No, acceptance of LGBT+ people isn’t going backwards

The Guardian, and pretty much every other newspaper, reports today that acceptance of LGBT+ people is in decline. As The Guardian put it in a social media headline:

Acceptance of gay sex in decline in UK for first time since AIDS crisis

That’s not what the social attitudes survey, which the headline refers to, says at all. It reports that in the last three years, the percentage of the 3,000 people polled who say there’s “nothing wrong at all” with same-sex relationships has been 66%, 68% and 64%.

As Matt Singh, pollster, election analyst and person who is Very Good With Numbers put it on Twitter:

Silly, sensationalist, clickbait. The measured proportion saying same-sex relations “not wrong at all” fell two points from the last BSA, well within the MoE (not acknowledged until para 7) and might simply be because 2016-17 saw a relatively big increase

…As recently as 2012, this was a minority view. It is now the view of two-thirds of GB adults. Please don’t make LGB communities feel their acceptance is under threat because you find statistical caveats inconvenient.

In 1987, 64% of people said same-sex relationships were wrong. In 2017, that figure was down to 19%. Here’s the graph.

It’s not very clear, I know: the pink line is the percentage saying pre-marital sex isn’t wrong; the green one, same-sex relationships. The little downwards bit at the end is the difference in polls in just one year in a poll of 3,000 people.

You’ll see there was a much bigger dip in approval of pre-marital sex in 1996 and another a few years later; nevertheless, the trend continued upwards. Acceptance of same-sex relationships may well be slowing down, but it’s unlikely that it’s peaked and you can’t infer decline from a difference that’s well within your poll’s margin of error. And yet even The Guardian is going for the most click-baity interpretation of the numbers, something that’ll delight the bigots.

Acceptance isn’t going backwards. But journalism appears to be.

We rise

[Content note: homophobia and transphobia]

Last year, a group of anti-trans bigots delayed the London Pride march. This year, the march was led by trans-inclusive women. I’m quite sure the above image, from Picadilly Circus during the march, caused a few bigots’ mouths to froth.

In the same week, a YouGov poll investigated people’s attitudes towards LGBT+ issues and trans rights. A majority was supportive of both, including self-ID for trans people. It’s interesting to look at the detail. In every single demographic – conservatives, labour, remain, leave, north, south, young, old – there is clear support for making the gender recognition act more fair to trans people. Among women the split is 62% in favour against 18% against and 20% don’t knows. When you consider the incredibly one-sided scaremongering in the majority of the media, that’s amazing.

Part of it is that people are generally good. And part of it is that the bigots have overplayed their hand. This week, the same clowns who disrupted last  year’s Pride protested outside a Stonewall conference. They had posters showing graphic post-surgical images in a chilling echo of the anti-abortion evangelicals who work closely with the UK anti-trans movement, and looked identical to their US fellow travellers and funeral picketers the Westboro Baptist Church, pictured below.

I’ve chosen one of the least inflammatory images I could find of them. Even by religious bigots’ standards, they’re despicable.

As Ellen from TransgenderNI wrote: “It’s a slipping of the mask. Anti-choice campaigners and anti-trans campaigners have the same tactics because they have enormous overlap in their communities.”

Two of the people with placards recently travelled to the US, apparently paid by the evangelical anti-abortion, anti LGBT+ group The Heritage Foundation, where they abused trans politician Sarah McBride in her place of work. One of them apparently associates with far right holocaust deniers. When they’re not abusing trans people, their online supporters abuse women and groups who support trans people. After their London protest, they were asked to leave the National Theatre’s restaurant because of “their refusal to put placards out of sight that featured messages which upset other customers and contravened our visiting policy, and culminated in abusive behaviour towards our staff.” Nice people.

Just like the “God hates fags” mouth-breathers, the anti-trans bigots won’t go away. But they are on the losing side. Over the weekend in London and Dublin, more trans people marched together than ever before. Politicians including Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon took a firm stand against the abuse. And more closeted trans people got to see that they weren’t weird, that they weren’t something to be ashamed of, that they weren’t alone.

Simply having access to information, to images of trans people as perfectly normal, is very recent.

