This follows on from my earlier entry about the "toiletgate" incident in Trafalgar Square, where rozk was refused entry to the ladies toilets by a steward, and which involved an off-duty Metropolitan Police LGBT Liaison Officer who allegedly inflamed the situation by threatening to arrest the transpeople who'd set up an impromptu protest about the incident, and erroneously invoking the Gender Recognition Act to suggest that transpeople had no business expecting to use gender-appropriate public toilets without presenting a Gender Recognition Certificate.
After the incident, there were various statements flying around. In some of these, claims were made by the Metropolitan Police that, "Trans community members decided to stage a demonstration within the entry area to the toilets, an argument ensued, and the steward at the toilets was barged and pushed up against a wall, and inappropriate language was used." (my emphasis). In his personal letter on the matter, Commander Steve Allen says, "It is clear to me that the motivation and actions of the police officer involved were positive and he has my full support" (again, my emphasis).
These statements did not serve to calm the situation - quite the opposite. I know many of the people involved in the incident and they very strongly deny that they were aggressive in any way towards the steward. The first quote also suggests that the "inappropriate language" came from the transpeople present, but it's my understanding that it refers to the steward saying that she needed help dealing with "a bunch of trannies" in her radio. The only publicly available video I know of certainly seems to support the view that the demonstration was peaceful and that the steward was not "barged". Someone seems to say "fuck off" during the video, but whoever it is seems to be off camera and not connected with the demonstration, or the dialogue with the steward.
A feeling has developed that, by releasing the statements they did, the Met Police shifted the responsibility for what happened onto people who regard themselves as the victims of a hate crime, and that in condoning the actions of the officer involved, Commander Allen was implicitly supporting sexual discrimination against transpeople and the inappropriate and illegal use of the Gender Recognition Act as a stick to beat us over the head with.
So a lot of people are quite upset, and in an attempt to try and sort this out, the Met Police organised a meeting last night. zoeimogen and I met up and made our way over to the meeting, where a number of other people we know were already waiting. In addition to many of the London Trans Scene "regulars", there were a number of transpeople I didn't recognise. There were plenty of police officers present, including Commander Allen himself, who chaired the meeting. Also present was Paul Birrell from Pride London.
The meeting lasted just under a couple of hours, and I don't think it went entirely well. A number of rather interesting things happened, however.
What many of us were grateful for is that Steve Allen apologised to us for rushing the statements out. zoeimogen has written her account of the meeting, which goes into greater detail about the cock-ups involved there, and I would encourage people to read it. scattykat spoke at length about our frustrations, and various members of the audience added their own voices to the fray. One transman spoke very eloquently and with a lot of passion about the anger people felt. One lady made a good point that transphobic abuse is not generally the same kind of thing as homophobic abuse, because when someone calls a gay man a "faggot", while the intent is clearly to insult they are not denying their identity the way someone does when someone calls a transwoman a man. zoeimogen made the point that the police and Pride London seemed to have talked to a lot of LGB organisations in the assumption that they'd be able to speak for transpeople, and that this wasn't a good assumption.
The events of the day were further clarified:
Roz was allowed into the toilet as the demonstartion started up, because she was desperate. While she was in there, the LGBT Liaison Officer came out of the gents and started remonstrating with the other transpeople present, and then Roz, after she came out. This was around the time that the steward melodramatically called, "There's a bunch of trannies here, send backup!" into her radio. Believing that a reversal of the policy had been obtained, and being threatened with arrest, the demonstrators dispersed. Very shortly afterwards, the policy was reinstated and half an hour later, a transwoman was sexually assaulted after being made to use the male toilets. This incident was reported to the police (although Commander Allen said that he could find no record of it, despite several of the audience members stating that they'd seen the letter subsequently sent by the Met to the victim).
Commander Allen did seem very frustrated by our anger, as well as baffled by it. Speaking to many of the people present afterwards, there seems ot be a general feeling that he just didn't get it. There's a perception about transpeople (and transwomen in particular) held by certain sections of the public that we're more or less dirty perverts who are probably dangerous to children, and probably ought to be castrated (as long as it's not done by the NHS). When transpeople are the victims of transphobia, at Pride of all places, it's very galling to see the public response by the police to be one which helps reinforce the image, amongst an already prejudiced public, that transwomen are the sort of people you might have problems with in the ladies toilet. Being a transitioned transsexual person is a very precarious existence in many ways - we don't have the benefit of being able to be forceful and unequivocal about what our sex actually is when challenged in public, and so the thought that something like this can happen at any point tends to hover about at the back of ones mind. This is not something we can get away from - by dealing with our gender dysphoria, we find ourselves in this potentially vulnerable position in which we have no choice but to spend the rest of our lives.
I managed to get the microphone at one point, and made the point that historically, it has been the case that if the police intervene in a hate crime being perpetrated against a transperson, they were quite likely to take the side of the perpetrator against the victim. I went on to say that the way this incident was handled has made me question just how historical this is, and that if I were the victim of a transphobic hate crime now, I probably wouldn't report it.
Commander Allen seemed to be genuinely shocked by that, so I hope it pushed the right button.
What Paul Birrel of Pride London had to say was very interesting though. He stated that the security contractors involved were probably as good as they could get, and that if they'd employed anyone else to steward, things would have been worse. That was depressing enough. He also seemed to contradict the view that had been allowed to develop that this whole incident was sparked by a rogue steward acting on her own volition, stating that the policy to exclude transwomen from the female toilets was instigated by Pride London themselves, on health and safety grounds (the universal excuse - good for any occasion), and that they wouldn't have made this policy if they'd known it was illegal. How about not doing it because it's wrong?
He'd brought along someone who I can only (and, I think, fairly) describe as his "tame tranny" - a transwoman friend of his who stood up and more or less said that the meeting was a distraction, and that there were more important things for us to get angry about, and that she couldn't see why people were upset. That went down very badly, with cries that she was being dismissive, patronising and minimising the experiences and genuine grievances of people.
There was a transwoman police officer present, from internal affairs, or something along those lines, who said that there was no real point investigating this from the met's point of view, because even if the officer had behaved in the worst way possible, he wouldn't lose his job (that much is clear - your job tends to be safe even when you shoot someone several times in the head for looking a bit foreign) - he'd just get "words of advice", and they could do that anyway without investigating. This was met with murmurs that this missed the point, and that it was important to us that the truth of what happened be publicly recognised.
So in general, a very frustrating meeting. I got the feeling that the Met Police remained frustrated that we haven't "gotten over this", that Pride London, despite words of regret, by their actions seem almost unrepentant about what happened, and that we left feeling frustrated that nobody understood why this is a big deal for us, and why it's important that it's put right. This feels like it's only just starting.