vicky thompson was a victim of ignorance

The tragic death of Vicky Thompson shows how far we still have to go to fight for the rights of the transgender community...

by Morwenna Jones
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22 November 2015, 12:18am

Vicky Thompson lived her life trapped. She was born a woman "trapped" in a man's body and she died, tragically taking her own life, a woman trapped in a men's prison. She had warned her friends that she would kill herself if she was sent to Armley, a category B men's prison near Leeds, but her request to be sent to New Hall, a women's prison near Wakefield, had been denied.

Today is The Transgender Day of Remembrance. There is a certain crassness to the Trans Pride flag having been raised above Whitehall as Vicky Thompson's death was announced. It implies that trans people in the UK live in a society in which they are accepted, their rights are valued and they can be proud to be who they are; facts Vicky's entirely preventable death proves to be only too wrong.

In prisons alone the Ministry of Justice guidelines require all prisoners to be assigned to prisons according to their gender "as recognised by UK law". Admittedly, it is legally possible for some transgender people to be "sufficiently advanced in the gender reassignment process" that they can be placed in a prison for their acquired gender "even if the law does not yet recognise" that they are of that gender. It's also legally possible for a case conference to be convened and a multi-disciplinary risk assessment to be carried out to determine how a transgender prisoner's location should be managed.

So how did Vicky, described by her solicitor Mohammed Hussain as "vulnerable" and "essentially a woman", end up being forced to undergo what Labour MP Cat Smith, the Shadow Minister for Women and Equality, has described as a "terrifying" experience that would "shatter even the strongest person"? How, having defined herself as a woman since her mid-teens, was she not seen as "sufficiently advanced" in her gender reassignment? How was she not deemed a risk?

Following Vicky's death, Smith has also drawn attention to the rules defining where to send transgender prisoners. In her words, they "are either not being implemented properly" or are "not fit for purpose" it is her intention to "find out which it is".

She might want to start with an easier problem and find out why. It has been almost exactly 85years since Lili Elbe became one of the first identifiable recipients of sex reassignment surgery and, more importantly, managed to get her sex and name legally changed. And yet, 85 years on, trans people continue to battle intolerance, ignorance and discrimination.

Sadly, these aren't confined to prison walls. In the US, rightwing Republicans have attempted to ban trans people from using the gender-appropriate toilets for their acquired genders. Germaine Greer famously (and unsuccessfully) opposed the appointment of trans woman Rachael Padman as a fellow at Newnham College, one of Cambridge University's two women-only colleges and only last month said that going through sexual-reassignment "doesn't make you a woman". And, just yesterday, actress Rose McGowan rebuked Caitlyn Jenner in a (since-deleted) Facebook post for failing to learn what it's like to be a woman, writing "Caitlyn Jenner you do not understand what being a woman is about at all".

Worryingly, it's this same ignorance and intolerance that all too easily translates into violence. Just read the lists of names on Tdor.info, The Transgender Day of Remembrance website. The site memorialises those who have been killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. It makes for a chilling read…

"Ashton O'Hara, twenty-five years old, stabbed to death, ran over by vehicle".

"K.C Haggard, sixty-six years old, multiple stab wounds".

"Unknown, forty-one years old, severe head and neck trauma".

Alongside these tragedies, it's easy to forget that strides forwards are being made. When boxing manager and promoter Kellie Maloney revealed her transformation in August last year, the British media were thrown into confusion. What should they call her? What pronouns should they use? Comment, opinion and debate pieces flew back and forth across the British media and it was a journalist for The Independent who stated the obvious: "Kellie Maloney has always been a woman. She isn't becoming a woman or pretending to be one. She doesn't "think" she is a woman. Nor is she magically transforming into a woman via some alchemical trickery".

Compare that response to 2015, the year that has undeniably been the year of the aforementioned Caitlyn Jenner. "Coming Out" with the now iconic "Call Me Caitlyn" interview inVanity Fair and now Glamour Magazine US' "Woman of the Year", Ms Jenner is proof that attitudes and prejudices are slowly starting to change.

Sadly, these changes are coming too late for Vicky Thompson whose name has regretfully been added to the list of names and lives that needn't have been lost and that we remember today. Her death is an all-too poignant reminder, not just of the hate crimes and prejudices, but also of the unnecessary ignorance surrounding trans rights, the same ignorance that, hopefully, we can continue to strive to eliminate. 

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vicky thompson