As one trans woman put it, echoing something I experienced for many years from the 1990s onwards:

[Pride] jogs memories of long, shame-filled nights online, feverishly researching trans lives to try and understand confusing aspects of your own behaviour. And all the info you find is from [bigots and quacks] because it’s two thousand and fucking one, and what you read doesn’t quite match your own experience so you just… move on. Because what upstanding Christian child wants to lump themselves in with a bunch of degenerate perverts?

…[you] try to forget it ever existed because nobody has been hurt, not yet, nobody has to know. Especially not yourself.

Better to just forget. That’s the smart decision.

This is why Pride matters. @Scattermoon on Twitter:

How far we’ve come from a few isolated trans kids posting in online communities about our traumatic experiences, to large groups of trans kids marching in trans flags, together.

Buzzfeed’s Patrick Strudwick:

We spend our lives amid endless messages – from the subtle to the violent – that we are bad, wrong, evil, unworthy, unhealthy, inhuman, immoral – and we carry on. More than that: we retain dignity, we succeed, contribute, love. We rise.


The scaremongering needs to stop

It’s not a great day for news about trans people. In Antwerp, a teenage trans woman was gang raped by three men on her very first day presenting female. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, no doubt upset some of her transphobic members by tweeting about it:

Important to remember that – far from being responsible for the actions of abusive men – trans women, just like all women, can be and often are the victims of male violence.

Stories like this don’t stop the scaremongering about trans women, which often makes malicious allegations about trans-inclusive individuals and organisations. When they’re not shouting at women on Twitter, the anti-trans group calling themselves Women Make Glasgow are demanding Stonewall be banned from schools for “lobbying school children in an environment where no-one is allowed to do this.”

Stonewall’s Colin MacFarlane:

Yet again facts don’t seem to matter. We don’t ‘lobby’ school children we train teachers & educational professionals on how to create inclusive learning environments for ALL young folk.

Why is that work with teachers so vital?
Nearly half of LGBT young people and 71% of trans young people are bullied simply for being who they are.
Nearly one in twenty young LGBT people have received death threats
41 % of young people hear nothing about LGBT people in schools

Teachers tell us that they want to get it right for their LGBT pupils and that’s why they come to us for help.

You can read our full School Report here. 🚨some of the stats here may be triggering. 🚨

Here’s a typically measured, intelligent response – the first one in the thread.

@Cmacf76 It’s ok if you want to get into kids’ pants? Eh? What sicko world have we created for today’s children?

Incidentally, other responses show another problem beyond basic bigotry: misinformation recycled as fact. One commenter asks about kids being expelled for saying there are only two genders; the story they’re alluding to has nothing to do with Stonewall and the school concerned, in Scotland, excluded the teenager for breaking its no-exceptions rule prohibiting pupils from filming teachers in classrooms.

It’s not just LGBT+ charities. Any organisation that says it isn’t opposed to trans inclusion becomes targeted. Recent examples have included charities such as Scottish Rape Crisis and Scottish Women’s Aid.

Here’s Brian Dempsey, a lecturer at the University of Dundee’s law school, writing in response to a piece in Scottish Legal News.

The feminist women’s groups who have most experience of fighting for and delivering women-only safe spaces, including Scottish Rape Crisis, Scottish Women’s Aid, Engender, Zero Tolerance all have experience of operating services on a self-declaration basis and they strongly support reform.

Your report points out that the majority of funding for these and other effective, well-established feminist organisations comes from the Scottish government. The implication that dedicated feminists are actively undermining women’s safety for the sake of government money is both unfounded and distasteful.

The claims come from the same place as the leaflets being put through Glasgow doors claiming 82% opposition to proposed gender recognition reform. As The Ferret points out, that claim is false.

The latest survey of attitudes in fact shows majority support across the UK, as PinkNews reports:

Despite public protests, 59 percent of the UK population – including 47 percent of Conservative voters – back teaching LGBT-inclusive relationships education in schools.

56 percent of people are also in favour of trans people being able to self-identify their gender, which comes as the government is expected to respond to its consultation on potential reform of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) in the coming weeks.

