On International Non-Binary People’s Day we need less toxic politics, more respect for our humanity

People marching in London Trans+ Pride with placards reading: 'Trans Rights Now' and 'Gender ejoyer binary destroyer'

Journalist and non-binary campaigner Tom Pashby reflects on the hostility non-binary people face, and the real issues that are being overlooked.

This week is Non-Binary Awareness Week, and on Thursday (14 July) it is International Non-Binary People’s Day. This year, it’s coincided with the beginning of the Tory leadership challenge, which means that non-binary and trans people are once again being used as ‘culture war’ fodder.

While some non-binary people don’t themselves identify as transgender, non-binary gender identities fall under the umbrella of transgender. Right now, if you search ‘trans’ on Twitter or a search engine, your feed will likely be dominated by transphobic discourse around the Conservative leadership race. Not because a candidate is trans, but because some of the candidates are using transphobia in a disturbing attempt to win more votes.

As a non-binary person, the anti-trans rhetoric espoused by some of the candidates is completely incoherent and just playing up to the so-called ‘culture wars’. Using us as pawns in their campaigns, while clearly not understanding who we are or the issues we face, is deeply frustrating.

The problem lies with people who genuinely or otherwise hate trans people – cis allies should also step up far more to challenge these bigoted views before they enter the public realm and damage our community.

There are many trans and non-binary people involved in politics and who are active in political parties, but they often face transphobia from people within their own parties and from the general public. This drives many trans and non-binary people away from public life and has contributed to the situation we find ourselves in today where there are no out non-binary people in parliament and just one brave out trans MP. 

It is deeply disappointing that there has been no attempt to bring in non-binary voices, for example, by encouraging non-binary people to run for parliament and to put our views across in debating chambers.

Despite there being so few trans and non-binary people at the top of politics, politics is obsessed with attacking us. In May this year, a Westminster Hall debate was held in response to an online petition which gained over 100,000 signatures calling for ‘non-binary’ to be ‘a legally recognised gender identity in the UK’.

It was led by an MP who put forward a load of anti-trans nonsense. Rather than talking about non-binary people and legal recognition, the debate centred around (not) improving access to LGBTQ+ education in schools and around the ‘trans women in sport’ debate.

Not one person in the debate openly identified as non-binary. Despite valiant attempts to defend trans and non-binary people from a couple of MPs, the loudest voices were the anti-trans ones.

I have run for parliament twice, once as an out non-binary person, and have been active in public life. I have experienced a huge volume of transphobic abuse and there is next to no institutional support available for us, despite the fact that transphobia is so appalling.

Tom Pashby smiling

Tom Pashby. (Tom Pashby)

It shouldn’t be on us to improve our lives. In a democratic country, the minority in power have a responsibility to protect minorities like us.

Despite our country having regular elections and electing members of parliament who go on to form governments, one half of our legislature is completed unelected and therefore unaccountable. Once you become a peer, you have an unlimited mandate to do what you want, regardless of what your party or voters want.

I think this lack of accountability is partly what has led to the Lords becoming a hotbed of transphobic debate, where peers regularly, deliberately attack trans and non-binary people as part of a wider campaign against the LGBTQ+ community and civil liberties more generally.

Politics is not the only space in public life which has a marked lack of non-binary representation. The media is rife with transphobia, all the way from editorial positions, to highly paid columnists using their platforms to attack trans and non-binary people.

There are no out trans or non-binaom ry editors-in-chief or managing editors of any mainstream publications, and very few high profile trans or non-binary journalists. Those few who are often get tasked with covering news relating to the community, whereas news affecting us should be able to be covered by any journalist.

An watershed moment proving how hostile the media environment in the UK is to trans people came when the Guardian ran an op-ed by its US journalists criticising their UK counterparts.

Responding to a much-criticised editorial which pitted trans rights against women’s rights, they said the UK Guardian’s editorial position “only serves to dehumanise and stigmatise trans people”. 

More recently, two fellow trans and non-binary journalists pulled out of work for the Guardian covering Pride and called for a boycott until it changes its editorial position.

The UK is in a very dark place for non-binary people. Constant, ill-informed arguments between politicians, and in the media, grind down our mental wellbeing and enhance threats to our personal safety when people feel more emboldened to attack us, having seen those at the top of politics and the media on the attack.

What we need is sex and relationships education taught in all schools, to help people understand their own identities and to understand the identities of those around them, better representation in politics, and for editors to choose the right side of history.