20 November 2020 | by Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce
This article has been produced by the BPS Psychology of Sexualities Section. Please be aware that the following blog discusses issues that may cause distress
Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) is held annually on 20 November to honour the memory of transgender people whose lives have been lost in acts of anti-trans violence.
TDoR was founded in 1999 as a vigil in memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman of colour who was murdered in the USA. It has since become an international day to commemorate all trans people lost to violence and hate.
The number of trans people murdered in the UK is not officially recorded and murder victims may be misgendered, such as in media coverage of the murder of Naomi Hersi, a trans woman of colour from London, in 2018.
We do know that anti-trans hate crime is a problem within the UK and many trans people feel unsafe going about their daily lives.
Although this may in part be due to increased rates of reporting, both Stonewall and Galop found that most trans victims don’t report hate crimes to the police.
It is important to recognise that hate crimes occur within wider social and political contexts.
Recently, trans people have had their existence and rights constantly debated across both mainstream and social media.
This ‘debate’ has often been characterised as polarised and toxic.
Of course, freedom of expression is important, but sensationalist media reporting may, intentionally or not, fuel misconceptions and stir up anti-trans sentiment.
This can have real consequences for trans people’s safety and wellbeing.
Trans lives are lost not only to violence but also to anti-trans stigma.
In 2014, the suicide of Leelah Alcorn attracted international attention. Leelah was a trans girl whose parents refused to accept her gender identity and sent her for so-called ‘conversion therapy’ with the intention of convincing her to accept the gender she was assigned at birth.
Leelah’s online suicide note read:
"The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren't treated the way I was... My death needs to mean something. Fix society. Please.”
A recent study has found that exposure to gender identity conversion efforts is significantly associated with an increased likelihood of suicide attempts (Turnban, 2020).
Psychological research has also shown that stigmatising experiences are associated with suicidal thoughts among trans people, meanwhile social acceptance and support are protective factors (McNeil, Ellis & Eccles, 2017).
Psychologists have an important role to play both in supporting trans people as well as challenging the stigma that causes harm.
It is important to remember that psychology as a discipline has a history of stigmatising trans people and psychologists are not immune from societal prejudices.
Furthermore, apart from those who work in gender identity services, psychologists rarely receive much formal training on gender diversity.
The BPS has made important contributions such as its Guidelines for Working with Gender, Sexuality and Relationship Diversity that are designed to help psychologists think about how to work inclusively.
The guidelines encourage psychologists to work affirmatively by being free from any agenda that favours one gender or sexual identity over another.
In addition, the BPS has signed a Memorandum of Understanding against conversion therapy (Version 2), which includes attempts to change a person’s gender identity.
More broadly, the society has set up a Task Force for Diversity and Inclusion to translate the society’s stated commitment to valuing diversity and promoting inclusion into concrete action.
As psychologists, we have a responsibility to respond to Leelah Alcorn’s final plea.
By encouraging wider acceptance of diversity, reflecting on our own attitudes and educating ourselves, we can do our bit to make the world a better and safer place for trans people.
Transgender Day of Remembrance 2020
To mark Transgender Day of Remembrance BPS comms spoke to Rikki Arundel, a speaker, diversity trainer and coach about their lived experience of the challenges facing trans people.