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Guest Post: Trans and intersex equality voice grows louder as largest conference in Scotland is held

By James Morton

From Friday 31 Oct to Sunday 2 Nov, Scotland held its largest transgender and intersex equality conference with over 250 people participating. The Trans and Intersex Conference of the Isles took place in Edinburgh and was organised by the Scottish Transgender Alliance and Equality Network thanks to funding from VisitScotland, the Scottish Government and the University of Edinburgh.

It is important to note that intersex and trans are two different things – intersex is where someone has a physical sex variation while trans is where someone has a gender identity variation. However both groups face human rights violations due to society’s rigid and sexist expectations that sex and gender identity be binary, exactly aligned and imbalanced in power.

On the Friday, the conference focussed on equality training for 80 public bodies, companies and the voluntary sector. Several different women’s organisations attended and found the four personal testimonies during the morning plenary particularly engaging. 70 year old Nicky shared not just his concerns around growing older with an atypical body and needing respectful nursing care but also his experiences of working as a female deckhand on a Norwegian oil tanker in the 1970s prior to his transition. Kaz shared her intersectional experiences as a lesbian and intersex woman, giving an inspiring call for feminist and LGBTI campaigning alliances. 16 year old Avery, who in two weeks’ time will be speaking in the House of Commons as part of the UK’s Youth Parliament, talked of her childhood transition in rural Wales and the importance of school and family support in empowering her to visualise her future in politics. Fiona highlighted the medical establishment’s continuing patriarchal exertion of control over our bodies and the extreme trauma caused by surgeons removing parts of her reproductive system without her consent.

On the Saturday and Sunday, the conference turned to activist capacity building and networking, with over 160 trans and intersex people, their families and allies, travelling from across the UK and Ireland to share skills, experience and support. The workshop-based conference programme included creative arts opportunities, self-care techniques for activists, campaigning skills training, intersex inclusion advice and discussions on varied topics such as relationships and legal rights.

A new campaign was launched at the conference by the Equality Network and Scottish Transgender Alliance calling for Equal Recognition of trans and intersex people’s rights to bodily autonomy and self-determination. Campaigning for the right to make your own decisions about your body and the right to make your own decisions about how to live your life will no doubt be very familiar to Engender members and indeed the Equal Recognition Campaign takes much inspiration from Feminism.

The campaign calls for the Scottish Government to engage with intersex people to understand their concerns around the violations of bodily autonomy they face as a result of coercive and non-consensual medical interventions aimed at ‘normalising’ their bodies. The campaign also calls for people to be able, if they wish, to opt out of being legally classified as men or women on official documents and instead simply be humans. This is particularly important for non-binary trans people but may also be of interest to some non-trans feminists. For more information about the Equal Recognition campaign and to show your support, please go to: www.scottishtrans.org/equal/

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James Morton is the Scottish Transgender Alliance Manager and has been an activist for trans and gender equality for over 15 years. James is also passionate about mental health equality. As bit of a policy nerd, James gets on well with Engender’s staff!

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