International Trans Day of Visibility

There is a staggeringly high amount of trans rights discourse in mainstream media, yet 1% of adults currently describe themselves as transgender, non-binarynon-conforming, or “in another way” rather than as either man or woman  (World Economic Forum 2021). While the current debate on trans rights circulates on media platforms, critical components of a trans person’s experiences such as seeking out community, goals of gender euphoria and chosen family sometimes go unsung. Self-proclaimed radical feminists find themselves in agreement with more conservative individuals in that they both oppose the notion that ‘trans women are women; trans men are men’. There needs to be a focus on the humanity of trans people.[a]

Community and kinship are powerful and pertinent components of the trans community and of trans people themselves. People who share the same identity can be bonded in ‘obscure and emotional’ ways ‘which [are] more powerful the less they could be expressed in words’ (Conner, 1993, p. 383). There is a deep connection between individuals who experience walking through the world as people of trans experience. With a small percentage of the world’s population who identify as transgender or non-binary, these communities and connections are important. A sense of belonging comes naturally to human beings, we crave to belong in groups. Cole Banton articulates that although every trans person’s journey is unique and different, trans people are driven to create spaces for themselves through a collective feeling of alienation from social society on the basis of their gender identities. Banton further asserts that the trans community is important and life-saving and sometimes a replacement for biological family relations – there is a ‘sense of feeling at ease with other trans people’. Banton communicates sentiments that a large number of trans people feel in relation to the community. Not only do trans spaces provide protection, but they are a nexus of intense kinship that produce waves of cultural shifts.

Ballroom is a prime example of such a community, it is a carefully curated space. Emerging amid the Harlem Renaissance in a response to a staunch campaign by the Black Church to rid New York of its LGBTQ residents; black trans women created a space to empower the community. Ballroom’s system of “houses” and the use of terms “brother”, “sister”, “mother” and “father” show the importance of the ballroom community in the lives of trans people, with chosen families taking the place of biological ties where needed. Typically known for the production of “voguing”, a widely known dance form, Ballroom is a community and a space that steps outside of the binary across gender, relationships, and sexuality with contributions to popular culture since its inception. Trans-friendly spaces are born from resistance, from being outcasts to influencing mainstream works such as “Renaissance” by Beyonce. Ballroom has grown internationally from an underground scene in Harlem to multiple scenes from London to Tel Aviv, and the need for such trans-inclusive spaces around the world is clear. No community or group is without its internal politics, but Ballroom focuses on creating a space that celebrates individuals in all stages of transition.

Those in Ballroom resist mainstream notions of gender and sexuality, it dwells within the centre of the debate on trans rights. Simone Weil, a feminist philosopher, discusses the notion of human rights and proposes a focus on human needs. Weil argues that there is something about human beings that make them sacred that is divorced from personal characteristics. In relation to trans people, it is important to address the core needs of human beings outside of the basic necessities of food, water, and shelter. Trans people need family, stability, recognition of existence, safety and more components to life that ensure not only survival but a good quality of life. With policymakers debating on various aspects of trans lives, the needs of trans people should be at the forefront of policymakers’ minds when voting on policy.

Ultimately, International Trans Day of Visibility celebrates the lives of all trans and gender-nonconforming people – it’s a nod to trans history and plays a part in maintaining society’s push towards a more inclusive world for trans people.

Shamima Begum ruling: a threat to the right to have rights

A summary and critique of revoking citizenship.

In 2015, Shamima Begum, then a fifteen year old child, and two of her friends left the United Kingdom, after being groomed online by ISIS members to join the terrorist organisation. She subsequently married an ISIL fighter upon arriving in Syria. When Shamima Begum was 19 years old, the then Home Secretary Sajid Javid stripped her of her UK citizenship, citing national security issues as well as the argument that she had Bangladeshi citizenship. The South Asian country had made it clear that they would not accept her and would execute her if she came on its territory.

