Re: Discrimination by RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) against transgender woman
It is now April 2022. As I look back on what happened to me seven years ago, it is distressing to note that whatever progress had been made by transgender folk has now been largely reversed by the current hostility, particularly towards transgender women, brought about by a tiny minority of ‘Radical Feminist Lesbians’ (so-called ‘TERFS’ – ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists’). Similar transphobes include the author of the Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling; and Graham Linehan, co-creator and co-writer of Father Ted, Black Books and The IT Crowd (incidentally I enjoyed immensely these TV series by Linehan) – who although gay himself, has expressed extreme transphobic views. What a pity. Both Rowling and Linehan have made themselves very unpopular on social media.
Their views, though very much representing a tiny minority of transphobes, have unfortunately been given wide coverage on mainstream media in the UK, and a number of so-called celebrity columnists in papers as politically diverse as The Guardian and Daily Mail have expressed similar transphobic opinions. In this ghastly, overheated, cultural and political media atmosphere, with the most right-wing Tory Government for many years, the corrupt regime of liars led by Boris Johnson have taken it upon themselves to exclude specifically transgender people from current legislation to ban so-called ‘Conversion Therapy’ to make LGBTQ+ people ‘normal’ or ‘cis’ as regards sexual orientation and gender identity. So the ban currently only applies to LGB people, much to the joy of the digusting so-called ‘LGB Alliance’, which has bizarrely even been granted charitable status by the Charities Commission, apparently on the grounds that their abhorrent transphobic opinions are in the nature of ‘philosophical discourse’.
I have considered re-editing all that I wrote back in 2015/16 about my personal experience of suffering transphobic descrimination, but have decided largely to let it stand as it is and speak for itself.
I have been fighting for justice and for the truth to come out since June of this year, but the RNLI has not responded appropriately or effectively addressed the discrimination I have suffered. Instead they have whitewashed the individuals concerned at the local RNLI Station and chosen to believe their lies and misrepresentations. This despite the fact that the RNLI claims to be a ‘Stonewall Diversity Champion’.
Here again is a summary of what happened:
- In April 2015, Trevor Griffiths, the Chair of the Local Management Committee at the RNLI Burry Port Lifeboat Station (which is near Llanelli, South-West Wales) informed my wife they were ‘desperate for help with their educational work’. As I am a retired teacher and I had also been a National Trust Tours and Talks Guide for seven years at Hardwick Hall, North Derbyshire, I was well qualified and had relevant experience, so I was encouraged to put in an application to volunteer with the RNLI Burry Port Station as a ‘Lifeboat Visits Team Member’.
- On 18th May 2015 we were invited to attend a meeting at the Burry Port Lifeboat Station, where we completed application forms and talked about our experience and qualifications and how we hoped to be able to help the RNLI with their educational work locally. We were introduced as ‘Kate and Jane’, a married couple, and they did not seem to have any problems that we were both women and married to each other, or that one of us was a trans woman. Trevor Griffiths has confirmed that he knew that I was a transgender person at this stage, though it wasn’t discussed.
- A few days later, for training purposes, we were asked to attend a talk at the Lifeboat Station given by Mal, a member of the Shore Crew. The talk was to a group of local nursery children and their parents. During this talk, Mal made a joke at my expense while referring to an RNLI dummy dressed in full RNLI gear. Although I was not standing very near the dummy and there was no reason to refer to me at all, he pretended he thought it was necessary to distinguish between myself and the dummy, saying that he was referring to the dummy and not to ‘this gentleman’. This misgendering or apparent ‘mistake’ about my gender was in spite of the fact that he had been previously introduced to me as ‘Kate’, the partner of Jane, and as I have shoulder-length blonde hair and have also had extensive facial feminisation surgery – I do not look much like a man. You will appreciate that his behaviour was very insensitive and embarrassing for me. Burry Port is a small place, and we live just round the corner from the nursery from which the visitors had come. During the later course of his talk, when he had paused for a moment, I waved him over and said quietly to him, ‘not gentleman – lady.’ After the talk Jane and I went straight home, as we did not feel it would be productive or helpful to discuss the incident further with him at that time.