Human rights shouldn’t be subject to popular opinion: in living memory there was a 3/4 majority against civil rights for people of colour, a 3/4 majority against civil rights for gay people and so on.But it demonstrates that despite the best efforts of the bigots and their friends in the media, most of the public is on the right side of history.

What have we become?

Frances Ryan, in The Guardian:

Medics often use life expectancy as a barometer of the health of a nation and by official measures, Britain is getting sicker. For the first time in 100 years, Britons are dying earlier, leading a team of specialists to meet at University College London this month to investigate it.

The UK now has the worst health trends in western Europe, with experts stating that austerity is a major factor. This is no coincidence considering that consecutive Conservative-led governments chose far deeper cuts in the wake of the 2008 global crash than many other European countries, opting for dramatic reductions in funding for anything from meals on wheels, to NHS spending and social security.

Even babies are not immune to such political failings. The infant mortality rate in England and Wales is rising after more than a century of continuous improvement. As child poverty grows, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health estimates infant mortality rates could be 140% higher here than in comparable wealthy countries by 2030.

Trans is beautiful

Let’s post this picture again.

Everybody in this photo is trans, and it’s important that you see that. Because conventionally attractive trans women are the last thing the anti-trans bigots want you to see.

One of the things the “reasonable debate” crowd really like to do is to scour the internet to find photos of the ugliest trans people and crossdressers they can find. If they’re dressed badly or inappropriately, all the better. They then share those photographs, mocking them, sometimes using the #transisbeautiful hashtag, sometimes adding images of people who aren’t trans at all such as exhibitionists in fishnets. Look at the freaks!

Leaving aside the point that mocking women’s appearance for not matching up to societal standards of beauty is one of the least feminist things you can do that doesn’t involve teaming up with racists, anti-semites, forced birthers, the Murdoch press and the religious right, there’s a reason they do it.

The reason is simple. Caricatures make it easier to hate.

Whenever anti-trans bigots try to spread fear of trans women (and it’s always women; trans men like Michael Hughes spoil their narrative), there’s a particular mental image they want you to have: a “hulking”, sweaty, “burly” “man in a dress”. I’m using the quotes deliberately, because those are the words and terms you see again and again: words such as hulking and burly are used to imply danger, while “man in a dress” is a much more loaded term than “trans woman”.

And of course, there are trans women who look like shit. I’m often one of them. That’s what comes from a lifetime spent in ignorance about trans people, trying not to be trans in a world that tells you there’s something wrong with you, and finally coming out with zero knowledge of how to do clothes and makeup properly long after testosterone has ruined your chances of ever being young and beautiful.

But the focus on the people who don’t look like unremarkable or even beautiful cisgender women is deliberate and malicious in the same way that racists’ caricatures of black people or anti-semites’ caricatures of Jewish men were/are deliberate and malicious: they want you to imagine the caricature every time you hear about trans women, or black people, or Jewish men, because it’s so much harder to hate people who are perfectly ordinary. If the differences aren’t dramatic enough, the bigots will simply invent some more.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

The photo is from a website that collates pictures of the world’s supposedly worst-dressed people (I’ve obscured their face). I don’t know the context; for all I know the person pictured is a goddamn saint who just happens to have pretty crap clothing choices. But if I wanted you to think negatively about trans people, to imagine “burly”, “hulking” people you might be scared or suspicious of, it’s a pretty good example of the kind of thing I’d share.

I could quite easily do the same thing with anti-trans bigots, finding photographs of the ugly ones or just photos that make them look like they’ve escaped from some kind of institution. I won’t, though, because I don’t have that kind of poison in my heart.

Let’s try another picture. This one’s ideal – it’s a scary tran in a toilet!

Not so scary, is she? This is Sarah McBride, a trans woman and US politician who was abused at work by anti-trans bigots visiting from England; the bigots are leading lights in the UK anti-trans moment and regularly featured in print and broadcast media. One of them spent much of this week sharing ugly and/or unflattering pictures of trans women for her social media followers to mock.

Let’s try another.

This is Brae Carnes, a trans woman from Canada, using the toilet the bigots would like her to use.

Which of the photos is closest to the mental image you have when someone says “trans women in the ladies’ toilet”? I bet it’s not either of the photos of trans women in toilets I’ve used here. It’s likely to be much closer to the person in the terrible outfit.

