David Dick (he/him): EIS Union
We approach Transgender Awareness Week (13th – 19th of November) as trade unionists, and it is therefore incumbent upon us all, to collectively reflect upon the experiences of trans people in 2021. For trans people in the workplace, these reflections are telling: in 2016, around half (52%) of trans people didn’t reveal their gender identity at work – in 2021, the number is closer to two-thirds (65%)1. This highlights what we may have been aware of in our personal lives and anecdotally; that life for some trans people is becoming more difficult and dangerous and progress is going in the wrong direction. As trade unionists we are duty bound to take action.
Before we analyse the ways in which our workplaces operate for trans workers, it is necessary to consider how experiences at school shape the workers it produces. Under current Scottish Government education policy guidance, all schools aim to “Get it Right for Every Child” and to develop “successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens”. Within the Curriculum for Excellence there are a raft of taught skills and experiences given which seek to prepare our young people for the world of work. Sadly, for trans people, prejudice, violence and social exclusion too easily replicate themselves within the school system. This means that rather than focussing on learning and achievement, trans children and young people find themselves in a battle for their lives against bullying, self-harm and suicidal ideation.2
Despite a toxic national discourse which seeks to destabilise the fight for trans rights, there are some positives. It is testament to their courage that an increasing number of trans and non-binary children and young people are coming out in school. Scottish government have published updated guidance about supporting trans young people in schools3 in August 2021. It is vital that teachers take responsibility for familiarising themselves with the issues, to better support the children and young people in their settings.
As trans young people make the journey from school to work, we have a responsibility as trade unionists to ensure that we provide work environments which are safe, supportive, and sensitively attuned to the nuances of individual circumstances. We must work together to ensure workplaces have policies and practices which actively protect our trans colleagues and which allow them to achieve their full potential. It means reflecting upon and challenging the hidden culture of our workplaces and both critiquing and improving the space between the policy and the reality. As workers and as citizens, we all suffer under constrictions and restrictions which result from workplaces which tacitly endorse a heteronormative viewpoint and cleave to a binary understanding of gender. One example is the massive social and economic disparities arising from gender inequality. All workers have much to gain from supporting the struggle for trans liberation and learning from it.
The struggle for trans rights in 2021 is taking place in real people’s lives in real time, within a vortex of hysterical media voices, transphobic violence and state oppression. Framing this struggle as a “debate” gives false equivalence to imaginary arguments, dehumanises trans people and denies them the basic freedoms that many others take for granted. Trans children, trans young people and trans workers deserve respect, support and the space to exist in the world, free from violence. The opprobrium and vilification they often endure is unconscionable.
Our collective history in the trade union movement gives us a keen insight into how the media and the state will distort, inflame and seek to undermine any kind of struggle for fairer working conditions and human rights. We understand intimately the ways in which divisions are sown and nurtured, to prevent us from organising properly and fighting the real enemy. It goes to the core of our values as trade unionists to use collective action to protect the most vulnerable in society and stand together in the face of hatred and hostility. Trans voices are an essential and valuable part of our movement towards progress and need to be celebrated as such. As trans awareness week 2021 approaches, I call for us all to renew our commitment towards the fight for trans equality; to take action in our individual unions in order to make the world for trans children, trans young people and trans adult workers better tomorrow than it is today.
I would also like to flag my own unions most recent guidance for teachers on supporting transgender pupils:
David Dick (he/him): EIS Union