Interview: Labour Parliamentary Candidate Emily Brothers comes out as transgender

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PinkNews talks to Emily Brothers, the first openly transgender Parliamentary Candidate to come out of their own accord and stand for one of the major political parties in the UK.

Ms Brothers, who is standing for Parliament as a Labour candidate in Sutton and Cheam, opened up about her gender transition for the first time.

The Prospective Parliamentary Candidate lost her sight to glaucoma as a child – and was a key figure in securing Disability Living Allowance for blind people.

What led you to wanting to speak out today?

In an ideal world I wouldn’t be speaking out about my past because it’s very private; however I recognise that as a politician the key thing is trust. We have a situation in Britain where politicians have been losing trust with people, and if I’m not honest about my life experience people may be critical of me being secretive.

I’ve always been passionate about politics about making a difference, being an equality campaigner and more broadly in terms of fairness and justice. If I’m going to be doing that with credibility it is important for me to be open.

I don’t want to be somebody who has notoriety as having a transgender background, but I also believe it’s an experience that has value to it, that I can be a positive role model.

There is also the fear that those who like to judge people with different background may at some point choose to run a story on me in a negative light. There have been plenty of examples where people have suffered because of that, to the extent where some people have taken their own lives. Although a lot of people are supportive, there are people out there who are very negative.

I don’t want it to define my future, but I want it to be something which is part of my identity. I need to be honest about my background and embrace it.

Hopefully some positive will come from it, not just for me but for other people who have gender identity issues or backgrounds.

In what ways does your background influence your politics now, and how do you think it will in the future?

I’m deeply committed to campaigning right across the equality spectrum. I think that stems both from my gender identity experience and my experience as a disabled woman.

My background is what drives me to fight for fairness for me and other people. In terms of my working class background, I was very much deeply rooted in Labour values.

Do you think trans and disability issues overlap, and in what sort of ways?

For disabled people and for some people with a transgender experience there are issues around barriers. Particularly institutional barriers, where policies and procedures may prevent people from fulfilling their lives.

For disabled people this could be in terms of accessing buildings or information, for transgender people it might be in terms of accessing the right health support or particular facilities.

Of course there are disabled people who experience hate crime, particularly people with learning disabilities, and there are many people with a transgender experience who experience hate crime, bullying and harassment.

There are some common issues about institutional discrimination, and issues about attitude, and often its people’s misconceptions, not understanding, and their prejudice about people who are different.

What inspired you to stand for election?

I have become particularly frustrated with this coalition government. Disabled people and other disadvantaged groups have really been hit by the coalition.

Because of my disability I have always been a user of NHS services and so I’m particularly interested in the NHS. I was one of those children who spent a lot of time in hospital for operation after operation to retain the little sight I had. That experience taught me a lot about the value and the importance of the NHS, particularly what front line staff do and how valuable it is. Without it I would have suffered more significantly.

At the end of the day, they weren’t able to save my sight, but they made a valiant effort.

I feel passionately about health, and that’s why I spoke out very strongly at the Labour party conference this year in Manchester. And why I attacked my Lib Dem opponent Paul Burstow MP, the former healthcare minister. He was involved in piloting the Health and Social Care Act 2012 that brought in competition.

We need to take out competition framework in the health system. We need to get back to raising clinical standards.

What are the biggest issues facing trans people at the moment?

The first thing to say is I’m not a representative of the trans community. However, I am aware from my experience that there are a lot of issues about access to health services. In terms of counselling support and in terms of access to treatment in order to align people to their correct gender.

Many transgender people also experience harassment and that is something that needs to be challenged and tackled. A lot of transgender people find it difficult to retain employment; they may have housing and other social challenges.

There is vast under-representation of disabled people and people with transgender experience in public life, and there is of course vast under-representation of women in parliament, and that needs to change. That mean people like me stepping forward, and some people will find that difficult.

I’m fortunate that I have an ex-wife who is very supportive and understanding, I have two great children who are very supportive, but my wider family are not and have broken their connections with me.

For a lot of people of a transgender experience that can be very challenging but for me, it was absolutely the right thing to do. I am happy and content as a woman, and also as a gay woman.

As a blind person, one of the biggest barriers is a lack of access to information. I grew up in a world without computers. I wasn’t able to pick up information off the shelf in a library or in a shop and access it independently.

Information on Braille and tape is limited. I was from a very traditional working class background. My family didn’t understand those issues and I didn’t feel able or confident to talk about those issues.

It was only with the internet that I was able to explore and find out so much more information. I wasn’t the only person like this in the world and that was revolutionary to me.

The only way I could continue was going through transition and living my life as Emily.