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On 20th of November we mark Transgender Remembrance Day to remember those who have suffered or even lost their lives because of transphobia, and to remind ourselves and others that this fight is not over.
However, there is hope and change is possible! A couple of months ago we at the CCCq received an unexpected email titled ‘Greetings from LA LA Land’. The message was from a former student of Canterbury Christ Church University (then College) who had a remarkable story to tell about her time here and, more importantly, what happened afterwards. She got in contact to “offer up her story as a way of showing that even the most conservative of organisations can be open to the views of the individuals even when politics is telling you otherwise.”
We will let Kerry Michelle to tell the story in her own words:
Back in the 1980’s I was a big advocate for the Gay and Lesbian community at Christ Church, to the point I outed myself at a Clause 28 meeting when the college wanted to take down all the material that could be “promoting” homosexuality on campus out of the Student Union. I stood up and said I was going to shut down all social activities in the Union, including the van driving I did for the sports teams, as being bisexual I was effectively promoting homosexuality by booking or supporting any social event. This had the shock effect I wanted and we were able to compromise with the college on certain activities.
Spool on and here we are in 2017 and I am so excited to see an LGBTQ group within the Christ Church staff community especially as we see the current Republican administration here in the US doing so much blatant damage to our core existence.
So what has this to do with Christ Church Canterbury University? Well as an ex-student, didn’t really excel except at making social statements in the Union (tried to limit smoking in public spaces in 1988 which was a little too forward thinking for some). I have gone on to be a vocal voice for the oppressed over here in California and most recently at Disney corporate in Burbank.
Disney did a big Pride event about inclusion on the Studio Lot and were patting themselves on the back. In an open Q&A I stood up and asked where the non-gender specific bathrooms were on the studio campus knowing full well there were none, after a very awkward pause I was told they were hoping to have some on the ABC Studio campus next door. To which I stated that as a transgender woman I had nowhere to go on the studio campus and felt awkward using the gents as I had to wear uncomfortable clothes and be within an environment I am not welcome.
Following on from that I have made improvements to the campus in that we have agreed non gender threatening environments, identified spaces we can use and push their LGBT awareness and acceptance HR agenda. All of this is not bad for a contractor who is not even staff. Disney have been so awesome now they have completely reassigned my credentials in Disney World Wide to be Kerry Michelle in all security and access databases. This took a couple of weeks but as far as Disney is concerned I am a woman and have the same rights as a cis woman.
We are grateful for Kerry Michelle for sharing her story, and for reminding us that positive change is possible even in the most unexpected places! If anyone would like to get in touch with Kerry Michelle, please contact the CCCq Network at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can pass on your message. She has also promised a free studio tour for anyone visiting in Hollywood and trust me, the committee is so very tempted!
CCCq member Doug Little reflects on the recent Stonewall Trans Inclusion Seminar at CCCU.
*** Disclaimer: Please be aware that the content of this post is the views of its author(s) and does not necessarily reflect the policy, aims, practice or views of Canterbury Christ Church University or the CCCq Network. The CCCq Network or University also cannot be held responsible for the accuracy or reliability of comments or content posted by external parties. ***
Let’s Talk About Trans* (and little bit about Toilets)
Earlier this month CCCU hosted Stonewall’s launch of their first ever resource series dedicated to trans* in the work place. The resources mark a significant step in Stonewall’s own journey from being exclusively a charity for Lesbian, Bisexual and Gay (LGB) interests to becoming a trans* inclusive (LGBT+) organisation.
I’m happy to report that the event was a success! It was well attended with the audience representing a range of organisations.
David Shepherd (Deputy Vice Chancellor) opened the event and it was great to see the university’s commitment to equality and diversity. Stonewall’s presentation was informative, covering their work and history, as well as breaking down the contents of the guides.
The event was very much centred on people. It drew on real experiences. Leng Montgomery (Stonewall) spoke of their own initial apprehension to Stonewall opening up to trans*. It was clear that those on the panel had genuinely been hurt by Stonewall, but also by the wide LGB population. Stonewall did not shy away from this criticism – it was apparent to me that their efforts were genuine.
My own knowledge and understanding on trans* was limited. Even though I am a gay man I didn’t, at a personal level, empathise with the particular prejudice that trans* people face and experience. This event represented, for myself and for others like me, a real opportunity to learn about trans*, gender identity and presentation more broadly. I left the room knowing more, but also wanting to learn more. I’ll draw on the resources published and I’ve included links to all of these at the bottom of this post if you’d like to read them for yourselves.
The next day a colleague asked me about the event. I was feeling positive as it seemed that the event had stirred discussion and I thought great! That was until it became clear that the discussion was almost exclusively around one subject – toilets. Quickly put, the ground floor toilets in the venue were sign posted as ‘Gender Inclusive’, with the facilities signed to indicate whether the room had cubicles only or with urinals. The sign also made it clear that gender-specific toilets were available upstairs.
When people asked me about the toilets it was usually with a precursor that they didn’t mind the toilets being made inclusive, just that they weren’t given any advance notice. It might have been a slight inconvenience, but I think that we could all (including myself) empathise more about the challenge that it is for those who are trans* or non-binary who may experience distress every day for having to make a choice between male and female. In fact, I overheard some students who attended expressing some frustration that the University would host gender inclusive facilities for LGBT events but not for their own students throughout the year. I should recognise here that the University is addressing this need for gender neutral toilet facilities and it forms part of the Estate Master Plan.
My point is that the event was great. It was informative and engaging. It exposed me to discussions and issues I’d not considered. I really hope the University takes up more opportunities to engage LGBT* and equality and diversity topics. Though the latter part of my post shows that there are steps that we could all do to consider how every day we could be more inclusive and be just a little bit more sensitive and aware.
Stonewall Trans* Resource Pack:
- First Steps to Trans Inclusion – An Introduction to Trans Inclusion in the Workplace
- Communicating Commitment to Trans Inclusion – The trans inclusion journey and communicating commitment to all staff
- Creating a Transitioning at Work Policy – How to support your staff through their transition.
- Trans Inclusive Policies and Benefits – How to ensure your policies and benefits are trans inclusive
- Engaging All Staff In Trans Inclusion – How to engage all levels of staff in the trans inclusion journey
- Getting It Right With Your Trans Service Users and Customers – How to ensure your service delivery or customer service is trans inclusive