And of course, that’s exactly what the bigots want. It’s why they share the photos.

I’m not suggesting here that McBride and Carnes are “the good ones” because they fit people’s expectations of what “normal” women look like. We’re just as valid if, like me, we’re horse frighteners. I’m simply pointing out that it’s very easy to make a particular group look alien and perhaps even dangerous by focusing on the worst, most extreme examples (in the eyes of the people you want to convince) because we still largely associate physical beauty with goodness and purity.

It’s a trick. Don’t fall for it.

My favourite wastes of time

I start lots of things I don’t finish. I had a go at being a novelist for a while and made a bit of money doing it, but I lost interest after publishing the first one and writing half of its sequel. I’ve got a huge non-fiction book on my hard disk that’s almost but not quite finished and has been almost but not quite finished for around a year now. I attended a comedy writing class and started writing a sitcom. I went to piano lessons for the best part of a year. I’ve messed around with various unfamiliar instruments from the ukulele to the harmonica.

For me, finishing isn’t really the point. It’s the getting there I like. For example, I played harmonica for exactly long enough to work out how to get a tune out of it, then I didn’t pick it up again. The finding out is fun. The practicing afterwards? Dull as dishwater.

I may come back to some of these things, to novel #2 or the non-fiction book or the script or the ukulele. But I probably won’t, because there will be other things to do in a half-arsed manner.

Liz Krieger, I suspect, is a kindred spirit.

As I write this, there’s an almost-new guitar sitting in my parents’ basement, a pair of slightly scuffed tap shoes in my closet, one mostly deformed ring holder on my dresser, and a dwindling supply of handmade thank-you cards — well, somewhere in my apartment, I think.

Collectively, these items tell the story of a decade’s worth of short-lived forays into new hobbies. Over the past 10 years, I’ve taken five guitar lessons, six tap-dancing classes, eight pottery-wheel classes, a two-day letterpress workshop, and two beginner ballet classes. And this ragtag collection of souvenirs is all I have to show for it all. There are no photos of me onstage at some sweaty-palmed recital. I don’t have a side gig selling pinch pots.

Like me, Krieger doesn’t regret any of it: “each one scratched an itch I was having, taught me something, or filled time in a pleasant way.” But the wider world doesn’t always see it that way.

The world doesn’t look too kindly on a dabbler. In fact, there’s another, even less positive word for it: dilettante. It’s a word that connotes a blithe carelessness, a flightiness, a lack of seriousness or depth.

When I was a lot younger and went to regular band practices in various rehearsal rooms, I was often asked “what are you practising for?” What was the goal, what was the point, of all this effort and time and expense?

Partly, we were practising for gigs we planned to do at some point in the future that would somehow turn us into rock stars. But mainly, we were practicing for no reason other than this: practising was fun. For three hours every week I got to make an enormous racket, which I loved doing (and still love doing).

If my only objective had been to become a rock star, then of course those rehearsals were a complete waste of time and money. But I knew I wasn’t going to be a rock star because I wasn’t willing to put in the work. Instead, I had lots of fun pretending to be the guitarist from The Cult, and my bands did some fun things. So as far as I’m concerned it was completely worthwhile.

The same applies to the comedy class, which I enjoyed immensely, and the piano lessons that were often the highlight of my week. I’m still not a comedy writer or a piano player but that wasn’t the point. I was there to mess around, to waste time wonderfully, to learn more about how comedy works and how to play a couple of piano chords.

Having a half-arsed go at things can be wonderful for your mental health – and if you get to the point where it stops being fun then quitting isn’t necessarily a sign that you’ve wasted your time.

To determine the difference between dabbling and quitting, examine your intention from the outset. If you signed up for that basket-weaving class with a specific goal of making the centerpieces for a friend’s wedding or of meaningfully supplementing your income with a basket business, then bagging it halfway probably isn’t a great idea (and might lead to some ugly centerpieces).

But if you signed up to reawaken a creative side that’s felt a little dormant lately, a quick dose might be all you need to get your groove back, and you should walk away when you feel you’ve gotten what you want out of the experience.

