Sometimes, looking at things from a sideways angle is helpful...

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Mobilising trans* and disabled students for Demo 2012

Rather than copying this text, please link to the post, as I am regularly updating it.

This is a work in progress. I will continue to update it as ideas come to me.

I'm going to preface this with three things:
*It might be appropriate for other minority groups as well, but not being part of them I can't speak for them
*It isn't going to speak to everyone's experiences, but might help.
*In no way am I implying that these two groups are the same

We are at more risk than most people. Not of being arrested necessarily, but of what could happen once we've been arrested. At the Royal Wedding protests two trans people were sexually assaulted by the police. Gendered facilities become a minefield for trans people. We all know how seriously the police take disability, take Jody McIntyre for an example. Or ask yourself how willing they're likely to be to listen when you say, but can't prove, that you ned this medication, or this food now, or you risk serious illness or death.

As a result of this increased risk, there are things that you can do to help mobilise us, and mitigate that risk.

This isn't about applying this to individual students, or speaking to individual students and telling them this, it's about having these systems set up so they're there if people need them, and making sure everyone knows about them - it's not necessarily easy to tell if someone's trans or disabled.

General advice

  • Use a buddy system - for people for whom demonstrations might carry extra risk, having a buddy system and knowing that there's one person they need to stick with and who will stick with them is likely to make people feel a lot safer
  • Make sure you offer links to a form of legal support that understands our issues - I wish I could advise someone of which forms of legal support are good. However, I don't know of any yet. Maybe there are people who could liaise with, for example, Green and Black Cross, to make sure that whoever's staffing their emergency phone understands the extra risks trans* and disabled people face (including mental health related issues). Make sure the students know that this service is aware of these issues.
  • Have an emergency plan to ensure we can get home safely - public transport may pose a greater challenge or risk to people in these groups than other people, so make sure that you've got routes planned out that people can take to get home.
  • Ensure you have a plan for accessible crash space for any students detained to the point where they can no longer travel safely home - again, trans or disabled students may be more nervous of, or more at risk in, crash space that they don't know, or with a host they haven't met. It may also be difficult for wheelchair users to find crash space. Therefore, ensure that your group knows of crash space that can be used if necessary, and that people with specific anxieties or needs know of crash space where those needs will be met.
  • Have an emergency "get out the demo" plan for if someone is violated or unwell - this is pretty simple - make sure there's some way people know of for leaving the demo where possible. There are obviously times, such as kettles, where this might not be, but it's worth people having some ideas for ways of getting students who might need to leave, out, as fast as possible.

Disabled-specific advice
  • If there is to be a "disabled bloc" setting the pace of the march, make sure it's well advertised and that if any of your students wish to join it you have a way of keeping in touch with them - these groups are often safer spaces for disabled students to march in, but also mean people might be separated from the people they know. Make sure mobile numbers have been exchanged, and that if it exists, everyone knows. Remember, you might not be able to tell if someone's disabled
  • Make sure your plans are clear in advance so students who need them have access to them - I realise this raises concerns about privacy, and if actions were to be undertaken that couldn't be discussed in advance, then this is irrelevant, but in general allow people time to plan - this is important for people who have issues around anxiety, timetabling, structures and medication
  • Make sure you have enough accessible coaches going for wheelchair users to travel with the rest of your group - the emotional aspect of going on a demonstration can be quite intense, and it's important for people to feel part of, and supported by their group. Therefore, if you're going by coach, try to ensure that the coach is wheelchair accessible so wheelchair users can remain with their friends. If this is impossible, arrange for a group to travel by train so they're not left to organise their own plans alone
  • Have a plan for managing panic - panic attacks can often be triggered by situations at demonstrations such as crowds and loud noise. It's worth thinking through how best to support someone having a panic attack. In general, trying to get as much space and privacy for them as possible, offering water, seeing whether physical contact would help, or not, and protecting them from the environment around them are all good ideas.

Trans-specific advice
  • Be on the look-out for any transphobia, respond accordingly - in the emotionally charged atmosphere that is a demonstration people are likely to be more aware of and possibly more easily affected by transphobia, so ensure your whole group is aware of and watching for it, to ensure that an inclusive atmosphere is created. Things that are likely to occur and it's worth being aware of include transphobic abuse being thrown at people in a crowd situation (especially likely to happen on antifash demos), and trans people being singled out by police.
  • In spaces where people might have no choice but use gendered toilets, prepare to 'buddy up' with them to help ensure their safety - toilets can be hard to find on demonstrations and might be gendered. If this is the case, and a student is expressing anxiety about which to use, prepare to offer to go in with them so they can feel like they're protected against violence. There is no clearly defined legal reason why someone shouldn't use the toilet of the gender they identify as, so if they are challenged, be aware of the fact that they have the legal right to use that toilet*
  • If a trans student is stopped and searched, be prepared to offer a witness, as defence against sexual assault - there is a very real and present risk of trans people being sexually assaulted by police, and this happened at the Royal Wedding protests. Therefore, be prepared to offer to remain with someone if they're being searched, to help ensure their safety.
This list is by no means conclusive, but it's a good starting point, I think!

*though this has not been tested in case-law


  1. Hey Matt this is really well thought out and tremendously helpful. Is it OK to use some of your points in some training I'm doing with LGBTs around community activism - I would credit you, and give your weblink. Many thanks

  2. Hi Lesley,

    Please do :) I'm really glad it's helpful for you!