Diversity schmiversity!

Diversity: a word so often banded about in LGBTQ+ circles. But what does it mean in reality for less ‘visible’ members of our community? Juno Roche discusses.


I read a tweet the other which said “I’m sick of reading the word ‘diversity’; say what it is – a complete lack of blackness.”

Worldwide, 19% of trans women are HIV-positive, yet worldwide, I cannot find a single example of a government or centralised-initiated campaign which aims to tackle this horrendous figure. I cannot find a single poster, advertisement or strap-line which is trying to address this huge inequality.

19% of all trans women are HIV-positive; that’s almost a fifth. There is no other group I know of which is affected so acutely by something but without any response.

But back to the word ‘diversity’, which I’m beginning to think is, one, a white word, two, meaningless and three, damaging. Why do I think it is a white word? Taking ownership here, I frequently look up in meetings, meetings arranged by others and meetings arranged by myself, and see a sea of white faces and then we white folk talk about diversity and us becoming more diverse. Sometimes it’s even written down as an action point –

  • We must find non white people and become more diverse.

Why do I think it’s a meaningless word? Because of the action point above, we as white folk have allowed ourselves to think that having different kinds of faces addresses inequality.

There is no other group I know of which is affected so acutely by something but without any response.

It’s a very bad Benetton ad, but worse than that, we really feel like it’s changing the structures when, in effect, we are just gathering different people when we meet. It sits alongside our constant need to have integration – damn those women for speaking Urdu and not the Queen’s English.

Damaging? See both of the above and recognise how they have created narrow funding streams.

As a trans woman, I am frequently brought onto committees, boards, groups, projects to bring a ‘trans perspective’. My perspective lives in the moment and when I suggest that we, for example, just have a trans focus rather than LGB focus, it seems I am overstepping the diversity boundary.

See, for all of our diverse aims, we never say, ‘STOP! We cannot go on with such paucity of equality!’

We as white folk have allowed ourselves to think that having different kinds of faces addresses inequality.

For example, LGBT History Month is really mainly gay history month with a smattering of acceptable older lesbians on the side. No one says ‘Hold on, why the fuck is no one talking about bisexuality? Why are the trans ‘role models’ effectively historical cross dressers?’

For proof of this, look at the focus on sports players ‘coming out’; all eyes turn to football because apparently, they (with their obsessive hair) are icons of masculinity and one footballer (who still plays) coming out will be the pinnacle of equality. Meanwhile, almost every cover of every gay mag features white models, heteronormative white models.

I know what I am saying will endear me to very few who currently spend far too much time patting themselves on the back for their diversity work. Let me repeat that worldwide, 19% of trans women are HIV-positive and there is no funding allocated anywhere to deal with this.

Of that 19%, I am pretty fucking sure that a vast chunk will be TWOC. But surprise surprise, no one has refined the data to give life to these women. It stinks.

No one says ‘Hold on, why the fuck is no one talking about bisexuality? Why are the trans ‘role models’ effectively historical cross dressers?’

In fact, there is no localised data about trans women and HIV infection apart from the global statistic given above – almost a fifth of all trans women HIV-positive – and one other; trans women are 49 times more likely to contract HIV than any other group.

No data, no funding, no findings, no data, no funding, no findings.

No names.

Even here in the UK, where we have the brilliant trans-focused and trans-led initiative CliniQ (which has a two-hour slot in the evening at 56 Dean Street), there is no funding. CliniQ survives through donations, the generosity of 56 Dean Street and the astonishing hard work of the team.

A small band of trans holistic sexual healthcare workers who knew that trans people are faced with a whole range of issues when they collide with the NHS recognised that trans people needed a trans-only space where they could:

– feel comfortable
– get help
– get support
– talk and be heard
– stay well

A women with a penis and a man with a vagina struggles with the most simple of GP appointments, god forbid they have a urology issue which isn’t trans-focused. These simple things can become terrifying.

CliniQ recognised that ‘diversity in action’ isn’t a clinician undergoing an hour’s training. This wasn’t quite enough to ensure solid, embedded healthcare. These things cannot be left to chance or the vagaries of well meaning diversity intentions. Healthcare, like education, matters and needs a systemic, structural response which is robust and unapologetic.

Diversity intent has become like a over-used duster which merely relocates dust. So you’ll excuse me when I say that when I read about a good deal of money being spent on investigating why MSM are obsessed by drugs and sex, otherwise known as chemsex, it makes me mad.

It makes me sad, it fills me with horror when I see the way we have become so comfortable with our own notions of freedom that we are almost blind to the horrifying actualities happening right here, right now in our world.

Men, women, people take drugs and have sex; when they do, they take risks, but they are comfortable risks. They are risks within EC2 or NW1, they are risks born out of expensive drug purchases and sexy underwear. I’m not judging – I’m happy to own my past. I spent thousands on drugs and far too much on underwear.

Diversity intent has become like a over-used duster which merely relocates dust.

My past led me to ten plus years of addiction to heroin and crack cocaine. It led me to leave comfortable fucked-up bedroom sex – chemsex – for the streets around Euston where I did what I had to do to feed my £150-plus-a-day habit.

But that was still a journey of comfort, I’d had opportunities, I’d been to university, I had a family, a partner at times, even a small cute dog. In an odd way, being trans saved me, because I never really satisfied any partner or punter before transitioning and somehow, my drugs got lost in translation.

But still, my extreme version of chemsex allowed me to peep over the wall that divides us from the people that can’t afford chemsex. The woman on the street who told me to fuck off because I was stupidly drawing attention. The woman who had no home but had a habit because that made the night shelter bearable. The migrant who arrived here with nothing and was met with only anger. The man who lost everything, absolutely everything through the Thatcher years and had nothing and nowhere but the street.  And the young trans man who had no family home to go back to and a great big purple bruise on his face. So forgive me for thinking the money spent on chemsex conferences could actually be spent on creating decent healthcare for these people.

I know, really I know, the impact AIDS had on the gay community. I lost countless friends, I lost a love of my life, but I also know that I don’t need allies to ‘bring me on board’, I need those very people to walk out of meetings, conferences and interviews until worldwide funding is allocated to the 19% who are silently dying.

Silence is still death.

Help me, help me now, to find a permanent home for CliniQ in London. We currently have two hours on a Wednesday night to support all of the trans community’s holistic sexual healthcare needs. I repeat, two hours. Two hours funded by charity. Two hours to ensure that trans people are safe.

Forgive me for thinking the money spent on chemsex conferences could actually be spent on creating decent healthcare for these people.

Before anyone tells me that trans people can use services directed at all people, let me enlighten you just a little. I am a post-operative trans women, I was once a pre-operative trans women. Before that, I was a hidden trans women, and before that, I was unhappy.

I have accessed sexual healthcare services for almost 25 years. I have never felt comfortable; I was terrified as to what people would make of my body. I was horribly misgendered, laughed at and up until very recently, half of my medical notes had me down as a man.  Trust me, my dear sweet diversity allies when I say that having a space for trans people really matters.

Help me then to build a centre of excellence or just a decent centre that supports trans people to look after their sexual and healthcare needs. Be truly diverse and inclusive by recognising that sometimes, the end result has nothing to do with you.

I thank the person on Twitter for eloquently pointing out to me that diversity has become incredibly comfortable to us,  the very people who are always present at the table.

Juno Roche is patron of CliniQ. You can follow her on Twitter (@JustJuno1)

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