Jake and Hannah Graf
Photograph by Heather Glazzard
Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities
'trans people are made to feel they're not worthy'
For Transgender Awareness Week, one trans dad and campaigner shares the shocking prejudice he’s faced – plus four other equality activists speak out
By emma elms
15 NOVEMBER 2021
Transgender Awareness Week (13th-19th November) is a powerful opportunity to pay tribute to those in the trans community who still face daily discrimination and prejudice simply for being themselves. This special awareness-raising moment leads up to the Transgender Day of Remembrance on 20th November which is a chance to remember those who’ve lost their lives due to transphobia and a day to draw attention to the continued violence endured by many trans people, all over the world.
'Trans people are made to feel they're not worthy'
Jake Graf is an award-winning actor, screenwriter, director and transgender rights activist. He is married to Hannah, a trans woman, and they have a daughter Millie, aged 19 months. Hannah Graf (nee Winterbourne) MBE is an engineer and the highest-ranking transgender officer within the British Army.
'As a trans woman, my wife Hannah often faces worse abuse than I do. She has quite a deep voice so is misgendered daily on the phone, people often accusing her of lying about her identity, even hanging up on her. We were once on the tube when an older man loudly whispered to his wife, ‘That’s a transsexual’, staring at Hannah. I did ask him to apologise, which he refused, although he promptly left the carriage.
It does still feel socially acceptable to pick on and bully trans people in a way that other parts of the LGBTQ community see less of nowadays. Trans people are often vilified or used as clickbait by the press. Very few people have knowingly met someone trans, so we remain these figures of mystery, the big ‘unknown’, and people have sadly always feared what they don’t understand.
In my work, I’ve sought to address this by producing LGBT films with positive representations. I was involved in The Danish Girl film as a consultant to the producers and I had a small acting role. To my amazement, I then ended up being invited to The White House for the first ever trans event (under Obama). The 50 other trans people and I were looking at each other in bemusement, thinking, ‘How on earth did we end up here?!’
In 2017, I proposed to Hannah and we started our journey to find a surrogate soon after. We thought it might be difficult as we’re a trans couple, so we were ecstatic when a woman agreed to carry our baby [using eggs Jake had frozen before transitioning]. Having our daughter, Millie, has been a dream come true, as I’d always wanted to marry and have a family.
Hannah and I have made a conscious decision to share our lives on social media. Visibility and representation is so important and I know that if I’d had a positive trans role model when I was young it would have changed my life. We’re still often trolled on-line, some of it pretty vitriolic. It’s usually worse when we mention parenthood, often along the lines of ‘You don’t deserve to live, let alone have a baby. You’re disgusting.’ We just ‘block and delete’.
Hannah and I are very proud of the work we do as patrons of the charities Mermaids and I’m also the first ever trans patron of The Albert Kennedy Trust. Many young trans people end up feeling suicidal so these charities genuinely save lives, offering them vital support and understanding.
Being part of the #TOGETHERBAND campaign means so much to me. I want our daughter to grow up in a world where we’re all equal, where she can love whoever she wants to love, and where my wife and women like her can walk down the street proudly and without fearing for their lives.'
'I was racially abused on a Zoom meeting in front of 100 colleagues'
Photograph: Heather Glazzard
'In April last year, I was co-hosting a conference on Zoom with over 100 people from my industry. We’d created an online forum to talk about combining parenting/caring with work and had several CEOs lined up as guests to share their own experiences. One panellist had just been talking about family life when suddenly a male voice with a soft American accent interjected, ‘I’d love to share an image.’ The Zoom meeting was in ‘gallery view’ and several people had their camera off, so we couldn’t see who was speaking, though my intuition told me something was wrong.
Assuming they were one of our guests, my colleague (and co-host) agreed to let him. To our horror, suddenly a vile image of a dismembered body appeared on everyone’s screens. My heart pounding, I felt frozen to the spot. Then this eerie voice took over the Zoom meeting and began spouting a torrent of racial abuse at me, calling me a ‘n*****’. It was like a horror film. I was deeply upset. I remember thinking, ‘Omigosh, I’m in front of all my industry peers here…’ In a second I went through a raft of different emotions – shock, hurt, frustration, anger, embarrassment and vulnerability.
