They gathered at a secret location under the cover of darkness. Total confidentiality had been maintained, even between friends who embraced each other as they arrived to discuss gay rights. But this was not some socially conservative society under the thumb of a repressive regime. Nor was it a secret society in Victorian London. It was London in 2019.
Discretion had been essential because when homosexual people declare themselves to be attracted to the same sex, as opposed to the same gender, they risk being attacked and shamed as transphobic bigots.
The caution was wise; the fall-out following the inaugural meeting of the LGB Alliance last week has been unforgiving. Social commentators and policy advisers were outraged. Even the name was condemned. While trans people happily emphasise the T, LGB people were denounced for focussing on their own three letters.
“First they came for the T,” announced publisher Linda Riley to her 75,000 Twitter followers, in an absurd echo of Martin Niemöller.
Anthony Watson, lead LGBT advisor to the Labour party also entered the fray with a salvo of hashtags:
“As an #LGB person I’m horrified and disgusted that the newly formed #LGBAlliance @AllianceLGB – a #hategroup – are attacking #trans people. I stand with my #trans brothers and sisters. #GWithTheT #LGBT #LGBTQ @glaad”.
Startled followers might envisage a coven of “anti-trans” witches plotting the erasure of trans people. But it’s not true.
I am trans and – unlike Ms Riley and Mr Watson – I was at the meeting, which several other trans people attended. We were welcomed and invited to continue the discussion in the pub afterwards.
Yet the fury from outside the room was because the 'T' appeared to be missing. Perhaps they should listen to the 'T' who were in the meeting; we have plans that we could share.
Instead they shouted. Much of their opprobrium was directed at Allison Bailey, a criminal defence barrister, who had sat just in front of me. Her apparent crime? To tweet:
“This is an historic moment for the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual movement. *LGB Alliance* launched in London tonight, and we mean business. Spread the word, gender extremism is about to meet its match.”
Twitter users are familiar with hyperbole from anonymous accounts with a handful of followers, but it wasn't long before other more prominent figures stepped in. Guardian columnist Owen Jones quoted Ms Bailey’s Tweet and announced to his 900,000 followers:
“This is frightening and nasty. There is no LGB without the T. Trans people are an integral part of our community and movement. And the attempt to divide LGBTQ+ people - aided and abetted by right-wing media outlets - will not succeed.”
The T were in the meeting Mr Jones, please keep up!
The indignation soon reached Ms Bailey’s chambers who promptly – and somewhat inevitably – announced an investigation. Gendered Intelligence – an organisation that focusses on the T – then added to the frenzy:
“We would encourage everyone to write a letter to GCC [Ms Bailey’s chambers] expressing your concern about the barrister in question and the new group.”
Had details of the meeting been publicised beforehand, one can only wonder what protest might have erupted outside the venue.
LGB and T people are natural allies. But we are not the same. At the meeting, Simon Fanshawe, a founding member of Stonewall UK quoted Dai Donovan, a striking Welsh Miner whose story was dramatised in the film, Pride. Donovan told the group, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners:
“You have worn our badge, Coal Not Dole, and you know what harassment means, as we do. Now we will pin your badge on us, we will support you.”
LGBT equality is a work in progress and our rights are still not secure, yet the recent elevation of feelings over facts and gender identity over sex has been disastrous.
The time has come for a renewed vision on both sides; let’s build a Trans Alliance to work alongside the LGB Alliance – focussing on what really matters to us – and let’s wear each other’s badges with pride.
Debbie Hayton is a teacher and transgender campaigner. She attended the meeting of the LGB Alliance last week