- We felt that the best way to deal with it was to invite Trevor Griffiths to our home so we could discuss what had happened. Our intention was to talk about it in a friendly, low-key way so as to help them avoid this sort of mistake in the future. Roger Bowen, the L.O.M. (Local Operations Manager) at RNLI Burry Port, invited himself to this meeting.
- During this first meeting in our own home, Roger Bowen said that Mal realised he had ‘dropped a bollock’ (to use Mr. Bowen’s words). However, Roger Bowen seemed more concerned to let us know that Mal was ‘hurt’ that we had the temerity to bring this up. He did not seem at all bothered about the embarrassment which had been caused to me.
- Roger Bowen said that before I started as a volunteer, he wanted to get all 21 crew members and ancillary volunteers together and make an announcement to them that a ‘transgender person’ would be starting as a volunteer.
- Some weeks later, this friendly and positive meeting in our own home was untruthfully misrepresented as being ‘highly reactive’ and given as the reason for my rejection as a volunteer. The formal rejection was in a letter from Heidi Allen, the so-called ‘People and Transformation Director’ at RNLI headquarters. (Note the irony of her job desciption.)
- A couple of days after the meeting, I had second thoughts about the ‘general announcement’ that Roger Bowen wanted to make regarding my transgender status. I suggested that if he wanted to talk privately to anyone who he felt might be prejudiced or unsure about a transgender person starting as a volunteer, that would be okay with me, but that I would prefer otherwise to talk to people myself about being transgender, if I felt the need or I thought it would be helpful.
- This seemed to be accepted by Trevor Griffiths and Roger Bowen, and so we anticipated that we would be hearing shortly from them about starting as volunteers.
- A few days later I received an email from Trevor Griffiths, asking for another meeting.
- Again, Roger Bowen invited himself to this meeting. They announced that they were rejecting my volunteer application and didn’t want me to start as a volunteer. The reason given was that, and I quote the exact words used: “the ‘culture’ of the Burry Port Station is too ‘macho’ to have a transgender woman working there as a volunteer’. They said there would be too much gossip. I said I didn’t mind what people said behind my back, as long as I wasn’t abused to my face. I mentioned my experience dealing with the public at the National Trust and that I’d had no problems with other volunteers or with staff or visitors at the National Trust property where I had been a Tours & Talks Guide and a Room Guide for seven years. I pointed out that over three years of my time with the National Trust were after I had transitioned, and I had been fully accepted in my female role and it had not cause any problems. It made no difference.
- Bowen and Mr. Griffiths were not open to further discussion about my rejection as a volunteer. They just rudely marched out of our house, after dropping this on us.
- We were both devastated and couldn’t believe what had happened. The same evening as the meeting, I sent several increasingly desperate SMS texts and then a long email to Trevor Griffiths, copied to Roger Bowen, imploring them to reconsider and pointing out that rejecting me because I was transgender was unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 and that if they didn’t reconsider, I would consider reporting them to the police and the EHRC. (I had no intention at this stage of doing so, because I hoped they would be open to reason.)
- I received a single short text back from Trevor Griffiths, saying that they thought they had ‘handled the issue as delicately as they could’.
- After that, I was informed that Trevor Griffiths had gone on holiday for three weeks (although it was over seven weeks before we received any further communication from him).
- I felt absolutely gutted, and Jane was on the edge of tears for a couple of weeks after this.
- I knew I needed help in dealing with this situation, so I searched online for ‘LGBT support Llanelli’. A site called ‘Spotted Llanelli’ came up. I put the following post on it: ‘I am a transgender person who has just – this afternoon – experienced discrimination and prejudice against me in Burry Port, from the RNLI station, because I am transgender. Are there any trans groups locally who can help or at least give me a shoulder to cry on?’
