Transphobia

The internet has allowed the trans community to come together in a way never previously thought possible. It has brought together individuals with a range of identities and experiences to share advice and help one another. But the flip side of the coin is that the internet can also be a way in which private information is shared, people are ‘outed’ and abuse can be directed against individuals and communities.

While trans people can face the same sort of abuse online as other people, they can also face some specific risks and types of abuse. Transphobia can appear in many areas of a trans person life, for example from education to work to health care to interactions between people. Trans people can experience unwanted and often abusive comment, attention and harassment.

This abuse is not acceptable and you do not have to accept it. You can take action against those who are transphobic and abusive online.

What sort of abuse do trans* people face online?

Trans people have the same right to live their lives free from harassment as cis (non-trans) people. But they also face risks that non-trans people do not have to face.

 

Transphobia often includes an abusive and gratuitous focus on people’s history, identity, appearance and bodies. Information about these things can be put in a public arena, with the intension of hurting, humiliating and de-humanising trans people. Sometimes bigotry can be falsely presented as ‘humour’.

 

Cis people may assume that their (incorrect) views or assumptions about someone’s gender are ‘true’, while the trans person’s statement of identity is not. Deliberate, or unthinking, use of the ‘wrong’ pronoun is a direct and targeted way of disrespecting or believing someone, with the aim of embarrassing, hurting and outing them.

 

This sort of transphobic abuse can be committed not just by those wishing to hurt people but also by organisations, media agencies and individual commentators. Even reputable agencies and campaigners can cause hurt and offence to trans people by misgendering individuals (referring to someone in the wrong pronoun). Trans Media Watch gives advice to journalists and media commentators about how to avoid this.

 

The effects of all of this can be devastating for individual trans people. People may lose families, children, jobs, be subject to abuse where they live and work, experience violence, and be at high risk of mental ill-health, self-harm and suicide as a result.

 

Hostile and hateful comments against individuals in the public arena of the internet can damage whole communities of people and can quickly escalate. Abuse against a trans person can also affect trans people’s partners, children, families and friends; lead to fear amongst other trans people; and can effect a whole community.

 

But you do not have to put up with this abuse.

Privacy and outing without consent

Many trans people use the online world as a way to connect with others and explore their identity. Creating online spaces free from abuse and discrimination, and responding to abuse, is therefore important. People have a right to control who knows about their identity and a right not to be subject to abuse because of who they are.

 

Many trans people fear being ‘outed’ as trans or having a trans history. This can be extremely distressing and can put you at risk of discrimination and violence affecting your life in many ways.

 

Go to the Taking Action page to find out more about using the internet’s own systems, reporting to the police and other ways to take action against transphobia and abuse online.

 

For those with a Gender Recognition Certificate:

The Gender Recognition Act 2004 gives legal recognition to people in their acquired gender. It is an offence for anyone in an official capacity to disclose protected information about someone’s gender history or that they have applied for, or have, a Gender Recognition Certificate. Unlawful disclosure applies to spoken, paper and electronic communication and includes disclosure by an employer, manager, colleague, administrator or anyone working in an official capacity for a public agency or service provider. There are some instances when this information can be disclosed (for example, in a court, where it is relevant to the case).

 

However, many trans people do not have, and may never have, Gender Recognition Certificates and the GRC does not cover disclosure by individuals in a private capacity. Such disclosure may come under the definition of harassment and trans people should always try to get legal advice and support from relevant agencies to talk through what they are experiencing and what they can do about it.

 

Go to the Resources page for more information.

 

 

Trans people may also want to think about what information they share online and with whom. Go to the Taking Action page to find out more about using the internet’s own systems, reporting to the police and other ways to take action against transphobia and abuse online.

Challenging derogatory media

Content across all forms of media that can be accessed online can be harmful, abusive and discriminatory to trans people. Some of this is directly threatening to individuals and is illegal.  Click here to go to the Using the law page on this website.

 

The way in which trans people are often represented in the media can reinforce transphobia. In 2010, Trans Media Watch conducted a survey called 'How Transgender People Experience the Media'. They found that:

 

  • 70% of respondents felt that media portrayals of people like them were either negative or very negative, and 78% that these portrayals were either inaccurate or highly inaccurate.

  • 67% said that seeing negative items in the media made them feel angry. Over half said it made them feel unhappy, 35% that they felt excluded and 20% felt frightened.

  • 21% had received at least one instance of verbal abuse which they believed was associated with the representation of trans or intersex people in the media.

  • 20% had received negative reactions at work which they could trace to items in the media. 36% reported that media representations of trans people had led to negative reactions from their family or friends.

 

This abuse may constitute harassment. But you do not have to put up with this. Get advice from a legal advisor or expert support agency.

  • Call the police if you feel seriously threatened.

  • Gather evidence.

  • Think about what you share online and use all the available settings to keep private information private.

  • Complain to the Press Complaints Commission about individual journalists or inaccurate and offensive press reporting.

  • Go to the links box on this page for more ideas about who can help.

 

Some of this derogatory content falls outside the protection of the law but makes a clear contribution to inequality and creates a hostile social climate. Even if it’s not unlawful, you can still do something about it.

 

Take Action: Report, Complain, Campaign.  

Why equality matters

Nobody should be targeted for who they are; everyone should be treated equally and given equal opportunity.

 

Women and LGBT communities can be targeted and discriminated against just for who they are. This background of discrimination and inequality influences online abuse. Sexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia exist online, as do racism and prejudice based on age, disability and religion, all of which are also experienced by women and LGBT people.

 

Abusers often use this prejudice to fuel their actions and what starts off as abuse against an individual can quickly become abuse against everyone with those characteristics. The impact of online abuse against individuals often stretches far beyond the individuals involved.

 

As technology becomes more sophisticated and the internet becomes home to an increasing proportion of our day-to-day interactions, we need to ensure that we are doing all we can to protect everyone and challenge abuse where it happens, especially when targeted at individuals and groups because of their identities.

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Case Study

Who: Dan was a trans man in his 40s who lived with his partner Sarah. Dan used a wheelchair and their flat was adapted to Dan’s needs.

 

The Case: Dan had reported persistent transphobic abuse by his neighbours. The harassment escalated from graffiti and verbal abuse to smashing windows, poisoning their cat and eventually a violent burglary, during which Dan was brutally beaten.

 

The attackers were caught and sentenced to terms in prison. Dan and Sarah thought this was the end of their ordeal but the day after the trial ended the free newspaper was delivered, with a big front-page headline saying ‘Transvestite attacked. Did his attackers know he was really a woman?’. Dan and Sarah were devastated by this reporting, which was both insulting and factually incorrect. Dan and his wife were named and their address published. This was quickly picked up online and tweeted. A family member was tricked into disclosing Dan’s previous name, which was shared on twitter. Dan was outed at work, local young people began hanging around the estate and shouting comments, and Sarah’s family found out that they weren’t legally married and her husband had a trans history.

 

The Outcome: In desperation, Sarah contacted the local LGBT organisation, which immediately put them in touch with Trans Media Watch who challenged the newspaper on its transphobic reporting, leading to an apology and amendment of the article online. A formal complaint was made to the Press Complaints Commission. Sarah and Dan used Twitter’s reporting mechanism to get the tweets stopped and reported to the police. Pressure was put on the local council to move Dan and Sarah to a new property.

Links

 

Take action and stop abuse

 

Get help and support

 

Useful resources

 

 

Useful trans-led sites which contain information about the law, rights and help:

 

Trans Media Watch

Gender Identity Research & Education Society

Trans Wiki (for local groups)