Immediately afterwards, my co-host said, ‘Let’s get off-line’. The meeting was still live, but off-line my company was panicking, saying, ‘What do we do now? We need to get back on there…’ In a daze, I went into auto-pilot, making sure everyone else was ok.
Later that day, I was so hurt that I wrote an article expressing how I felt, which I decided to post on LinkedIn. I had a huge response from my peers and Zoom got in touch with me. They have since changed the way Zoom meetings work to improve security. Many victims don’t even realise hate crime is illegal, but the police took it very seriously and came to my house to take a statement.
What I learned from my experience is that companies just aren’t prepared when it comes to ‘hate crime’. Even though I worked for a leading equality organisation, they weren’t either. They did send messages later to check I was ok, but I wasn’t given the opportunity to really talk about how I felt when it happened.
I can’t bear any kind of injustice and I wanted to use my experience to instigate positive change, so a colleague and I spent the next 10 days writing a detailed official policy on how to deal with hate crime. Our aim was to share it with as many businesses as possible. It’s called the STOPIT Protocol and includes a step-by-step guide based on what I would have liked to have happened. For instance, I advise companies to ‘cease all activity immediately’ – i.e. to end the meeting and that ‘the targeted individual must take priority’. I’m proud to have presented my policy to bosses at the NHS who told me, ‘Wow!’ They’ve agreed to roll it out nationally.
I’ve experienced many what are known as ‘microaggressions’ in my life. Even at school, growing up in Fulham at the age of 14, when I told my teacher I wanted to be a counsellor one day, she turned around and said, ‘Lydia, I see a lot of kids like you ending up pregnant real early and smoking and drinking, so are you sure this is what you want to do?’ I felt so deflated - that was a massive microaggression!
This year, following the murder of George Floyd, I’ve been delivering many what I call ‘reconciliation talks’ with businesses where people are given the opportunity to talk about how they feel because events like this can trigger painful memories of racism they’ve experienced themselves. I contributed to an open letter to the UK’s largest advertising agencies asking them to pledge solidarity with the Black community and promise to tackle inequality, which garnered a huge response.
What happened is horrific but the way this has united people through the Black Lives Matter movement has been incredible. We’ve seen Black, white and Asian people coming together on the streets. Some people will say it’s not enough, but I’m optimistic that this could invoke lasting change across the board. I hope it will encourage businesses to take action on racial inequality, becoming more diverse and inclusive.'
See Lydia's new STOPIT Protocol here.
'People tell me, "You don't look blind"'
Emily Davison, 25, a blogger and journalist from London, was born with severe sight loss. After being bullied at school, she launched a blog to tackle the misconceptions around blindness
Photograph: Heather Glazzard
'I’m blind in my right eye and have only 10 per cent vision in my left. Even though everyone at school knew I was blind, people would tease me saying, ‘You must be stupid if you need a support worker.’ I had to wear goggles for PE to protect my eyes but everyone laughed so hard in the end I gave up and went swimming after school every day instead.
At the age of 13, I developed anorexia. By 15, I was so ill I had to hospitalised. Thankfully, I recovered and coped by throwing myself into my studies. I left with 10 GCSEs, 3 A levels, a degree in English and a Masters in Children’s Literature, so clearly I’m not stupid!
At 18, I got my guide dog Unity, who changed my life. At university everyone made a fuss of her, so having been an introvert, I had to start talking to people again and suddenly became an extrovert. I’d won a scholarship to Goldsmith’s University and was asked to be a student ambassador, running workshops for young people about university life. I made a wonderful circle of new friends. They came from all different walks of life and were unique in their own ways. They embraced their individuality, which helped me to embrace mine too.
Having Unity by my side gave me a new independence, but I was surprised one day to be stopped at the tube gates and told that I couldn’t use the disabled exit. When I pointed out my guide dog, she said, ‘I’m so sorry, it’s just you don’t look blind.’ I’ve had that comment many times. Friends said it’s to do with how I present myself. I walk with confidence and I love clothes and make-up. Being visually impaired doesn’t mean you can’t love fashion and beauty.
