Thursday, 17 January 2013

This isn't the protest you are looking for....

.....move along!

I guess I am going to take a risk with this blog and tell things I saw them rather than go for the Rah-Rah Go Us version. This may well alienate me from certain people in the trans community but I guess I am just going to have to take that risk.

Today I attended the Protest Transphobia @ The Observer event. This was set up to protest against the Julie Burchill article that was published in defence of Suzanne Moore following on from the outrage that was caused by her "Brazilian transsexual" comment. My concerns about this demo were well documented in my post on Tuesday, "Who said that coming at as trans was going to be easy?". I had been in two minds about attending but decided that as I had offered my support I should follow through and actually turn up.

All started OK as we started to gather at Firebox on Cromer Street. Around ten of us introduced ourselves and started to discuss what was going to happen. It quickly transpired that despite things having simmered down over the week there was still a lot of anger in the room. I had to point out that ideas like burning copies of the Guardian outside of their offices would not be a good idea as the police were likely to see it as disruptive and move us all on very quickly (or worse)! I was also less than impressed with the idea that we take a No Cuts sign and add an "n" into the equation. Was this really the best we could come up with?

I don't think I made myself too popular when I disputed the statement that "the media is transphobic". This didn't seem to be what they wanted to hear; they wanted to be angry and attack the media for being transphobic. I pointed out that the media isn't intrinsically transphobic. It is irresponsible when reporting trans issues on occasion but the media does have positive articles about trans issues. I even gave the example of the Trans Role Models article that appeared in the New Statesman today. At this point it was decided that there was no time to talk any more and we had to get ready to leave for the Guardian Media Group offices on York Way.

Despite my reservations I stuck with it and we all headed off together in good spirits. We were delighted to arrive at the Guardian Media Group to find that there were quite a lot of people already gathered there.

Mark Webster, Deputy Editor of The Observer came out to address the crowd. It was quite hard to hear what he was saying against the noise of the traffic from the main road and general hubbub, despite the use of a loud hailer. The general view did seem to be that they had acknowledged our concerns and were interesting in working with the trans community to look at ways in which things could be improved.

As he left there was a bit of jeering and then another Guardian Media Group employee appeared to receive the petition that had been set up. This was presented by Sarah Savage (of My Transsexual Summer fame). It was a shame that we only managed to get 316 signatures of the 1000 target that we had hoped for (probably due to the short amount of time that it was up online).

After this things started to slide a little. There was a bit of a slanging match between a man and a trans woman. This didn't really help matters as it was supposed to be a peaceful protest! Thankfully people were able to calm her down before things got too out of hand.

Next up was lots of chanting and pulling menacing faces at Guardian Media Group employees as they left work for the day. It was clear that they weren't really phased by this as most of them were laughing and smiling as they came down the escalators and then left the building.

There were times when it felt like the protest had been hijacked by anarchsist rent-a-mob and there were a lot of signs and banners that were not directly related to the protest in question. Whilst it is good to have allies at event like this they should not use it to push across a different agenda. Foul language chants were completely uncalled for though.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all bad, it all just seemed a little too late especially after the withdrawal of the offending article and the subsequent apology (no matter how namby pamby it came across). This was an important issue and the job was done and the petition handed over to show the concerns of some of the trans community and at least there were no unfortunate incidents. It was good to be there and show solidarity but I couldn't but help get the feeling that a lot of people there had really missed the point of it all and were unnecessarily angry just because they could be. It was great to meet Sarah Savage though and I was glad to have been involved.

The Guardian even managed to report a positive piece on the event very quickly themselves:
Transgender rights protest at Guardian and Observer offices over Burchill row

As proceedings came to a close I met Tamsin Sutherland and we then engaged in a lot of discussion about how the event had been and how the rent-a-mob element had soured things a little. It was good to have a quick catch up with her and we'll be continuing things at the weekend when Toni and I go and visit her.

The good thing to come out this week is that awareness of trans issues has come to the forefront and also lots of discussions are being held about the feminist debate . Where we go from here is the important bit. For me it is about engaging with the media and helping to educate them when they step out of line or are misinformed. Angry mobs and wars on Twitter are not the way forward, that just escalates situations.

This isn't the protest you are looking for.... move along!

1 comment:

Dad said...

Hi Keith
I think you made the right choie to attend and I think your well considered report is valuable