You don’t necessarily need to have a destination to enjoy the journey. As the late Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Timequake:

Listen. We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.

These are the people you’re being told to hate

The Scottish anti-trans group For Women is currently putting anti-trans leaflets through Glasgow doors, trying to whip up fear and hatred of trans women. Do you want MEN changing with your daughter? Do you want MEN in the same toilet? That kind of thing.

The photo above is of people they want you to be scared of, to hate, to exclude from women’s spaces.


The 13 women featured are Daniella Carter, Alexandra Lee, Daria Dee, Mojo Disco, Jasmine Infiniti, Alana Jessica, Jari Jones, Shay Neary, Jazmine Shepard, Seana Steele, Garnet Rubio, Angelica Torres, and Nicki Vrotsos.


“The most diverse crowd I’ve seen at the festival”

Glastonbury’s over for another year. Music writer Pete Paphides has been going there since 1992, and he noticed some important, positive differences this year. He listed them on Twitter, noting things such as the move away from plastic bottles and the provision of extra helpers on-site. But the main difference was diversity.

The main thing that gets reported about the Festival is the music coverage. So let’s talk about the music at this year’s Glastonbury, with an unprecedented amount of female performers, and also its commitment to a bill which seeks to reflect the way music is changing, and also the way Britain has been changing.

For years the lack of cultural and ethnic diversity among mainstream festival audiences has been one of those things that you notice and feel a bit uncomfortable about. This year’s Glastonbury was by far the most diverse crowd I’ve seen at the Festival.

Paphides isn’t claiming it’s perfect – while he says it’s more diverse he still notes that the diversity on stage isn’t quite reflected by the diversity of the crowd – but as he says, it’s worthwhile and Glastonbury didn’t have to do it. Tickets go on sale and are all sold long before the acts are announced, so the festival could simply have done the usual stages-full-of-straight-white-guys thing. But it didn’t.

Instead, we saw a much more diverse Glastonbury than ever before. Stormzy rightly got the lion’s share of attention for his astonishing headline slot, but he shared a bill with Lauryn Hill and Sheryl Crow; other main stage highlights included Janet Jackson, Anne-Marie, Carrie Underwood, Miley Cyrus, Kylie and Mavis Staples. Other large stages saw Sigrid, Mo, Maggie Rogers, Babymetal, Billie Eilish, Christine & The Queens, Neneh Cherry, Lizzo, Stefflon Don, Janelle Monae, Sharon Van Etten, Cat Power, Kate Tempest, Dream Wife, KT Tunstall, Grace Petrie, Lucy Spraggan and many more I’m far too old and too uncool to know about. And that’s before you get into the stages for grime and UK rap, of which I know nothing.

It’s not perfect. But it’s better.

As Paphides put it on Twitter:

Glastonbury tickets go on sale before the lineup is announced. Over the next few years, we need to get to a point where fans of all the artists listed by Stormzy in his astonishing headline set, will buy tickets for the Festival, knowing their music be represented there.

UK and US festivals – the mainstream ones – are generally very male, and very straight, and very white. But the UK/USA, and UK/USA music, are much more diverse.

Here’s an example from the other end of the music business. Last night I went to an open mic night in the south side of Glasgow. When you think “open mic”, you immediately think of Ed Sheeran types, wannabe Jodi Mitchells and Bob Dylans.

You probably don’t think of gospel-influenced multiracial vocal groups singing African melodies; harpists; wisecracking reverends; bluegrass-tinged feminist ukulele anthems; chaotic R&B-infused rap collectives; angry Greek rappers; women who wield their guitars like weapons and treat their vocals like samples; electronic improvisers whose melodies fade in and out like dreams; and the odd furious middle-aged trans woman (hello!) tearing holes in her vocal cords.

That’s what music’s like: a mix, a mess, a glorious melting pot. Festivals should be too. Because that’s where the mainstream is now. The music we’re listening to isn’t boys with electric guitars, as thrilling as boys with electric guitars can be. It’s all kinds of genres, all kinds of performers, doing all kinds of wonderful things.