I started a blog at 18 called Fashioneyesta to tackle the misconceptions around blindness and started making beauty videos for my YouTube channel. I do my make-up via touch and also by using my camera on selfie mode so I can zoom in.
People wonder how I colour-coordinate my outfits, but I can still see colours. Sight loss covers a wide spectrum. Most people are surprised to hear that 93 per cent of blind and partially sighted people can still see something. There are also various apps you can use to help like a colour detector or an app called Be My Eyes where you can ask sighted assistants to help you over the phone.
The biggest issue I’ve had is shops refusing me entry because of my guide dog. I politely explain that’s illegal under the Equality Act 2010 – there’s no point being rude. My local shop has refused me access four times, often getting angry with me, so I’ve reported them to the charity, Guide Dogs who may offer them staff training. I now have a Go-Pro camera on my dog for my own protection, so I tell staff any incidents are being recorded.
One night I was working late on a Student Union campaign and had a taxi booked with our regular company at 11.30pm. The driver turned up, then told me, ‘I don’t take dogs’ and drove off. My mobile phone’s battery had died, so I felt vulnerable, alone in the dark. The university later ended the cab company’s contract.
Employment is still a big issue for blind people. Only one in four blind or partially sighted people are in full-time, paid employment. I’ve campaigned with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to help companies feel more confident about employing blind people. Despite being highly qualified, I’ve found it hard to find a job in the media. I can read, write and edit video, using the accessibility settings on my computer, so I do freelance journalism while working part-time in retail. We need more people like me in the media to help address societal prejudice.'
'I'm determined not to let being an amputee define me'
Kiera Roche, 50, is founder of the charity Limb Power and a keen walker and cyclist. She lives in Surrey with her partner and their two daughters, aged nine and 13.
Photograph: Heather Glazzard
'I was involved in a catastrophic motorcycle accident in Paris back in June 2001. My friend, who was a motorcycle journalist, lost his life. I had multiple injuries and my right leg was so badly damaged that I had to undergo an 11-hour operation to amputate my leg through the knee (followed by further surgery to become an above-the-knee amputee). Knowing my friend had died, I never had a, ‘Why me?’ moment because I knew how lucky I was to be alive. After the operation, I was completely up and down, devastated over my friend’s death.
My sister and dad came to visit me most days in hospital and I’ll never forget him telling me that I had a conscious choice to make: was I going to let being an amputee define me? Or was I going to accept the prosthesis as part of me and carry on as normal? I knew then I had to stay positive. I still live by his words every day.
I’ve always loved sport, especially running, and remember early on telling my doctor I would still run a marathon one day. I’d always been body-confident, but after the accident I did struggle with my self-esteem.
When I was newly out of hospital and still using a wheelchair, my sister – who’s 13 years younger – took me shopping. We went into my favourite clothes shop and I was shocked when the assistant ignored me, asking my sister, ‘How can I help you?’ My sister replied, ‘Don’t look at me! She’s the one with the money!’ which I thought was brilliant. It made me realise how people perceive you differently if you use a wheelchair.
I had a senior management job running exhibitions, but after the accident, despite me telling them I wanted to come back to work (even asking for my laptop to be brought into hospital!) I was horrified to discover they’d employed someone else to do my job on a permanent contract.
When I called HR to complain, they tried to make excuses. I know it was down to fear and ignorance, but that’s not acceptable. When I did finally go back into the office I had to sit at a different desk, while my whole team sat with their new director. It was degrading, so after six months I left for another job.
I was determined to lead an active life, completing many fundraising challenges. Among them, I’ve climbed the Great Wall of China, cycled from London to Paris and most recently I climbed Kilimanjaro with a team of 22 (including seven amputees) raising over £50,000 for Limb Power.
That’s not to say those things are possible for every amputee – everyone one of us is different. I also struggle with the way we’re portrayed in the media as ‘heroes and villains’ – that as an amputee you’re either a Paralympian superhuman or a ‘benefits cheat’. In reality, we’re just normal people with jobs and families, managing a disability.
