Lily’s Legacy – the importance of trans people in our movement
“I just don’t believe trans people are a real thing. We should make them start hunting and foraging for their own food and see whether they still care about what gender they are then”.
I sat in shock and looked out of the train window. I could see over the tops of the seats the man who was spouting his disgusting opinions, loudly for the whole train to hear. I felt like crying. I wanted to get up and shout at him, but I couldn’t muster the strength. I sunk back into my seat and tried to take my mind off what had just happened.
Earlier that day, a small group of us from Welsh Labour Students went to visit a support group in Stoke for trans people. We handed over a cheque for £700; money we had raised in memory of our friend Lily Summers whose grave we visited just before.
Even now, months after she passed away it still hurts to write about Lily as someone who is not with us anymore. But the pain of losing Lily inspired us in Welsh Labour Students to launch a campaign to improve access to healthcare in Wales for trans people, and to raise money for the support group who helped her through her transition.
For those of you who were unfortunate enough to not meet Lily during her all too short life; Lily was a ferocious campaigner, an outspoken voice for social justice and LGBTQ rights, as well as a proud Labour member and Swansea City Council candidate.
Lily was also Welsh Labour Students Women’s Officer, the first trans person elected to our committee and one of my closest friends.
In Lily’s memory we met with Welsh Government Ministers, and passed policy at our Welsh Labour Conference improving Welsh Labours policy on trans healthcare. At conference, out of respect to Lily we received a standing ovation and the introduction of the Lily Summers award for campaigning on LGBTQ rights within our movement.
It is easy, in the midst of these victories to feel that our work is going well, but the man on the train who made me cry that day reminded me of just how much work we still have to do in support of trans people. As well as proving the battle that trans people face every day just to be recognised. That’s why this month I’ve already met with our fantastic LGBT+ Officer Rhys Purtill, and will be talking to our trans members to discuss how we give the trans campaign in Labour Students the autonomy it needs.
I’m also planning on working with the Young European Socialists new Queer Network Co-Ordinator Luis Deltell Segura, who I recently met with at the Young European Socialists Bureau meeting in Malta. Together with other member organisations we hope to map out how easy it is for trans people to acquire documents showing their true gender across Europe, so we can then launch campaigns in the countries that have the worst records on trans rights. In the coming months I hope to hear from you all on ideas you may have, campaigns you think we should run and changes we should aim to achieve. This campaign must have trans people at the forefront, but with all of us standing behind in solidarity.
Our movement owes it to Lily, to be loud, to be radical and to refuse any silence on the issue of trans rights. So I’m pleased that Labour is pledging to reform the outdated Gender Recognition Act to give trans people the right to choose their own gender and put an end to invasive medical examinations.
It will never be enough, but it will be a start.
Lily was an incredible woman with a fantastic future ahead of her. She loved our movement and always put others before herself. Lily brightened every room she walked in to and her modest brilliance always made her the centre of every debate.
Lily’s mum Deborah told me that day that it is every mother’s worst fear that when their child dies, they will be forgotten. Yesterday Deborah picked up Lily’s B.A. that Swansea University awarded to Lily posthumously. When Deborah went up to collect the degree, Lily’s fellow graduates gave her a standing ovation as they remembered the fantastic person Lily was.
I have no doubt that in only a matter of years Lily would have been the UKs first trans MP, proudly sitting on the Labour benches. Unfortunately that version of events will never come to pass, but I know that together we can ensure that Deborah’s worst fear is never realised, and people forever remember my friend Lily as someone who inspired great change in the UK.
Josh James is the Chair of Welsh Labour Students and National Campaigns & Membership Officer of Labour Students