The questions which should have arisen are: firstly, with respect to Britain’s internet security and safety laws, how was a fifteen year old child able to be exposed to a terrorist organisation to the extent that she was groomed into moving to Syria? And secondly, how was Shamima Begum able to go through British airport security using her sister’s passport?

In February 2023, the Special Immigrations Appeal Commission upheld the Home Office’s decision to strip Shamima Begum of her British citizenship. Begum argued against the removal on nine grounds, however for the sake of brevity and ensuring layman readers are aware of the key parts of the judgement, this article will only focus on two grounds of appeal. The first ground of appeal was that the Home Secretary had failed to consider that she may have been trafficked into Syria and that they had contravened their own policy. The second ground of appeal was that the UK government had failed to meet its obligations under Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right not to be held in slavery or servitude) in not providing Shamima Begum protection and instead revoking her citizenship and leaving her stranded in a camp in North-East Syria. 

The Commission found that there is credible reason to believe that Begum had been trafficked into Syria to be sexually exploited and that many State institutions had failed in their duty to prevent her from leaving the country as she did and making her way from Turkey to Syria. However, it held that a credible suspicion as to whether the young girl had been trafficked was not enough to restrain the Home Secretary’s power to strip her of British citizenship.

The Commission also found that the Home Secretary was under no formal obligation to consider whether she had been trafficked in his decision. Another finding of the judgement is that the Home Secretary’s advisers had painted a simplistic picture of Begum’s travels to Syria to join ISIS, and that the conclusion that she had chosen to go on her own accord was an insensitive and blunt one. However, it held that the conclusion was an important part of the Security Services’ national security assessment. In other words, national security is allowed to trump human trafficking concerns in this case. 

Importance + Critique

The deprivation of citizenship is a decision which should not be considered lightly (After all, it was Hannah Arednt who said that citizenship should be the right to have rights). This is the case in many parts of the world, including the United Kingdom.

Since 2006, 173 people had been deprived of their UK citizenship due to national security reasons and 289 people had been deprived of their citizenship due to reasons pertaining to fraud. Before that, the UK government had not taken such a decision since 1973. 

The case of Shamima Begum at the SIAC is a bewildering one. The Commission found that it was possible that Begum was trafficked into Syria and that the Home Secretary had been given a one dimensional picture of the situation by his advisers, yet these factors did not help Shamima’s case. Colin Yeo highlights the fact that the Home Secretary not having to consider the trafficking element of the case should have been enough to conclude that the deprivation of citizenship was unlawful. This is due to the Commission’s judgement stating that the Home Secretary need not give weightage to the trafficking factor. This is different to not considering a factor at all.

The committee has also acknowledged that Ms. Begum had Bangladeshi citizenship till the age of 21 and is no longer a citizen of that country. However, that did not stop them from leaving her stateless by denouncing her citizenship. 

The implications of this judgement are varied and many. Most importantly, citizenship is not a matter of right and may be taken away at any point in time in the eventuality of non adherence to national laws, which while prudent and just, also means that there is no room for redemption, especially for people of colour. The fact that the Home Office was able to deprive Shamima of her citizenship, thus rendering her stateless, puts non-British origin people of the United Kingdom at risk. Shamima Begum’s case is unique, not because she is the first person to lose citizenship, but because throughout the trial, she was treated as an adult and not a child. She was not seen as a child who was groomed into joining ISIL, trafficked and then sexually abused by an adult and forced to bear children. She was seen as an adult who had voluntarily joined the terrorist group, came to regret it and then wanted the UK government to help her leave. Adultification of children of colour is common in institutions and leads to (as is the case here) the rights and protection of children not being guaranteed.

As of now, the judgement upholds the logic of the government’s decision to deprive citizenship. This means the government can deprive people of citizenship without giving weightage or any consideration to any mitigating circumstances. The Home Secretary can put these factors aside and allow national security to trump all rather than balancing the rights of the individual along with national security considerations. What would this mean for victims who were trafficked into committing serious crimes or joining organisations which engage in such activity? Trafficking in general is a very complicated and nuanced issue in the law, and for the government to be allowed to make decisions in such cases hastily with very simplistic advice means that the government is allowed to make a strong, miscalculated legal move on a whim. 

