Safer Spaces

For February’s campaign, let’s focus in on safer spaces. What do I mean by safer spaces? Why are they needed? Isn’t there disagreement? How can you make a difference? Where can you find out more?

What do I mean by safer spaces?

Safer spaces are physical spaces, groups and services that are fully accessible to, and safe for, trans and non-binary people. Some examples are safe, private, gender neutral toilets, survivor services and other therapeutic services that are centred around trans experience, and non-gendered support and social groups and spaces. These spaces might sound like a given, but a lot of trans people are limited, even house bound, by the lack of safer spaces.

Why are they needed?

The LGBT: Trans in Britain Report includes statistics about the lived experiences of trans people, which highlight the urgent need for safer spaces.

  • Almost half of trans people (48 per cent) don’t feel comfortable using public toilets.
  • More than two in five trans people (44 per cent) avoid certain streets altogether because they don’t feel safe there as an LGBT person.
  • A third of trans people (34 per cent) have been discriminated against because of their gender identity when visiting a café, restaurant, bar or nightclub in the last year.
  • Two in five trans people (40 per cent) adjust the way they dress because they fear discrimination or harassment. This number increases significantly to half of non-binary people (52 per cent).

These statistics show that there is a need for safer spaces for trans people. We need clean, private, accessible toilets, that do not rely on us looking stereotypically male or female and where people do not ask intrusive questions about, our bodies or attack us. We need safe streets, where allies protect us from assault. We need safe public spaces where we can go when we feel threatened. We need safe social spaces, where we can relax and meet friends without fear of discrimination or harassment. We need safe worship spaces, where we are not judged or gossiped about.

  • One in four trans people (25 per cent) have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.
  • Two in five trans people (41 per cent) have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months.
  • Three in ten non-binary people (31 per cent) have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity.
  • Younger trans adults are at greatest risk: 53 per cent of trans people aged 18 to 24 have experienced a hate crime or incident based on their gender identity in the last 12 months.
  • Hate crime against trans people is significantly underreported; most trans people – four in five (79 percent) – don’t report it to the police. Some trans people who report a hate crime don’t feel supported by the police or experience even further discrimination.
  • Three in ten trans people (29 per cent) who accessed social services in the last year experienced discrimination.

These statistics show that there is a need for safer services for trans people. We need shelters and hostels that let trans people in, keep us safe, and have staff who are trained in our identities so that they don’t discriminate against us. We need victim support groups, advocacy services and police forces that understand trans identities and will help us when we are attacked. We need social services that treat us fairly. We need allies who will work with us to demand and ensure that all public service staff are trained in trans identities.

On a personal note, I have lived through many of the difficulties in the stats above. I have walked into public toilets at a train station, late at night, only to find myself surrounded by urinals and having to walk out, shame faced, and wait the hours until I got home. I have walked with my hood up, to avoid being seen and attacked. I have been assaulted in a busy public street, and no-one stopped to help. I have experienced 3 serious hate crimes and countless hate incidents since coming out as trans ten years ago. I only reported 2 of these. I was made to regret reporting both times. I have been asked to leave churches, just because I am trans. And, as trans people go, I am relatively lucky. Can you imagine living with the fear that trans and non-binary people experience every single day because we are not supported to live in safety?

Isn’t there disagreement?

There isn’t actually much disagreement about the need for safe spaces for trans people. There are, however, a number of people who are concerned that safe spaces for trans people mean less safe spaces for women. It’s not a competition! Everyone deserves access to safe spaces, facilities and services. That includes trans people. That also includes women – both cis women and trans women. Trans people do not want there to be no safe spaces for women – but we want there to be safe spaces for us too, whatever our identity. This campaign isn’t about removing safe spaces, it is about adding them.

How can you make a difference?

How can you add safe spaces for trans and non-binary people in your circle of influence? We all access spaces; spaces where we live, socialise, volunteer, work, worship, shop and more. We also have levels of influence over those spaces. If you spend time in a place that has no gender neutral toilets, have a conversation with the people who shape that space over how that might change. If you spend time in a place that could be a difficult environment for trans people, have conversations with the people there about how that space might be changed. If you attend single-gender groups or services, work out if that group can be made accessible to trans people, and consider whether or not it really needs to be single-gender or whether additional services could be added. If you own a space, or run a group or service, consider doing a gender audit and making some changes.

Are you unsure about whether your space or service is accessible to and safe for trans people? Would you like to make a difference, but don’t know where to start? I can provide customised audits for a range of sectors and spaces. If you would like support to assess your space and perhaps make some changes, get in touch.

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