In 2009 I set up the charity Limb Power. We aim to engage amputees and people with limb difference in physical activity, sport and the arts to improve their quality of life and support their rehabilitation journey. We receive a grant from Sport England, a government agency.
The inequalities disabled people still face in society are down to a complex combination of physical, psychological and social barriers, but there has been great progress. There’s now a Disability Rights Commission to help protect people at work.
On my daughter’s birthday queuing at a theme park, a little boy stared at me and called my leg ‘disgusting’. I was stunned into silence, but when I visited my daughter’s school, all the pupils were fascinated, asking in amazement if I was a robot!'
‘My mission is to achieve #FaceEquality’
At the age of 10, Tulsi Vagjiani was in a plane crash, which killed her parents and brother, and left her with severe burns across 45 per cent of her face and body. Now 41, Tulsi is an influential speaker, reiki master and an ambassador for the charity Changing Faces
Photograph: Heather Glazzard
'One day when I was 19, I was waiting at a bus stop when suddenly a car pulled up at the traffic lights with four young men inside. They pulled down the window and shouted, ‘You should have f****** died, you’re so ugly!’ I turned around to see who they were talking to then realised, to my horror, they meant me. It made me feel so low, for a moment, I thought, ‘What’s the point in carrying on with life if this is going to be the norm?’
Another time as a teenager when I was walking to a hospital appointment, a group of children threw eggs at me. Afterwards, it made me scared to walk down the street by myself.
The bullying and name-calling affected my self-esteem and I associated my scars with being ugly, but my school was fantastic from the start, which helped. After my accident, two specialists from the hospital held a school assembly to explain how I would look when I came back. They told pupils to treat me the same as anyone else and I formed a close circle of friends.
For the first four years after the accident, living with my grandparents, I was in denial, living in a fantasy world that my parents and brother would one day come back for me – that maybe they’d just lost their passports in India. It wasn’t until I went away to America for a burns camp at the age of 16 that I finally accepted the reality that they were never coming back.
After leaving school, it was hard to find work at first because of the prejudice over how I look. I’d studied tourism and had an interview for a job as a receptionist in a London hotel, but they wrote to me afterwards to say my face ‘didn’t fit their company.’ I threw the letter straight in the bin.
Every day people stare at me in the street. Having a ‘visible difference’ means never having a day off. I don’t get to take my scars off and forget about them. Some days I’m feeling confident, but other days I just want to hide behind a hoodie on the tube. It’s not just one stare – people look, then look again and again. Sometimes I’ll give them an intense stare back, like, ‘What are you doing?!’
I’ve chosen not to hide the traumas I’ve experienced. I don’t want to sit here and moan about the world. As an ambassador for the charity Changing Faces, I want to help make those changes happen in society. Our mission is to achieve #FaceEquality for everyone with a visible difference. I appeared in their powerful #VisibleHate film this year. Along with my peers, I shared the comments and names I’ve been called like ‘Freddy Krueger’ to highlight the need to stop hate crime towards people like us.
I’ve also campaigned for the fair representation of people like me on TV and in films. People with scars are always portrayed as the villain, which can affect the way society perceives people with scars in real life. When I walk down the street and people look horrified, they jump to conclusions about me. I’ve even been followed around beauty shops by security guards, as if I’m about to steal something!
All I want is to be treated fairly for who I am. We should all have a fair chance at life without any prejudice hanging over us. Helping break these inequalities is crucial which is why this #TOGETHERBAND campaign means the world to me.'
For support visit Changing Faces or call 0300 012 0275.
Our photographer Heather Glazzard, who has worked for VOGUE Italia, i-D and Dazed, is proud to be a #TOGETHERBAND ambassador. ‘I have been attacked physically and verbally for my queerness,’ she says. ‘I also come from a low-income household where food was something we had to fight for. Goal 10 speaks about redistributing wealth and stopping social discrimination, which I strongly believe in.’ So what did photographing our five ambassadors mean to Heather? ‘It was an honour to meet such amazing people. Each one inspired me to work harder and do better.’