Rendered Invisible

This piece is long as it’s covering background issues relevant to Warrington and includes a whole speech I hoped to give at a local vigil. The TL;DR is that Warrington Guardian is engaging in trans erasure in its latest charity campaign rendering Warrington queer people invisible in the process.Six months ago, Brianna Ghey was murdered in a Warrington park. Brianna was a 16 year old trans teenager. I live in Warrington. This hit hard.

There were vigils across the country, organised by and attended by queer folks. I went to the Manchester one and one of the Warrington ones. Sadly, the Warrington one felt like Brianna’s queerness, transness was being sidelined. Young people from a local trans youth group were doing readings, but they all felt so horribly “sanitised” for straight people – reading approved poems which didn’t mention anything queer; one poem even suggested that she had passed away peacefully. The most real thing said on that stage was from a trans singer who I don’t think the organisers had expected to actually say anything.

I had written something and offered to speak but was told I wasn’t wanted – that really made a depressing sense after seeing what they put on.

My name is Alex, I am queer and non-binary. I use they/them pronouns. I have two things I want to talk about – what Warrington means to me and the impact of this crime and transphobia.

Other than attending uni, I have lived and grown up in Warrington since 1993, when I was ten.

I have seen how difficult it is being queer in Warrington with no real centre to our community. With an expectation that Manchester and, more recently, Liverpool will pick up our slack. I watch as our council, our libraries, do nothing for LGBT+ History Month, as our council changes its logo to a pride background on Twitter in June but makes no mention of queer things or even why the logo is changed.

I did a search of Warrington Borough Council’s Twitter Feed for Queer – there was nothing. Gay did slightly better – two hits from February 2013 advertising a Gay Wedding Show. LGBT was better again with 5 posts from 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2021 about how we too can foster or adopt. Trans though was by far the best – as long as you meant Trans Pennine Trail.

The nearest thing we have to a response from the council is an afternoon of the Trans flag flying at half mast an a comment from the Mayor who says “It is important to note that while Cheshire Police continues to explore all lines of enquiry, including whether this was a hate crime, we know that our LGBTQ+ community may feel particularly distressed by what has happened.” Great.

This sums up Warrington for me. Community you can only find by accident and a town that assumes we’ll go be gay elsewhere and just stop when we’re here.

I was in year 11 in 1998 when Matthew Shepard was killed in a homophobic attack in Laramie, Wyoming. I was still coming to terms with my sexuality in some ways and so I mostly remember a year later finding out about it. But that was over there and things were getting better weren’t they?

Six months later was the bombing of the Admiral Duncan in London. I still didn’t really get community at that time. I was still a month off being 16. Still 18 months from coming out. I had my GCSEs to worry about. But this was a neo-nazi. Not something mainstream. It was unusual. A dying breath of an old order which was going to lose. Right?

I was 25 when Michael Causer was murdered just over in Liverpool in 2008. Right on my doorstep. But things were definitely improving. We’d won Civil Partnerships, we’d beaten back Section 28, The Equality Act was on the horizon. This was another aberration, something rare. Right? It still hurt. It still scared me. But…

I’m now approaching 40. It’s 2023 and I wake up to hear news about Brianna Ghey. Over the next days news comes out that she is trans. It hits home. Again. It’s even more on my doorstep than Michael Causer was. But something is different this time. It doesn’t feel isolated. It doesn’t feel like things are going to be getting better. This feels like an inevitably that the trans community has been shouting about for years.

Regardless of whether the police and courts are able to prove that this was a “Hate Crime”, we know. We know that transphobia almost certainly played a part in Brianna’s death. Whether it is outright hardened personal bigotry from the culprits or whether it is years of brutal anti-trans messages coming from media and political elite under the guise of “debate”, we know.

Transphobia which has dehumanised us and made Brianna and the rest of our community into easier, more “acceptable”, targets. Transphobia which has made schools as scared and powerless as they were in the days of Section 28.

Transphobia which is opening the doors to fascism. The ideology which drove the bombing of the Admiral Duncan is still here and it is encroaching into our mainstream. It has not been defeated.

We have seen, over the past few years, a rise in hate crimes. We saw a period – just before the pandemic – where we were seeing a transphobic or homophobic violent attack reach our news on an almost weekly basis. The number of names read out at Transgender Day of Remembrance every year gets longer – this year, Brianna’s will be among them. It is important to note that Brianna is a white young woman from a relatively affluent area with a supportive family – she makes the news. Most of the names on the list will be Trans People of Colour and many will have experienced poverty and unsupportive families. We know that trying to say this crime had nothing to do with transphobia is rubbish. Trying to tie it to a generic “bullying” is to sweep the problem under the carpet.

