Tackling transphobia

Tackling Transphobia and Hate Crime

**Remember – in an emergency, or if you are in immediate danger, contact the Police on 999**

If you have experienced transphobia in any way, be it failure to accommodate you or transphobic hate crime, remember this: you are not the one at fault, and you are not alone.  Here in the UK, the law is on your side; in Cambridge, CUSU LGBT+ are 100% behind you in defending your rights under it.

What is transphobia?

Transphobia has been defined by the Crown Prosecution Service as “the fear of or a dislike directed towards trans people, or a fear of or dislike directed towards their perceived lifestyle, culture or characteristics, whether or not any specific trans person has that lifestyle or characteristic. The dislike does not have to be so severe as hatred. It is enough that people do something or abstain from doing something because they do not like trans people.”

Transphobia and prejudice against trans people are sadly all too common in our society and trans people often meet with discrimination and prejudice when they trying to get on with their lives and perform everyday activities.

As with all other prejudices, transphobia is based on misconceptions and negative stereotypes about a group of people (in this case the trans community or those who are perceived to be trans) that are used to “justify” discrimination, harassment and even hate crimes.

The following are a few examples of transphobic attitudes:

  • The belief/insistence that trans women are not “real women”
  • The belief/insistence that trans men are not “real” men
  • The belief/insistence that non-binary genders are invalid
  • The belief/insistence that transsexual people are gay people in denial and wish to have sex reassignment surgery to attempt to restore ‘heteronormativity’
  • The refusal to acknowledge a trans person’s true gender
  • Refusal to use the correct name for a trans person
  • Repeated and deliberate mis-gendering of trans people
  • Exclusion of trans people from activities, services or conversations

If you choose to report what you have experienced (for example, if you have suffered physical or verbal assault), you have a right to be listened to, believed and treated with respect and confidentiality by the police.  You can report in person at the Parkside police station, over the phone in a non-emergency by calling 101, or online via Report-It, the police online site for reporting hate crime:

www.report-it.org.uk/homophobic_and_transphobic_hate_crime (content warning for discussion of homophobic and transphobic hate crime)

More information from Cambridgeshire Constabulary on reporting transphobic & homophobic hate crime can be found here:

http://www.cambs.police.uk/victims/hate_crime.asp (content warning for racist slur & discussion of hate crime, assault, arson & abuse relating to racism, transphobia, homphobia, ageism & (dis)ableism)

Cambridgeshire Constabulary has an LGBT network administered by LGBT officers; they can be contacted in a non-emergency setting via email here: Nexus-LGBT@cambs.pnn.police.uk, or via Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/CambsCopsLGBT (content warnings likely as above, but unreliable as page is constantly updated). Please note however that this is not a means of making any official report of hate crime.

The trans rep, CUSU LGBT+ welfare rep or CUSU Welfare and Rights officer are all available to talk through what has happened and able to guide you through any of these processes. The trans rep can be contacted here: lgbt-trans@cusu.cam.ac.uk

Neither CUSU LGBT+ nor the trans rep will force you to make a report; whether or not you want to do so is entirely up to you.

In some cases, transphobic incidents can be very extreme, such as the murders of trans women Andrea Waddell and Destiny Lauren in 2009 (http://www.birdofparadox.net/blog/?cat=80http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2010/08/destiny_lauren)

If you are interested in reading about transphobia and the issues surrounding it, Lisa Harney’s blog Questioning Transphobia is excellent: http://www.questioningtransphobia.com/?page_id=2630

If you are the victim of hate crime or abuse, the following resources could be useful to you: http://transequality.co.uk/HateCrime.aspx

GIRES has an online reporting facility: http://gires.org.uk/assets/tcrime/tcrime.php

Open Out Cambridgeshire http://www.openoutcambs.org/

The Crown Prosecution Service’s resources on prosecuting transphobia and homophobia: http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/prosecution/homophobia.html


The term transmisogyny refers to the specific oppression of trans women and CAMAB (Coercively Assigned Male At Birth) non-binary people.

While many forms of oppression, such as difficulty obtaining medical support, correct identification or updating names, or rejection by our families, affect all trans people similarly, a large variety of kinds of violence are enacted almost exclusively against trans women, and other attacks on trans people are frequently motivated by the supposed danger that trans women pose.

Transmisogyny is a heavily racialised form of violence, and trans women of colour — particularly Black trans women, whose specific oppression is referred to as transmisogynoir — face extremely high rates of assault, incarceration, police violence and murder. All the forms of violence discussed in this section are particularly pronounced for trans women of colour. (Likewise, transmisogyny has its roots in white supremacy due to the colonial gender system violently overwriting existing gender systems in colonised countries, particularly to the detriment of CAMAB individuals.)

At its core, transmisogyny starts by accusing trans women of being men, even as this is used to justify treating trans women as disgusting and inhuman in ways that are not applied to men.

