ticked and thought that the issues were simply binary transitions and didn’t recognise the nuance of non-binary – Cusdin said that there were over 150 gender identities. The majority of people in the trans community were in fact non-binary.
Reese said that language was the important aspect. ‘Identity comes a little bit later in the corporate activism,’ said Reece and explained that although he knew, for example, that the host presented as male, and had he/him pronouns, he still could not presume to know what his actual gender identity was unless he asked him.
What is the power of having visible role models in the trans and non-binary space?
When Global Butterflies wrote the Lloyds of London Guide they realised the best role models were the ones within the corporate sector itself. These would serve as a much better example than a celebrity could and would encourage people to ‘change gender expression’. Line managers who had benefited from their training were more likely to have trans staff (one suspects such training happens after the announcement, rather than prior).
On the other hand Global Butterflies were concerned that you don’t overuse the one trans/non-binary person in the company because it could result in ‘burn out’. I suppose the real answer is to have a dozen of them.
What was it like to transition 20 years ago?
Reece transitioned in 1981. Transphobia back then was slightly different than today. Back in the day he might be spat on but there was very little awareness. He used the female toilets without issue at work. He thought people didn’t know how to be horrible to trans people back then (making his claim to being spat on look a bit shaky if I’m honest).
Now however, although the laws have improved with the GRA and the Equality Act, massively improved social networks and organisations which have allied to the transgender cause, things are somehow much much worse. The last 3-4 years has been ‘truly horrible’.
Reece feels that he has to take his passport to the loo and is worried about being frisked by the ‘gender police’. He now felt scared. The hate campaigns in the media are non-stop. He felt safer 20 years ago (when he was being spat on) than he does now. He had never worried about using public toilets, but he does now. He’s worried a woman might say something to him.
Cusdin intoned that we were ‘in a dip’ and ‘backward step’. Cusdin was happy with some of the things MPs had said and that the GRA consultation wasn’t going the way he had hoped. They are both big believers in the power of corporates to endure and effect social change, whereas governments come and go.
Reece knew a bloke who was 6 foot 10 who had asked him whether he could now say he was female and go into a women’s toilet. Reece told him that this would be fraudulent, but curiously rounded off the anecdote telling us that he the guy was a big softie and a Buddhist to boot.
Diversity Law made a direct comparison anti-semitism in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. He felt there was misinformation and fear-mongering, but failed to give a single example. On the other hand, he believed that most people were supportive of trans people and that it was simply a ‘vocal minority’. These days every ‘asshole’ was allowed a voice because of social media. When he recently interviewed Stephen Whittle, her message had been stay off social media and don’t interact. Great cult advice, I think we can all agree.
The inevitable mention of JK Rowling cropped up. She had been ruining the mental health of trans people because she wrote a blog post. Diversity Interlaw said Rowling’s were ‘problematic’ and ‘don’t match the law’ (failing to mention specifics because he has probably never read the essay) and were very upsetting to trans people.
Then the rest of the panel were introduced back to the webinar.
The rest of the panel
Luke Williamson is a woman and a non-practising solicitor. At university Williamson realised she was attracted to women but a year later felt that her gender was ‘wrong as well’. She began social transition at work who were supportive but still felt very difficult, for example she wanted the company to send round an email on her behalf explaining her transition and that she had ‘new pronouns’. She works for a private university where she is well supported in her identity.
Theresa Farrenson is a they/them and IT professional in the insurance sector. She was a founder member of her company’s LGBT network groups (these groups essentially ensure that Stonewall policy is enforced) and was also a chair of an external LGBT insurance network group similar to Interlaw. Farrenson had been out as a lesbian the whole of her professional career, however she recently came out as non-binary, which has been more tricky. She felt that she had to explain and sometimes even justify it to people. ‘You’re starting people on an educational journey,’ she told us earnestly. She has the open ear of her company’s diversity team and only has to hint that she needs something. So much oppression.
