Thursday, 26 April 2018

Last night I attended a demonstration.

Last night I attended a demonstration. The demonstration at the Radcliff Camera, RadCam, was a peaceful gathering in response to an event taking place nearby in Oxford. This talk was organised by groups who oppose transgender equality and involved groups well documented to spread misinformation regarding transgender people and, more alarmingly, transgender children. I have already summarised my concerns here:

In response a number of people (I am proud to be one of them) organised a demonstration to remember those transgender people who have lost their lives to suicide and violence simply because they are transgender. I often put in the stats but they are in the links above. I can only repeat that 45% of young trans people have attempted suicide so many times.  

FYI: Protests and demonstrations have a long tradition and have been used by many fighting social inequality, bigotry and hatred. Of course, they have also been used to spread hate but protest should not be dismissed or discredited. We were not carrying Tiki torches.

We met, shared stories and talked about why we need protection from bigotry and hate. We tied ribbons to the RadCam railings, to remember those who have lost their lives. Many of those present tied ribbons for people they knew, sharing their stories. More than a few in the crowd had been on the receiving end of abuse and assault for being trans. More than a few had lost friends to suicide. It was emotional but there were trained supporters to hand and a break out space provided for those who needed support. Because we are human and we should look after each other.

After remembering why we were there, the majority of people in attendance went to protest outside the venue of the actual event. I stayed at the RadCam, to provide ribbons to latecomers. A number of people came along and tied a ribbon, not having been able to attend earlier. It was, again, lovely that people came along when they could to show their support even thought the demonstration had finished.

The event was organised in the afternoon of that day. At such short notice, the size of the crowd attending was amazing. The number of messages of support sent to me were overwhelming. Trans people and allies alike.  A fantastic mix of people: male and female, trans and non-trans, various ethnicities. (Not that we should be complacent, we can always do more for diversity.) Throughout the entire night people bobbed in and out. Yet the mix was always maintained. It was amazing to feel so supported. All there to remember and support the transgender community. Even the shutting down of the Facebook event (shut down, no doubt, by those attending the meeting who profess freedom of speech) did not deter people from coming to the protest. 

After some time, I follow in the footsteps of the people who had gone to protest. I did not join it, but instead bore witness. I stood across the street. At one stage I was given chocolate to give to the protestors by someone not taking part, which I delivered. But generally I kept my distance. I did not shout, stand outside the building directly or hold a sign. I wanted to watch. Make sure that both sides were respectful. I would have complained had any of the protestors overstepped the limits of reasonable protest.

I was happy to see police come by the protest on a semi-regular basis, talk with the protestors and confirm that what they was doing was lawful and reasonable. Very amicably.

The protestors chanted loudly. Very loudly. For over two and a half hours they kept their voices loud. I was pretty amazed. The slogans were those decrying bigotry. Event attendees and staff were allowed to enter and leave the building with no interaction. The protestors remained hands off and non-confrontational the entire time. There was no engagement with those attending the event. They were not debated or harassed. The chants merely remained loud. 

On a number of occasions people from the event came out and filmed the protestors which was a little weird. And did so very closely, I would not have been comfortable myself. Yet still, the protestors remained calm and did not interact. A number of times people from event yelled at the protestors. But the protesters remained stoic.

I heard one person shout that the protestors had silly haircuts. Very dignified!

At the end of the meeting, people came out and stood around trying to argue, despite the fact that the protestors were not engaging. I witnessed one lady push her fingers into a protestors face. I also saw one person trying to push biscuits into the mouths of the protestors. The act was clearly intended as silly but provocative. There was no thought to allergies. Those biscuits would have made me very sick. Such a simple action can have serious consequences for some people. But this was not thought about. 

At one stage I became very worried for the protestors as a man stated to yell in a number of (ironically much smaller) protestors faces very aggressively. This person was afterwards found to be unashamedly white supremacist. Evidence was easy to find. Luckily everyone remained clam, despite the provocations.

I was proud to see the protestors handle themselves with such calm dignity.

From where I stood, the crowd outside of the event would seemed to have been much larger than the number of people I saw leave the actual event (and I stayed until long after the protestors had left). I can say with certainty that there were more people at the RadCam for the demonstration. Even though the organisers of the event are well known for filming people and subjugating them to abuse and harassment online meaning that many people avoided the protest and demonstration for fear of their privacy being invaded. A fair decision and one I wholeheartedly respect. Still, I was pleased to have messages of support from people too worried to go or not able to come along, including messages from environmental campaigners, disability campaigners, Oxford Pride and various councillors (or those seeking election).

All in all I feel encouraged. So much support. Such quick rallying. So many well wishes from a wildly diverse group of people. I know that the people speaking in the event are a minority. Loud, organised but small. They will quickly be forgotten to history.

In the aftermath, Twitter has become a place for me to be harassed. I was invited to the event, though not as part of the panel. I gave my reasons, thoroughly, as to why I would not attend. As such, my Twitter handle was shared and picked up by some rather vile individuals. 

Since then I have received a barrage of notifications from people supporting the event. I have had people make personal comments about me, make light of my concerns to attend the debate and generally just bother me. 

Funny. At one stage I said at I thought one comment to be rather childish. That was followed by a number comments that reminded me of children in a school yard calling me chicken, which kinda proved my point.

Schoolyard verbal bullying and name-calling. Something I remember well from my school days during Section 28. Usually right before I was punched or kicked for being too poor, too clever, too weird, too different or too effeminate.

Unlike the school yard, I am no longer that unsure, worried, nervous child. I know who I am and these people have no power over me. I know I am privileged. Other people have it worse. I work with some of those people. I have a good life. I do what I can to improve the lives of those around me not make others lives miserable.

Yet those schoolyard bullies are engaging with me. They are talking to me. They think I am important enough to spend time harassing. That means I am doing some good. That I am a threat. That they think I may actually achieve some protection for the young people I work with, the parents I converse with and the schools I am invited to. Either that or they really just have too much time on their hands and get kicks trying to bully people.

Me, I am happy to delete, block, mute them. Once I have decided that a person has nothing worth saying to me, I don’t have to engage with them. Those who remain respectful I am happy to talk to. Those who want to use playground tactics, well, I am past those days.