To attain recognition as women, trans women are expected to fit an impossible double bind: they must put a great deal of labour into appearing feminine to avoid immediate abuse, but this also opens them to routine accusations of creating an exaggerated parody of womanhood. If they are not recognised as women, they are immediately subject to derision at best and more often hostility and violence.

Linked to this is the trope of trans women being deceptive about their gender in order to manipulate and abuse people. This is especially relevant in discussions about gendering of bathrooms, as the myth that trans women are actually just men trying to gain access to women’s bathrooms to harass them is often trotted out, despite the fact that trans women are infinitely more likely to be victims of violence and harassment than they are to be perpetrators.

It is rare for spaces designated as being for women to allow trans women access, even when it is desperately needed. For example, although trans women face extremely high risk of rape, even more than the already extreme rates experienced by cis women, they are rarely allowed to use facilities such as rape shelters created to protect women.

Trans women face a great deal of economic violence. Following transition, many trans women take large pay cuts, or find themselves unemployed and unemployable in most industries. As a result of this, many trans women survive through sex work, where they have a small fetishised niche. As sex workers are also particularly vulnerable to violence, trans women sex workers face extreme degrees of violence.

Derision and mockery of trans women is a routine staple of comedies, usually relying on implicit disgust about their bodies as a punchline to a joke. Portraying a ‘man in a dress’ is a staple visual gag, as is the stock character of a trans women sex worker portrayed as laughable and disgusting figure. Comparison to trans women is also sometimes used to attack cis women who do not meet standards of attractiveness.

Outside of comedy, for example in news and other media, trans women are usually deployed as stock victims or pitiful figures. This is described as ‘hypervisibility’: cis people pay extensive attention to stories and images about trans women, almost never produced with trans womens’ involvement, in order to perpetuate harmful narratives; their hypervisibility is also what opens them to regular street harassment, risk of assault, and abuse by police.

Trans women’s mistreatment by police and the justice system leads to high rates of incarceration that are especially pronounced for trans women of colour. Inside of prisons, trans women are frequently housed with men, opening them to extensive violence and abuse. While in Britain guidelines introduced in 2011 require legally recognised trans women to be incarcerated with women, getting such recognition is difficult even for trans women who are not poor and imprisoned.

Transphobia from Supervisors, Tutors and other University Staff

Supervisors and other university teaching staff might not be very well-informed about trans issues – although we’re trying to change that – but they still have a duty to be respectful and not take a transphobic attitude towards trans students. This includes using the name and pronouns that you ask them to use, not asking unnecessary and invasive questions, and keeping information about your trans status confidential from other staff and students.

If a supervisor is not being respectful, you might find it helpful to show them some of the resources for colleges and university staff from this site. If they still persist in being disrespectful, or behave in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, there are several avenues you can follow.  Your college welfare officer, the CUSU LGBT+ trans rep, CUSU LGBT+ welfare officer or CUSU Welfare & Rights Officer are all able and willing to help you with this at any stage and it is well worth getting in touch if you are having difficulties.

Transphobic discrimination is covered by the University’s Dignity @ Study policy (content warning for link: mentions of harassment, discrimination, bullying, rape, sexual assault), which details the official procedures to undertake if you are having an issue with disrespect from a member of staff. If your tutor is reasonably well informed and respectful about trans issues, they are probably the best person to contact initially. Your Director of Studies may also be a helpful person to contact, particularly since they often have more contact with supervisors than do tutors.

However if you are not comfortable discussing matters with your tutor or DoS, there are other avenues of support. The Student Advice Service work full-time to advise students on issues such as these, are headed up by CUSU, and could be a really helpful source of information and ideas.

You are also within your rights to make a formal complaint through the University, particularly if you have contacted your tutor or DoS and found a lack of support or things have not resolved. It is probably wise to make contact with CUSU or the Student Advice Service when doing this as these procedures can be lengthy and difficult and it is worth having some support behind you. Information and the relevant forms for making a complaint can be found here: http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/offices/academic/comp_app/overview.html 

Discrimination from the University, Departments or Colleges

Being trans (‘Gender Reassignment’) is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. You do not need to be seeking any medical treatment or have made any quantifiable steps of transition in order to be protected; you need only to express that you are trans.

Denying you access to facilities or refusing to make reasonable adjustments for you on the grounds that you are trans are unlawful under this act.  Under the act, the University also has a duty to have “due regard for advancing equality”; essentially, to be at the forefront of promoting equality and making things better.

CUSU LGBT+ and CUSU have been working with the University for some time on improving accessibility for trans students. Some useful documentation was produced by Sarah Gibson, trans rep from 2013-14. This has been re-sent to all colleges and departments as part of the Make No Assumptions campaign and is a good resource to show university staff if you are asking for improvements. If you are having ongoing difficulties within your college or department, the information above could also be helpful to you.

The trans rep can be contacted at  lgbt-trans@cusu.cam.ac.uk if you feel like you need assistance in dealing with a transphobic incident.