Unless you have been on another planet for the last six weeks, it should not have escaped your notice that we are in the midst of a general election campaign. The Prime Minister unexpectedly called the election two years into the Parliament, so here we are in the usual electoral silly season of claim and counter-claim.
For our community, the 2017 general election is a little different from previous ones. Because it offers us just a glimmer of hope that we might see our first transgender MP, a milestone whose importance to us it would be impossible to overstate. We are not taking any political sides here at nGendr, it should only suffice for us to say that there are more out transgender candidates standing at this election than ever before, and among their number are some for whom it is not inconceivable that the swing required for them to win their seat could be achieved. There are no out transgender candidates put up by their parties to stand in safe seats yet, but we have progressed from the status of token paper candidates in unwinnable seats to the second tier of seats that are winnable in the event of a reasonable swing.
Why is a transgender MP important?
You might ask, why would a transgender MP be of benefit to us? After all, their job is not to represent us, but to represent their constituents. The state of the drains in Fulchester or wherever their constituency lies will have to be of more pressing importance than transgender issues, no matter how much they may previously have done on the national transgender stage. The answer is best given in what one of the transgender candidates standing at the moment said when they came to speak to my local transgender support group; that they wanted the other MPs to have to look one of us in the eye when they are debating our issues. So far we have been an absent other, able when our issues crop up to be dissected and discarded at will by a curious coalition of political dinosaurs and radical feminists in the Palace of Westminster, the point was that when one of us is standing at the same table they will no longer have that power.
Of course, it could be that none of the candidates currently standing are successful in their quest for a seat. However much we might want to see the first transgender MP, the statistics aren’t entirely in favour of it happening this time. It is however important to make the point that such achievements only happen as a result of a lot of work, they do not happen spontaneously.
It has been interesting therefore on a personal basis to have been a regular volunteer in the last few weeks on the electoral campaign of one of the transgender candidates. I have joined the usual band of hard-working local activists stuffing envelopes and pushing leaflets through letterboxes, and the experience has given me a new-found respect for postal workers. What has surprised me is that the candidate in question has had very little active support from within the transgender community, there has been only me and one or two others to whom they are personally known. It is not that their party has no support among our ranks, more that the usual apathy of the British public has prevented any more of us from coming along.
What can you do about it?
So here is the most important point that you can take away from this election. If you want to see a transgender MP elected, YOU have the power to help make it happen. You can find the closest candidate from your party on the list in the link above, and you can give up a day to go along to their campaign HQ and help out. The work you put in will be appreciated by the rest of the campaign, but more to the point your mere presence as a transgender person will tell them that they are not alone and forgotten in their constituency, but that there is a much larger community out there that is also rooting for their candidate. That will go a long way to boost their morale, and believe me, in the dark hours of an election campaign, that helps.
Beyond the campaign, you can also make a difference if you are a member of a party. Start a conversation: why does your party not put a transgender candidate into a winnable seat or a safe seat? Is it because they like the idea of a transgender person or two on their candidate list because it makes their diversity figures look good, but perish the thought that they might displace a cisgender party hack from somewhere they might expect to gain? If that is the case, challenge it, and make sure that transgender candidates are taken seriously within your party rather than being used for a bit of diversity window dressing.
Looking at the list of transgender candidates in the 2017 general election it is interesting to see that while we have Labour, Green, and Liberal Democrat candidates, we have nobody from the Conservatives. It’s a bold prediction to make, but for all the first three parties resting on their laurels and pointing to their record of putting transgender people up for election, it may yet be the Conservatives who do it first in a safe seat and so secure the first transgender MP. We await the political fall-out with interest, but we’d be the first to say: You only show commitment to putting members of a minority in Parliament when you make them your candidates in electable seats. If you as a party are not yet prepared to do that, you can not claim that commitment. No excuses.
Whatever you do next Thursday, please make sure you vote!
Header derived from ballot box image, [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.