Trans media activist says OBE comes with fear of backlash she could receive

Helen Belcher, director of Transactual and trustee of Trans Media Watch, has been recognised in the New Year Honours list.

30 December 2022

A trans media activist who has been made an OBE said it comes with a fear of the backlash she could receive.

Helen Belcher, director of Transactual and trustee of Trans Media Watch, has been recognised in the New Year Honours list.

She is the latest of several people who have been honoured over their work for the trans community in recent years, including actress and campaigner April Ashley, Northern Ireland trans firefighter Karen McDowell and political activist Christine Burns.

The 59-year-old councillor from Corsham, Wiltshire, told the PA news agency: “It’s very gratifying to be recognised in that way.”

But she added: “In terms of what it means going forwards, I don’t really know.

“I would hope it would open a few more doors. I would hope it would mean things that we say are taken with a little bit more seriousness.”

Ms Belcher said she thinks many trans people will not register the fact she has been made an OBE because they have “detached from the news” due to the way they feel the media treats trans issues.

“To be honest, (I feel) a slight fear of what the press reaction is going to be because it’s almost as if trans people can’t do anything right at the moment in the current environment,” she said.

“There are bound to be people who decide to protest that I actually got awarded anything – but that wouldn’t be directed just because it’s me. It would be directed if any trans person is awarded anything.”

General Election 2019
Trans activist Helen Belcher has been recognised in the New Year Honours list (Andrew Eberlin/PA)

Ms Belcher said it is “sad” the moment is tinged with the fear of “just another big blazing row”.

“If it’s in any other area, there would just be loads of celebration and I’m slightly worried about what might happen and that shouldn’t be the case for something like this,” she said.

The media activist also spoke about how trans people feel excluded from the media coverage of trans issues.

“We’ve had five years of debate in the British press largely without trans people and it’s become more and more apparent,” she said.

She added that the distorted way that “trans, non-binary and intersex people” are represented in the press as “horrific”.

“I don’t know whether (being made OBE) will restore any balance, I doubt it but you can hope,” she said.

Ms Belcher said Scotland passing the Gender Recognition Reform Bill in December is another moment that should be one of celebration for the trans community.

It comes as after debates over how the legislation could adversely affect women’s rights and spaces.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said last week that it would be “completely reasonable” for the UK Government to consider blocking the new gender reforms in Scotland over such concerns.

Ms Belcher said: “The moment of celebration is muted. It’s the same thing. We can’t have any good news without people coming along and criticising it and picking a row about it.”

She argued that the Gender Recognition Act has no impact on the Equality Act, adding: “It doesn’t matter how often we say it but the two Acts are distinct.

“I just think it’s a real shame that again the government has chosen to make this a flashpoint.”

On the prospect of more legislation passing throughout the country, she said: “I think it’s unlikely that we will see any legislative change across the UK in the next 10 years or so.”

Looking forward to 2023, she said: “I think it’s just going to be another year of just trying to plod on and keep pushing where we can and try and build arguments and funds to shift the narrative a bit and whether this award will help do that I don’t know, I doubt it but we can try.”

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