Brianna Ghey’s death was a tragedy waiting to happen

There is a dangerous precedent to stoking ‘debate’ over trans people’s lives

Robin Moira White
Saturday 18 February 2023 16:34 GMT
Brianna Ghey: Teenage trans girl's final TikTok videos before she was stabbed to death in park

The stabbing of teenager Brianna Ghey in Warrington is a terrible tragedy for her family and my heart goes out to them. Two 15-year-olds have now been charged with her murder.

It is not clear whether the fact that she was trans was a factor in the events in Linear Park, Warrington, but shock at her death has rippled through the LGBT+ community.

I cannot help but feel this kind of tragedy was waiting to happen. Anyone who followed the Conservative leadership contest will have seen the candidates vying with each other to stoke “debate” over trans people’s lives; and such sentiment is something I, as Britain’s only trans discrimination barrister, have to cope with every day.

Here’s what it’s like: on 31 January, I gave evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee of the Commons on Scottish gender recognition reform, sitting alongside Baron Falconer. Behind us, in the public seats, were anti-trans campaigners Maya Forstater and Helen Joyce who spent their time pulling faces, giggling and laughing (it’s all captured on video, do watch it).

Imagine if the comparable treatment had been meted out to a gay person or someone from an ethnic minority? Somehow, trans people are never quite equal.

Nothing, but nothing compares with the toxicity of social media. I have recently been described online as the “fat white bloke in the awful wig pretending to be a woman”. This is the lot of visible trans people in the UK today.

Katy Montgomerie, a trans social media commentator, was recently assaulted on a night out with friends, just for being trans. She wrote about it on Twitter.

We know where dehumanising tactics take us, who uses them and has used them historically. It is used in war, such as the Russian rhetoric about Ukranians. When an “other” is no longer regarded as “human”, then it is easier to kill them or justify shelling civilian homes or facilities.

Trans people experience this, too. We face journalists and politicians playing the game of getting the word “trans” and “paedophile” or “child-molester” in the same sentence to create an impression. WE see people suggesting that conclusions about all trans people can be drawn from exceptional (always exceptionally awful) trans people. The parallels with the treatment of gay people during the time of section 28 are stark – and hard to bear.

Be in no doubt: if you indulge in these activities you are putting real people at risk. Trans people are not going away – and increasingly expect to take their rightful place in society.

What can be done? Iain Anderson, a recent Tory defector, tells us that the Tory party thinks it can use cultural wars – with a focus on trans issues – as a distraction from the country’s economic woes. The US mid-term election results suggest that is a hopeless gamble. Most British citizens are unlikely to blame trans people for rising food or energy process.

It is time for some real leadership. And it needs to come from the top.

Does Rishi Sunak have the strength of character to be prime minister for all the citizens of the UK – including the trans ones? To remove people like Nikki da Costa, who has warned against “letting Stonewall dictate trans policies, even where those undermine women’s rights or where they may cause harm to gender distressed children”, from the centre of power?

Will Sunak call out the false narratives that tell us that allowing trans people to live decently is a threat to the safety of women and girls? To find an accommodation with the Scottish GRR? To find parliamentary time, in the remainder of this session, to get a cross-party supported, full ban on conversion therapy?

In that case, regardless of whether it was linked to the fact she was trans, Brianna’s terrible and tragic death could – though it will bring scant relief to her family and friends – be a turning point.

Or, our prime minister may do none of these things and instead show that false narratives and political expediency count more than a vulnerable minority.

So much for the traditional British values of tolerance, diversity and acceptance.

Robin Moira White is the first barrister to transition in practice at the discrimination bar and is the joint author of the leading text on transgender law

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