Trans pioneer Osh warns that hostility has got worse

LGBT+ community now on ‘culture war frontline’, says councillor

Friday, 4th February — By Anna Lamche

Osh Gantly_credit_islington_labour

Cllr Osh Gantly made history with her election victory in 2014. Photo: Islington Labour

THE first transgender woman to win an election in the UK has warned that LGBT+ rights “have become the frontline of a culture war”.

Speaking at the start of LGBT+ History Month, Councillor Osh Gantly said she had noticed a shift towards hostility in the past three years.

“It was really only in 2018 that I personally noticed a distinctive shift,” she said. “I noticed a social media campaign, not against me personally, but I started to pick up on hostility.

“That’s when I became most aware of it and I’m afraid it’s got worse since then.”

She added: “I think that’s something to do with the extreme right-wing and – dare I say it, Brexit – but there was a distinct rightward shift in the country at some point.”

Cllr Gantly made history when she was elected to council in Highbury East in 2014 but said she had been afraid of the media “dragging me through the mud” when she first thought about standing.

This did not transpire and, although she is stepping down in May, she said things had “progressed well”.

“At that time, although a lot of my friends in the Labour Party knew I was trans, my gender presentation hadn’t changed,” she said. “I came out [as trans] in my selection speech. I was a bit apprehensive, but I was left stunned by the warmth of the response.”

Islington remained a welcoming borough, she said, adding: “There is a huge LGBT history here in Islington that most of us are proud of. We had the first gay rights march here in Highbury back in 1970.

“We voted for Chris Smith MP down in Islington South, the first openly gay MP, and Freddie Mercury, the gay icon of all gay icons, recorded a lot of stuff in Highbury New Park.”

In the coming years, Cllr Gantly said she would like to see changes in “two key areas”: the reform of the gender recognition act, and better access to appropriate healthcare for trans people.

“People shouldn’t have to complete 45-page forms simply to have their genders recognised,” she added.

“I’d also like to see more robust addressing of transphobic hate crime.”

Cllr Gantly added that also she hopes her party’s leader, Sir Keir Starmer, will use LGBT+ History Month as an opportunity to come out in vocal support of trans rights.

“I think politically, he’s clearly in a difficult place, but I’d hope this month gives him an opportunity to speak out and support trans members of the party,” she said.

“I would call on him to take that opportunity.”

Born in “Catholic Ireland”, Cllr Gantly always had a sense of being different.

“From a very young age, I was aware that I wasn’t a conventional boy,” she said.

“But it’s only as you start to develop agency in your early teenage years that I became very conflicted about it.

Cllr Gantly left Ireland for London in the 1980s and slowly gravitated towards Islington.

“It was a very Catholic country, and women and the LGBT community had a ferocious time of it,” she said.

Of her plans to depart the council chamber, she said: “It’s time to have a more private life, and give others the opportunity to step up and serve.”

For members of the LGBT+ community thinking of entering the political fray, Cllr Gantly has some advice.

“I would say: Come in, the water is lovely – but be prepared to watch what you’re swimming in,” she said.

“Go into politics, and look forward to the good times, to making a difference, but be prepared for the tough times, too.”

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