By Emmett Holden Carter, Rainbow Network Group Co-Chair

This is my first ever blog and I’m sat here watching the news and thinking who can I write about for LGBTQIA+ month?

There are so many amazing people to look at and all are worth talking about, but I have picked Harry Benjamin.

Harry Benjamin was the pioneer in the care of transgendered people. He was born in Berlin, Germany in 1885 and died in 1986 in New York USA. He was a well-known endocrinologist and sexologist who was pioneering in recognizing transsexuality and he developed medical interventions for transsexual and transgendered people.

In 1979 he was honoured with the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association in his name and he went on to write the ground-breaking book, The Transexual Phenomenon, which was published in 1996.

It's worth noting that the Association in his name later became The World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

Carrying on the theme I looked at the first transgendered women in England and came across Roberta Cowell, born Robert Marshall Cowell who before transition was a fighter pilot. She was the first trans woman to undergo sex reassignment surgery. She started hormones of Oestrogen in 1950 while still living as a man when she became acquainted with Michael Dillion, a physician who was also the first trans man to get phalloplasty. He was the author of Self: A Study in Endocrinology and Ethnic which proposed that individuals should have the right to change gender to the body they desire.

Dillon then in secrecy carried out Inguinal orchiectomy which was illegal in the UK under the so-called Mayhem Laws.

Later Roberta went on to obtain documents stating she was intersexed and was allowed to change her birth certificate to say she was female. She went on to get a vaginoplasty in 1951 by Sir Harold Gillies, the father of plastic surgery, who had also operated on Michael Dillon.

Roberta was involved in motor racing and flying for many years and had a great love of racing cars. She was born in 1918 and died in 2011 with only six people to attend her funeral.
She was quickly followed on by April Ashley MBE born in 1935, an English model and hostess famous for being outed as transgendered by the Sunday People in 1961. I had the pleasure of meeting her once and she was the first trans woman I met in my life.
April now lives in Fulham.

Often it’s thought that being seen as a Transgender is a new concept and something that has only recently appeared but in reality, Transgendered people have been in history for many years and in some cultures are seen as two spirits. This will be a subject for another blog.

It is an interesting fact that it is estimated that around 1% of the population may identify themselves as transgendered, including those who identify as non-binary. That would mean about 600,000 trangendered and non-binary people in Britain, out of a population of over 60 million. These numbers are changing quickly as more people feel able to come out as transgendered or non – binary in today’s society.

The rights of Trans and non–binary people have come a long way but are still limited by what you can do without a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). If you wish to marry someone of the opposite gender without the GRC you have to put your birth gender on the form. The GRC is expensive (£140) and needs a lot of medical reports. It was hoped that last year things would have become easier, sadly nothing happened to change the process.

Since 2002, the government has stated that transsexualism will no longer be seen as a mental illness. Under the Equality Act 2010 gender reassignment (Transition as we call it) is one of its protected characteristics. This means that people must not be discriminated against based in physiological reassignment of attributes of their sex. This covers people who have undergone, plan to undergo or are presently undergoing some sort of reassignment, regardless of how they choose to express their gender identity. These were big steps in supporting Trans and non-binary people to feel safer in the community and at home.

As a trans advocate I have suffered abuse for being trans, cross questioned by the medical profession about why I want to do this at my age, and on many times at appointments misgendered when my medical records state I’m male and my name as it is now.

Staff on the ward sometimes found it funny to out me to people who have only just met me and will ask questions or comment on my looks or progress in my transition in a nasty manner. Some people are more caring and supportive, you develop a thick skin but it can be upsetting at times.

I do not know any Transgendered or Non- binary people at work who are open in the NHS and this has made it harder to be open myself and like others I will seek to move to a place no one knows my history.

I think the NHS has a long way to go to support the Trans community and this is also for other organisations that employ or work with Trans people.