This case is most likely to go to the European Court of Human Rights (the highest ranking Court a case in the UK can go to). One can only hope that the Court carries out its duty of upholding the rights of Shamima Begum and reversing the precedent set by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. 

How Social Media Fuels the Iranian Protests

Iran has seen major waves of resistance in the form of protests in 1999, 2009, 2017, 2019 and 2021; what separates the 2022 protests from protests before? All preceding protests reveal an underlying legitimacy crisis for the regime where the population have called for regime change. These protests share common themes of widespread dissatisfaction with the regime and its exclusionary policies towards women and other minority groups. However, the protests sparked by Amini’s death have transcended sectarian and ethnic differences, and the role of social media has differentiated the 2022 protests in terms of reach. Amini’s death has sparked global outrage across the country with individuals in adjacent countries and the West demonstrating support for Iranian protests by burning their hijabs and cutting their hair. The impact of social media has meant that protestors have been able to share videos of severe uses of force by the Iranian police and protests in real-time using the hashtag #Mahsa_Amini

The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini has sparked protests against the current regime in Iran throughout all 31 provinces in the country and across the world. Amini’s death followed after being arrested for protesting the compulsory headscarf rules, resulting in her death. The Iranian police claim her death was a result of heart issues, however, public opinion rejects these claims as eyewitnesses have come forward with allegations that Amini was severely beaten by police officers almost immediately after her arrest. The police tried to dispel these allegations with reportedly heavily edited CCTV footage showing Amini holding her head and subsequently fainting whilst in police custody – this has sparked further outrage across the country. Several factors have been attributed to the protests in Iran, and scholars and journalists have highlighted the general dissolution of Khamenei’s regime, the contention of Islamic law, and women’s rights. Social media, albeit underappreciated, is a major factor driving the current wave of Iranian protests and is essential to comprehending both their effectiveness and the broad indignation over Amini’s death.

The outrage sparked by Amini’s death is far-reaching and pervasive. Cities like Mashhad and Qom, previously considered loyal to the regime, are protesting against the state. Despite state-sanctioned restrictions on the internet and apps such as WhatsApp and Instagram, the videos of protests and police killings have dispensed the spirit of resistance to areas that have previously been key strongholds of the regime in terms of public opinion and therefore upholding the regime’s legitimacy. The impacts of social media on the protests in Iran are pertinent, it plays a major role in unearthing even the quietest feelings of dissatisfaction and animosity towards Khamenei’s regime. The government’s internet censorship highlights the critical role that social media has played in the Iran demonstrations. The attempt to contain public fury and the dissemination of information online are two examples of how social media has helped the protests endure.

Similar to the major waves of resistance in previous years, the 2022 protests have been highly decentralised, there is no central leader or organisation that drives the resistance against the current regime. Similar to the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and the United Kingdom when social media circulated videos of the public shooting of George Floyd, social media incentivises individuals in Iran to protest online and organise resistance on the ground.   Iran’s “George Floyd moment” might be summed up by saying that Mahsa Amini’s passing served as both the impetus and fuel for the public’s active forms of resistance to the government. Iran has gotten support from all around the world as a result, much like the BLM movement, which benefited greatly from social media. Iran was thus kicked out of the United Nations (UN) Women’s Rights Council, and the UN also sanctioned Iran’s Morality Police based on allegations of human rights abuses. 

Ultimately, many elements contribute to the Iran protests. Mahsa Amini’s death was the catalyst that started a continuing global movement against Iran’s current regime. Scholars and journalists alike have drawn attention to the role of women’s rights and debates on Islamic law, but social media has been a key component that helps to facilitate the impact of all grievances. Understanding social media’s significance is essential for comprehending the ongoing Iranian demonstrations since it reveals how a decentralised movement has spread throughout the globe. Social media is still a vital tool for winning over other nations’ and international organisations’ support.