Picture of 'transgender person' removing wig on official council survey provokes anger

'If the council thinks this is appropriate, how are their staff going to deal with trans people accessing services?' says campaigner

Chris Baynes
Wednesday 30 January 2019 13:22 GMT
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Essex Council Council said the image was 'specifically chosen to help communicate with people with learning disabilities'
Essex Council Council said the image was 'specifically chosen to help communicate with people with learning disabilities' (Essex County Council)

A council has been accused of “institutionalised bigotry” after using a picture of a person removing a wig to illustrate transgender people in a survey.

Essex County Council is facing a backlash over a public consultation on proposed library cuts which features an “insulting” question asking participants about their gender.

Two of the given options, male and female, are illustrated with photos of people giving a thumbs up. The third option, transgender, is accompanied by a clip art image apparently depicting a man taking off a long-haired wig.

“Wow. This is bad. Really bad,” said Zoe O’Connell, a Liberal Democrat councillor and equality campaigner.

She added: “Really, someone removing a wig? Sends really bad ‘trans people are inauthentic’ messages. Like something straight out of the 80s. If the council thinks this is appropriate, how are their staff going to deal with trans people accessing services?”

The picture was published in the “easy read” version of the library consultation document.

Some who criticised the picture on social media said it initially appeared the “transgender” person was scratching their head in confusion. Others pointed out the question implied a trans person could not be male or female.

The Save Our Libraries Essex campaign tweeted: “So a transgender person is confused @EssexLibraries? This looks like #InstitutionalisedBigotry.”

Shannon Jezzard, a Labour councillor in Harlow, Essex, said: “I hope Essex Country Council quickly rectify this and learn to be more inclusive (and less transphobic) with their use of language and imagery in the future. If we don’t call out these kind of things we’re never going to see positive change.”

The council said the image was “specifically chosen to help communicate with people with learning disabilities”.

A spokesman added: “It was supplied by an organisation called Inspired Services, who work with people with learning disabilities to produce Valuing People Clipart, which is used by the government and NHS England for easy read publications.

“However, we are sorry for any offence the image has caused and we will now consider whether this image is used in the future.”

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But Ms O’Connell, a former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate in the Essex constituency of Maldon, said the council’s explanation was “even more insulting, unnecessarily setting marginalised groups up in opposition to each other”.

She added: “Before we even get to the images, the text in the question is just wrong. Transgender is not a gender on its own – many trans people identify as either male or female.”

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