Farrenson has spoken on behalf of women in the insurance industry as recently as 2018, in 2021 (after a haircut) she was one of Nestle’s Top Ten Diversity Heroes (scroll to end).
Q&A with audience
I identify as non-binary, but I am born male and pass as a cis gay man, which makes it difficult for me to announce my non-binary identity and often don’t. What can I do?
Farrenson said start small and find your friends and build a circle of trust. Farrenson also had the same dilemma, having been out as a lesbian for almost 50 years (probably a slight exaggeration). Changing people’s perspectives takes time. Interestingly she has known Cusdin and Reece for ‘many years’.
Reece had transitioned at the same time as his peers he hung out in clubs with, however now that same cohort had moved themselves into the non-binary category. Proving just how fluid gender identity is.
Should pronouns only be used at LGBT+ events or every day?
(I think we know the answer to this question, don’t we? Please skip to the next section if you want.)
Farrenson said yes it should be general parlance (i.e. everyone should have it in their bios and sigs). This is because it ‘starts conversations’ and makes non-binary people feel more included. She looked back with nostalgia on the time when ads used to feature subtle winks to the gay people that they were being included, which would pass over the heads of the straights. It’s confusing to claim you want recognition and simultaneously retain the glamour of the forbidden, but that’s what Farrenson wants.
‘Don’t worry about pronouns!’ lied Reece.
Stick a Rainbow at the bottom of your sig too, to indicate your an ally, said Farrenson.
Williamson isn’t sold on the idea that pronouns do that much and felt it was very much like lip service. Recently Global Butterflies had visited the firm she works for and had recommended to the HR department that pronouns should be part of the company house style. This means Williamson now includes her pronouns (he/him) on all her email communications was finding it more validating than she expected. Hurrah!
What are some examples of micro-aggressions you have come across as trans and non-binary people?
Williamson told us that she wore a little Rainbow pin which allowed a student of hers to come out as non-binary. The only micro-aggression she had experienced was generally, i.e. people who suggest that people like her were confused lesbians. Williamson was keen emphasise that she completely passed as male and talked about how she had become aware of male privilege and was uncomfortable with it. She gave the classic example where a woman at work had made a suggestion which was rejected, Williamson then made the same suggestion and was accepted. Williamson doesn’t enjoy it when men share politically incorrect jokes with her.
Farrenson responded that non-binary identified people not being recognised in law was a macro-aggression. Micro-aggressions included that most people recognising that there were only two sexes and she constantly found herself confronted by that fact with marketing. She also felt sidelined that the typical body image associated with androgyny was ‘straight up and down’ which wasn’t realistic for a lot of women.
Her main bug bear though was forms. The question is always there, even when you book a table in a restaurant (a quick check of UK dining platforms contradicts this), even when they don’t need to know your gender, and they didn’t allow you to announce your gender either. They just wanted to force you into a box. Asking for someone’s title (Mr, Mrs, etc) was like asking for someone’s gender identity and just irrelevant.
How can we work towards using gender neutral pronouns in legal documents?
Global Butterflies helped Interlaw Diversity Forum develop their Guide to Gender Neutral Drafting, available on their website. Reece felt that government lawyers new to the profession needed to be trained in this topic, claiming that 20 percent of Gen Z people identified as trans/non-binary, and was therefore essential this was part of legal training.
Williamson had a problem with the style guide that the SRA had published because it made it impossible to delineate when the word ‘they’ related to a singular or plural (as if the SRA were responsible for English grammar). She gave an impassioned plea that it was possible to always understand that ‘they’ when it was used a singular pronoun, but what did Farronson think?
Farronson: ‘No one gets harmed by the use of the ‘they’ pronoun’. Really? What about all the men, women, trans women and trans men who would be harmed by being referred to as ‘they’? How utterly dismissive.
