TERF wars against trans people are a sad sight. But what’s more disheartening is the lack of response from the LGBT+ community.
The first Pride I have ever attended was in Bologna, a historically leftist and open Italian city. It was an amazing experience, during which I felt closer than ever to my queer friends and I really understood how beautiful and vital it is to have a free and safe space in which to celebrate diversity and freedom. For this reason, I am still very affectionate to Bologna Pride and I was very sorry when I learned that this year’s parade, held on the 22nd of June, was interrupted by a violent hailstorm, which left many participants wounded.
Besides stopping the march, the storm had another annoying consequence: in just a few hours, many far-right and homophobic Facebook pages started to praise the storm as a divine sign against the ‘homosexual abomination’, calling it ‘a manifestation of the universe’s disgust towards the unnatural costumes of the LGBT+ community’. Such comments immediately transformed my sadness into anger.
However, what left me completely heartbroken was a post published by ArciLesbica, an influential feminist association focused on the protection and promotion of lesbians, which has national scope and multiple groups all over Italy. Indeed, the Arcilesbica Facebook page associated to the city of Modena stated that the storm was ‘Mother Earth’s warning to those associations who use women’s bodies as a form of experimentation’ — language reminiscent of that used by the far-right and clerical groups.
The post was directed against associations which campaign for the right of gay couples to adopt children, as well as against groups who support the transgender community, which were participating in Pride in great numbers. Arcilesbica is indeed composed of radical feminists, who see the practice of surrogacy as an exploitation of a woman’s body and who don’t recognise trans women as ‘real women’. They are often called TERFs, which stands for Trans–Exclusionary Radical Feminists, since they identify as women only those people who are biologically female and, as a consequence, heavily discriminate against trans people.
A similar event happened last year in London, when the city’s Pride was jeopardised by a small group of radical feminists, who exposed banners against trans-activism and declared their opposition to the inclusion of trans people in the march. Indeed, some of these ‘feminists’ maintain that the whole idea of transsexuality is a menace to women’s emancipation and to lesbianism itself; they are determined to exclude trans people from queer spaces.
Unfortunately, TERFs are on the rise, and they are causing severe tensions in the trans community. On the 22nd of June, the SNP MP Joanna Cherry shared a photo of two trans campaigners which showed a ‘F*CK TERF’ sign at the Edinburgh Pride. Cherry called such opposition against TERFs a sign of hate and misogyny and lamented the ‘lack of inclusivity’ in the march. Even though she received much criticism for her post, it’s clear that the TERF current is expanding and gaining support.
These events are alarming because they show how widespread the TERF ideology is. However, what is even more disturbing is the immobility of various LGBT+ associations. Indeed, instead of protecting their trans peers and defending them against transphobic extremism, much of the movement has remained inert. In most cases, TERFs have been criticized only by other feminist associations which seek to dissociate themselves from such an extremist current, while the queer community has failed to firmly condemn the actions of radical feminists so far. Such lack of action is pushing trans people to abandon shared spaces and events to build their own safe zones, since it seems that the other queer components are not interested in their safety.
Examples are numerous: the trans community of London was so shocked and offended by the presence of TERFs in the 2018 Pride and by the indifference of the Pride organizers, that it decided to organise a march of its own, called the ‘London Trans + Intersex Pride’, scheduled for the 14th of November 2019. Moreover, just a few days ago, the Metro Trans Umbrella Group has announced that it will not participate in St. Louis Pridefest parade, as a protest against the decision to include uniformed officers in the march. The organization declared that, since many trans people are still subjected to police harassment, such a decision deliberately ignores the feelings and traumas of the transgender community.
In sum, it’s clear that trans voices are often being ignored in LGBT+ spaces and that, for this reason, the community is increasingly distancing itself from the rest of the queer sphere. Such a tendency could seriously weaken the LGBT+ movement. As homophobia and transphobia are on the rise in the UK and the US, as well as in Brazil and in many European countries, it is vital that the queer community remains united. Instead of ignoring the necessities and struggle of the trans community, pushing trans activists to organise Prides of their own, the whole LGBT+ movement should fight against TERF intimidation and ensure that marches and all kinds of events are safe and welcoming for everyone.
The final parade of the London Pride is scheduled for the 6th of July, and as the date gets closer I can’t stop wondering whether TERFs will be there this year as well, and whether the trans community will feel safe enough to participate.