Things are not getting better this time.

The debates we should be having are how trans kids should be able to access support so that they can become trans adults. Instead we’re watching over the closure of the only centre offering support with no replacement services and having to debate whether Brianna and people like her exist.

We should be debating how we can tackle misogyny and violence against women and other marginalised people. Instead we’re “debating” with people who shout penis at trans women.

We should be ending conversion therapy. Instead we’re having to stand united against a government who wanted to exempt – and therefore effectively authorise it for – trans people and say “not at that price”.

We need better. We need you to stand up. Brianna was, I am, we are part of the Queer Community. We’re also part of the Warrington Community. We’re part of your schools, your families, your workplaces. And we need better.

To the queer folk here today – I hope that we can find a way to strengthen our community from this. But my most important message to you today is this: the situation may seem bleak, but please remember to find time for some Queer Joy. You’re going to need it.

Since then, we have also had a pride event – our first in a decade or so. And our local paper – Warrington Guardian – didn’t report on it until days later (and the link to Brianna Ghey was dutifully ignored) and on twitter only pushed one article about knitting – something not actually connected to the rest of the pride events. Our council said nothing. (It should be noted that the event was largely organised by our big shopping centres who did some pre-event promo but very little during the events).

Warrington Guardian had another article about Culcheth High School – very close to where Brianna was killed – holding some Pride events in June while somehow completely neglecting to mention that link (this was not the school Brianna was attending when she was killed).

This brings us to yesterday – the Warrington Guardian, again, has teamed up with Esther Ghey – Brianna’s mother – to launch a charity appeal. I suggest taking the time to read the article. Notice anything missing?

They have completely erased that Brianna was trans and that much of the bullying she faced seems to be linked to that.

From my proposed speech –

We know that trying to say this crime had nothing to do with transphobia is rubbish. Trying to tie it to a generic “bullying” is to sweep the problem under the carpet.

I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. The article references the nationwide vigils but neglects to mention that it was trans folk and other queer folk who organised them and, mostly, attended them. It neglects to mention that the queer community was utterly devastated. We’re not even a community who “may feel particularly distressed by what has happened” any more.

We’ve been rendered invisible. Again.

Other context here is that earlier in the week, there was another (non-fatal) stabbing of two queer men in London. Queerphobic violence in the national press and yet Warrington Guardian erases that part in this article – in this campaign.

Meanwhile, the article has quotes from the reporter who feels “privileged” to have reported a story that the rest of feel horrified by having to engage with. I think it is also important to note that this reporter is so close to the case that another reporter covered the plea hearing in the court case against Brianna’s alleged killers for the paper (this article was preceded by articles in other papers).

Brianna Ghey does not belong to the queer community, to Warrington or even to her Mother. She was her own person and she had many facets. But this erasure of her transness and promotion of “mindfulness” in her name does feel rather sickening. Mindfulness does not solve mental health or bullying problems. It is deeply wrong for some people. It offloads structural and institutional problems onto individuals.

In my proposed speech for the Warrington Vigil, I had originally included some quotes from The Laramie Project, but I wasn’t sure that they were saying what I wanted. I am now looking at a different quote – a quote I think we just failed to live up to –

Moment: It happened here

Zubaida Ula: We went to the candle vigil.

Narrator: Zubaida Ula:

Zubaida Ula: And it was so good to be with people who felt like shit. I kept feeling like I don’t deserve to feel this bad, you know? And someone got up there and said “C’mon, guys, let’s show the worlds that Laramie is not this kind of town.” But it is that kind of town. If it wasn’t this kind of town, why did this happen here? I mean, you know what I mean, like – that’s a lie. Because it happened here. So how could it not be a town where this kind of thing happens? Like that’s just totally – like looking at an Escher painting and getting all confused, like, it’s just totally like circular logic like how can you even say that? And we have to mourn this and we have to be sad that we live in a town, a state, a country where shit like this happens. And I’m not going to step away from that and say, “We need to show the world this didn’t happen.” I mean, these are people trying to distance themselves from this crime. And we need to own this crime. I feel. Everyone needs to own it. We are like this. We ARE like this. WE are LIKE this.

Right not, we not feel like a town that is ready to look at the truth of this crime and hatred. We are not ready to address hatred and bigotry in our town, our society. We’re actively erasing it, sweeping it under the carpet, ignoring it. And I feel fucking awful.


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