Inciting hatred of trans women in the name of feminism is “despicable”

There’s a great interview with the equally great Ruth Hunt, departing CEO of Stonewall, in Buzzfeed News. Ruth hasn’t just had a hard job. She’s had to deal with constant online abuse, some of it criminal, and has been the target of bigoted pundits in the media too.

“Mainstream newspapers running consistently transphobic articles, day in, day out, ostensibly expressing concern about the fate of butch lesbians?!” Hunt sniffs with contempt before finally letting go.

“It’s like, ‘You have not written a SINGLE positive piece about butch lesbians in my ENTIRE ADULT LIFE. Your style pages have not reflected me; your problem pages, your look, your discussion about lesbian identity, has never included me. Don’t you DARE pretend that you are now advocating for me as an excuse to attack trans people. THAT makes me angry.”

The increasingly unhinged scaremongering over trans women has led to Hunt being repeatedly questioned in the toilets because she doesn’t look stereotypically female. On Twitter last night, a Scottish journalist noted that exactly the same thing happened to her wife:

I want to say to “gender critical” people: 

You are damaging trans people, and that’s bad enough. 


Back to the article. This, about the online noise over gender recognition reform, is really interesting.

when Hunt’s experience of Twitter was an endless shelling against trans rights, the charity sought external help — specifically, to investigate what exactly was happening on social media and what it meant. It looked as though those against trans inclusion and attempts to simplify gender recognition were a large proportion of the total.

The analysis found that the supposed majority was just a vocal minority.

A similar distortion played out in the media earlier this month. The Sunday Times published a letter from 30 academics urging universities to “sever their links” with Stonewall for “stifling academia” because it encourages universities to oppose transphobia. It appeared to represent, in its dozens of signatories from across British higher education, a predominant position within academia.

But just days later, a counterpetition of academics, supporting Stonewall and opposing transphobia, attracted 3,600 signatures. This was not reported in the Sunday Times.

I liked the bit in brackets here

The decision to embrace trans rights led to her and Stonewall being engulfed in hostility. Regular deluges on social media. Weekly, sometimes daily, criticism in the media. High-profile lesbians and gay men criticising her and her charity, withdrawing personal donations, signing petitions in protest — moves all eagerly published by right-wing newspapers. (It hasn’t worked overall, though: donations are up 11%.)


You’re being lied to about hate crimes

As I mentioned yesterday, one of the most common reactions to the news of increasing hate crimes was denial: the crimes are just touchy snowflakes going to the cops about the slightest thing on the internet.

To put it mildly, that’s a complete misunderstanding of what hate crime is, and what minority groups experience.

Something cannot be a hate crime if it isn’t a crime. The “hate” bit is a qualifier: a hate crime is a crime committed because of hostility or prejudice based on disability, race, religion, transgender identity or sexual orientation.

In law, a one-off case of shouting abuse at someone because of these characteristics is a “hate incident”. It only becomes a crime if it becomes a criminal offence under legislation such as the Malicious Communications Act or the Public Order Act.

So what actually gets reported and recorded as hate crime? If only there were some kind of handy document such as the Hate Crimes England And Wales Statistical Bulletin 2017/18, published in October by the UK government. In the document it breaks down the kinds of crimes recorded. 56% were public order offences (threats of violence or intentional harassment, alarm or distress, usually involving more than one offender),  and 33% crimes of violence.

As NotCursedE on Twitter, from whom I found this information, points out, the report helpfully details the type of crimes committed against each protected characteristic:

You’ll see that “deliberately offensive tweets on the internet” doesn’t appear. That’s because of the total number of hate crimes reported by trans people, online abuse and harassment only accounted for 6%.

The most depressing stats aren’t the crimes, though. They’re the results. The percentage of reported crimes resulting in a charge – not necessarily a successful prosecution – are incredibly low: for violent hate crimes against trans people, the charge rate is 4%; for public order offences, 4%; for criminal damage and arson, 4%. The figures are very similar for other LGBT+ people.

As with the supposed free speech martyrs of the far right, the people trying to persuade you that hate crimes just mean nasty tweets are lying to you. Even those who embark in massive, ongoing abuse of LGBT+ people on the internet remain at large, entirely free to incite hatred online, free from the real-world consequences of the hate they post.