“Tory Scum,” “Trans rights are human rights,” “Queer existence is resistance”. We asked a trans person to find out more about the ‘controversial’ protest of Nadhim Zahawi MP, the UK’s Education Secretary, at Warwick University recently.
I was sat at work on the Tuesday morning. I should have been working, but instead I was mindlessly scrolling through twitter; colloquially known as ‘doom-scrolling‘. While doing this, I came across the story of a protest at Warwick University.
As is usual for our media, phrases like “Minister hounded out of university campus,” or “Trans activists target MP” were being used. Nadhim Zahawi later went on to state “Free speech must win“. Phrases which made these protestors sound like a crack squad of evil terrorists.
Knowing all too well about the way media works to ‘monster’ trans people through my work at What The Trans!? I wanted to find out the truth.
I arranged to meet with members of Trans Action Warwick, a group who claim to have organised the protest outside. Note: Trans Action Warwick are not to be confused with Warwick Pride; a separate group who attempted their own protest inside the event.
How long has this protest action group been around? Have you had other events that happened previously?
[We] came together the day before to oppose Nadhim Zahawi’s visit.
How did this come about? And when and how did you find out about Nadhim Zahawi’s appearance at Warwick University?
We found out through the Warwick Pride statement on Instagram. We were unhappy with their plan of asking ‘difficult questions’ which just legitimised him and his position so wanted to do something real instead.
Did the protest cause much is stir on campus?
I’d say so, there are always students disengaged from on-campus politics but those who are engaged saw us.
On the same day of the protest, the attorney general was encouraging schools not affirm children’s chosen gender identity. Did that bring more people to join you on the day?
We think this is highly unlikely. People are already angry about Zahawi and the ways trans youth have been attacked by his support for the legal elimination of trans people as well as his support for conversion therapy and forced outing in schools for trans youth.
On the BBC there was a report that someone at the Conservative Association had was hit on the head. Did you know what happened?
It’s impossible for us to know. Obviously, we are not responsible for all our protesters nor can we know everything that occurred. However, many of our protesters were hit and grabbed by security, and with this ignored alongside the other misinformation printed in these papers I feel its unlikely any conservatives were hurt.
Did Yvette Cooper’s son go to the protest?
No, Joel Cooper went to the event and stood up to ask Zahawi a question. He is completely unrelated to our group. He’s clearly been focussed on by the Daily Mail for asking Zahawi a question and having Labour parents. The Mail’s focus on him seems more to try and link it to their culture war than anything else.
Do you think that Nadhim got the message you were trying to convey?
Hopefully, he will think twice before going to future events such as these, or other groups will oppose him elsewhere.
It was clear from those inside telling us, and well as some videos of the event inside, that Zahawi was distracted and hard to hear because of the noise. Later they moved him to a different room for a members only talk. We waited outside, danced and rested.
Do you think that the Education Secretary wants to bring in another Section 28?
Unlikely it would be in the same form. Section 28 existed in a particular context, and between the other new laws and recommendations, it is likely he won’t need to – instead the same effect will be achieved through other routes. He has supported the WDI’s calls for the legal elimination of transgender people.
Do you feel like the Tories are ignoring LGBT people?
They are less ignoring us as actively making our lives worse. The focus on trans children is only a precursor to attacks on trans adults and then cis queer people.
Will things get worse before they get better?
It’s not a case of will they. The situation for trans people in the UK legally and politically is actively getting worse right now. As our visibility has increased, we have not been met with more safety, access to healthcare or even acceptance. Instead it has led to an active targeting of our youth and healthcare providers that support us. This is particularly the case for trans women, as well as trans people belonging to other minorities.
Trans Action Warwick regard this protest as a success. They say they achieved their aim of disrupting the event, using it to make a statement that we need to oppose transphobia and those who weaponise it against us. They believe we can’t gain liberation by attending and asking “difficult questions” alone and that doing so risks legitimising the answers and normalising the negative way transphobes talk about trans people.
We parted ways and while reflecting on my time spent talking with Trans Action Warwick and other trans people I find my self agreeing with the group. I think this protest was a success too. If not for the media attention, then fewer people would know about Nadhim Zahawi’s beliefs, such as his support for outing transgender children in schools.
For all his talk of ‘free speech must win’, Nadhim Zahawi’s crap beliefs about transgender people have never been more well-known. Precisely because transgender people put in the work to spotlight and criticise them in the ways that they have.
In my opinion one disruptive protest that made the news isn’t enough though. We need to become the #HugeProblemToASaneWorld the transphobes imagine us to be. We need to shout loud and oppose transphobic speakers attempting to engage the public wherever they do so.
As silenced as our voices often are we must become deafening.