- No one contacted me from RNLI headquarters or locally until I made this very mild post (above) on the ‘Spotted Llanelli’ website, after which I was telephoned by Sue Kingswood, so-called ‘Inclusion Officer’ of the RNLI.
- She said she would not have known about the situation if I had not made that post, and thanked me for drawing it to her attention. She was glad that I had done so. NOTHING would have happened otherwise.
- Sue Kingswood and Matt Crofts (Regional RNLI Officer) came to visit us the following week. They promised us they would deal appropriately with the discrimination I had suffered.
- They DID NOT deal with the discrimination properly and my rejection still stands.
- I had to wait seven weeks to get any sort of communication from Trevor Griffiths, Chair of the Local Management Group, which still did not address properly the issues I have raised.
- All I have so far received from Roger Bowen, the Local Operations Manager at RNLI Burry Port, is a contemptuous and dismissive one-line letter referring to the original incident with Mal, but in no way addressing the substantive issue of my discrimination complaint or acknowledging what was said by Mr Bowen in the two meetings in our home.
- From the above, it will be clear that I DID try to go through the proper channels in the way I dealt with this. (The RNLI’s Legal Counsel argues that this was not the case, and that because I felt eventually I had no choice but to ‘go public’ by posting on social media about it, this disqualifies me from being treated properly or being offered any sort of resolution acceptable to myself and my wife, because my posts ‘upset’ the local RNLI people concerned.
- It is the RNLI that did not deal with my complaint properly, or in a timely way, and the situation escalated due to the incompetence and intransigence of both the local RNLI personnel in Burry Port and at RNLI Headquarters level.
- I understand from the most recent correspondence with their Legal Counsel that the RNLI are still not going to deal appropriately and effectively with the prejudice and discrimination I suffered, or withdraw my rejection as a volunteer.
- They continue to maintain that they believe the lies and misrepresentations of the two individuals concerned at the local RNLI Station, while giving no credence to our account of what happened.
- The two people have been allowed to remain in post.
- I have asked the Legal Counsel of the RNLI, Duncan Macpherson, if they could appoint someone from within the RNLI or from an outside agency who is transgender or LGBT, or at least someone who might be more impartial, to liaise with me in order to help achieve a resolution acceptable to both sides. They have refused. I assume from their reply that they have been unable to find anyone who is either trans or LGBT within the RNLI, and can’t be bothered to contact an outside agency.
- I have therefore requested statistics from the RNLI on the following:
- How many RNLI salaried staff and RNLI volunteers are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender;
- How many RNLI salaried staff and RNLI volunteers are from ethnic or racial minorities;
- How many RNLI salaried staff and RNLI volunteers are from religions other than Christian or of no religion (they must surely have at least this information in relation to lifeboat crews who risk their lives, as they would need to know their religion in the case of death or mortal injury).
- How many RNLI salaried staff and RNLI volunteers are registered disabled.
I am not very sanguine that any such statistics from the RNLI will be forthcoming or that they have even collected such information (as local authorities commonly do), but I can but try.
The RNLI Burry Port Station is not unusual. The RNLI as a whole is a very white, very ‘traditionally gendered’, a very CIS, heterosexual organisation with very few women (whether trans or not) in active roles as Shore Crew or Lifeboat Crew. In fact I was initially only applying to be an Education Volunteer, for which I was well qualified, but my rejection as Shore Crew was equally emphatic. In the case of the local Burry Port Station – the RNLI is also very Welsh – run and managed by just four local Welsh families, who run it as their personal fiefdom and each occupy 2-3 roles at RNLI Burry Port. This ‘closed-shop’ situation is by no means unusual in RNLI Lifeboat Stations in Wales, or more remote stations in England and Scotland. (Sue Kingswood, RNLI Inclusion Advisor, has admitted this to us.) The RNLI needs radical reform. It needs to be pushed to join the 21st century and accept and welcome the diversity of modern society in the U.K.
I can’t do this all on my own.
It is HIGH TIME the RNLI started to implement their own Inclusiveness Programme, and earn the right to be ‘Stonewall Diversity Champions’, which they claim to be.