Then Diversity Interlaw also admitted third person pronouns can get confusing, and suggested that new pronoun, like ‘zir’ should perhaps replace the word ‘they’ instead.
Farronson responded that usually you use people’s pronouns when they’re not in the room. There was agreement that it was worth putting the time and effort into practicing getting pronouns right.
What does intersectionality mean to you and your identity?
Reece told us ‘people are onions’ and that he identified as a woman, a lesbian and someone with mental health issues. Nuff said.
Everyone else parroted the line that we are so much more than just our labels. Acknowledgement of privilege was important. The discussion did go on quite a long time.
How can allies help with the mental health of their trans and non-binary colleagues?
Reece told us ask them if they’re okay. He had had sleepless nights the previous week awaiting the Government announcement on the GRA consultation. He reminded the audience that there were a lot of template letters available on the internet to download and send off to MPs. He had proofread of lot of letters before they were sent, being a charitable sort of bloke.
Farronson said it was a good idea if people educated themselves, quoting the title of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race.
Williamson moaned about the implications of COVID affecting the length of ‘transition’. There had been a shortage of hormones during lockdown and there were only three surgeons in the UK who do phalloplasty surgery (I met one of them, he was obese and fell asleep in the meeting). Juno Dawson had apparently compared being trans to having a power draining app on your phone, a metaphor I think we can all agree with.
Two of Interlaw Diversity’s friends had set up https://notaphase.org, and you could buy a T-shirt and show that you were an ally. Not A Phase were in the process of setting up a charity ‘by trans people for trans people’ (sounds a bit exclusionary to me). There would be a March on 4 July 2020 in Parliament Square.
Cusdin recommended listening to TED talks on trans and non-binary issues. It was also important to check in with people.
This was held just a few weeks after George Floyd’s murder, so Diversity Interlaw also wanted people to check in on how people of colour were feeling too. He claimed that he knew people who were on the ‘brink of homelessness’ (chandelier and designer fridge on view in background).
How do we deal with JK Rowling types who raise issues to do with non-trans or cis-women?
Reece told us his ‘trans passion is anger and resentment and extreme happiness/unhappiness’, but he was going to be even-handed and would therefore acknowledge Rowling had experienced domestic violence and that she and the gender critical movement were concerned men would come into women’s spaces.
Now that’s never going to happen, and it hasn’t happened and it won’t happen.Reece, using a rhetorical device of saying something three times
Reece said he believed that Rowling had come under the spell of the gender critical movement and that it had skewed her view of the world. Reece stressed that he was trying to talk about her in the nicest way possible.
Farronson also shared his view. On the topic of Rowling’s abuse, she said: ‘Not being heartless, yeah, but so what?’.
Interlaw Diversity knew someone who knew Rowling and reported that she genuinely believed that she was not transphobic and he had to explain to that person that some of her statement challenged the law as it stands now and were not inclusive. It was probably a better strategy just to ignore her and try educate the people in the middle.
Cusdin was a huge Harry Potter fan and wanted to separate her as the artist from her work. He recommended people read the blog that Mermaids wrote in response to her original essay. Cusdin said that Rowling’s essay was light on sources and data. He wanted a more ‘nuanced conversation, rather than shouting at Twitter’. He asked people to do their research and think about the ‘super hurtful comments she had made’.
Curiously no one mentioned, let alone condemned, the abuse that JK Rowling had been subjected to. There was zero acknowledgment that she had been subjected to death and rape threats, receiving thousands of abusive messages online, and that trans activists had posted pornographic images to a thread she had created specifically around her latest children’s book, in which she had invited children to post their drawings of the Ickaborg. In some cases, these had been the same people who want to see a dilution of female only spaces and protected female rights. Funny innit.
Hire Global Butterflies for training and so they can rewrite your HR policies and also donate money to organisations like Mermaids, Gendered Intelligence and Stonewall. Write a letter to the your MP and the PM. Join the march on 4 July.
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