Trans’ separatism – Pros and Cons

Should homosexual and transgender people fight separately?

May 17th is International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT*). It commemorates the day when the World Health Organization (WHO) removed homosexuality from its disease catalog on May 17th 1990.

But to this day transgender identities are still on the WHO list of mental illnesses.

Not only for this reason, some transgender activists call for a separation of lesbian, gay and bisexual people on the one hand, and transgender people on the other. They prefer to continue the fight separately.

« We feel that the inclusion of the ‘T’ in an LGBT umbrella is at best confusing and at worst very unhelpful in the search for true equality for transgender individuals »,

says Miss Frances Shiels, secretary of the Northern Irish transgender organization Focus: The Identity Trust.

Maria Sundin, member of the Executive Board of Transgender Europe (TGEU) from 2010-2013, disagrees:

« Working in a non-separatist way and being open for all forms of trans and gender non-conforming identities, as well as being supported by the LGBTQI family, was essential to our success. »

In this text I’ll list some of the common arguments in pros and in cons of transgender separatism.

1. Pros of removing the T from LGBT

  • The LGBT umbrella is confusing.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are two different issues.

Being Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual (LGB) have to do with sexual orientions and being Transgender (T) has to do with gender identity.

The question of which gender_s I am attracted to is different to the question of which gender I want to live in, and whether this is in agreement with the gender that I was assigned at birth (my gender identity, for example whether I am cisgender, transgender or intersex).

Asking « Are you trans or gay? » doesn’t make any sense. It’s like the question: « Do you rather travel by train or to Barcelona? »

Transgender people can be straight, gay, lesbian, bi, pan or asexual.

Cisgender people can be straight, gay, lesbian, bi, pan or asexual.

Who are “they”– “the LGB”?

Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals are not a homogeneous group, “they” can be allies, “they” can be unaware or indifferent, “they” can be discriminating against transgender people, “they” can be transgender themselves.

  • The political demands are different.

Marriage equality, adoption rights, access to reproductive health, or the right to donate blood are often at the top of the lesbian and gay rights activists’ agenda. On the other hand, transgender activists are fighting to stop pathologization of their identities, against abusive requirements to officially change their gender marker, and for a reform of the procedure for hormone therapy and surgeries.

In its new campaign, TGEU refers to the legal situation of transgender people in Europe as a « nightmare »: a diagnosis of mental illness, forced sterilization as a condition of legal gender change and / or forced divorce, are requirements in 34 European countries.

  • LGBT organisations are using the T for their image but are actually not really T-aware or T-inclusiv.

Most of them don’t truly address trans issues and are more focused on LGB in training and advocacy.

To name a few exemples:

When they fight for marriage equality, they don’t fight against forced divorce for trans people. When they campaign for the right of same-sex couples to adopt children, they don’t campaign for the right of pregnant transgender men to be legally considered as the kid’s father. When doing HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaigns they focus on gay people or MSM (men who have sex with men) and hardly ever adress the specific issues of HIV among trans’ communities…

2. Cons of removing the T from LGBT

  • Separatism would weaken the movement.

In the last 40 years LGBT has become a powerful instrument of social and political change. Plus, these alliances are a form of solidarity which is in line with the history of LGBT.

  • LGB and Trans do have issues in common.

Lesbian, Gays and Bisexuals are often gender non-conforming, therefore LGB and T are part of the same struggle against gender roles, patriarchy, hetero_sexism… And a lot of people begin their adult life as homosexuals and then make a gender-transition, so inside the community the genderlines are blurring and it is more about a spectrum than about two opposites formulas.

  • The trans’ separatist western concept can not work among the large gender variant global population living with HIV. Therefore, separatism would complicate tremendously the struggle against HIV.
  • LGBT organisations can actually be (or become) T-aware and T-inclusiv.

Best practice example is the UK-based association Stonewall who published in February 2015 a report that details different ways in which people with trans expertise can get involved in the work of LGB organisations. The report Trans People and Stonewall is available online.

  • Instead of breaking apart, the LGBT communities should raise awareness on intersectionalities between gender, sexuality, race and class.

3. Conclusion

Discussions about the appropriateness and effectiveness of the “LGBT” umbrella are important and this could lead to specific measures according to the context.

Removing the “T” from “LGBT” does not mean ceasing alliances.

Continuing to include transgender under an “LGBT” umbrella does not mean that it would not be possible to work separately on specific issues.

LGBT umbrella organizations can exist and struggle against patriarchy and heteronormativity as part as a larger queer movement. Lesbians and gays can of course have their own organisations, in the same way that transgender people can organize in order to address specific trans’ issues. People and organizations can join forces and work together anytime, with shared goals and shared values, sometimes as allies, sometimes as concerned groups, depending on the issue.

Alliances should be fair – also in funding and decision-making.

Equality legislations should protect lesbian, gay and bisexual people based on „Sexual Orientation Strategies“ (protection of sexual orientations), and protect transgender and intersex people based on „Gender Equality Strategies“ (protection of gender identities).

LGBT communities should raise awareness on intersectionalities between gender, sexuality, race and class.


And intersex people?

The Council of Europe Human Rights Commission summarises the situation of intersex people in the illustration below:

Human rights and Intersex people

The full issue paper Human rights and intersex people is available online as well as the  Focus paper of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA).

Some pros and cons of removing “I” from “LGBTI” could be similar to those of transgender activists. On the appropriation of intersex issues by LGBT interests, you can read here and here – in german with some links in english.

Let’s be specific!

I think each letter is a community in and of itself.

Therefore I advocate for a self-organization of each letter in and of itself, and then for different alliances and different umbrellas – depending on the issue.

For instance, a round table about gender equality could be an issue for the CTI-alliance: Cisgender, transgender and intersex community.

Now what do you think? Which community could or should address the following issues – and, if required, which additional communities should be involved in alliances:

Conversion therapies, HIV, labour market, domestic abuse, marriage, adoption, school bullying, heterosexism, racism, discrimination within the global queer movement, lack of (appropriate) media coverage, sport, rape culture, ableism, forced sterilisation, diagnosis of mental illness, discrimination agaist bisexual people, classism, physical violence in public spaces, access to healthcare.

In my opinion the rainbow flag represents the human community. Of course, people belong to several communities. That is the reason why we have to think intersectionnally and consider multiple privileges and multiple discriminations – also while forming alliances.

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