Life as Scotland’s Only Transgender Councillor

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This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 12/08/2019 [Online], Available: https://www.eveningtelegraph.co.uk/fp/dundee-councillor-says-it-is-isolating-being-scotlands-only-transgender-councillor/  [Accessed: 2019, Aug 13]

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“Being the first of anything is never easy” says Councillor Murray, “it is isolating and, in the last year, there have been some real low points.”

On Monday 12 August, Gregor Murray will walk into a Dundee City Council Planning Committee meeting for the first time as an independent councillor since being elected in 2012. Known for being the only transgender councillor in Scotland, Councillor Murray resigned as a member of, and elected representative for, the Scottish National Party in May this year. In a letter to Chief Executive Peter Murrell, Murray stated that the SNP has “a major institutional problem with transphobia”.

Murray self-identifies as neither male nor female and first came out as transgender prior to the council elections in 2012 in a flurry of comments opposing gender quotas – a position which did not inspire favour among many feminist members. And in the resignation letter, Councillor Murray attributes blame to a number of strategically-placed “transphobic” politicians for having created a hostile environment towards those who are transgender within the party.

Councillor Murray’s return also follows a two-month suspension, from the Standards Commission for Scotland, for breaching the Code of Conduct due to two counts of online abuse. Last week, I met with Gregor for the first time for two main reasons. Firstly, I was keen to deepen my limited understanding of transgender as an equality issue and, secondly, I sought to discover what legislative changes Councillor Murray, and other transgender people across Scotland, are pursuing.

Debate around legislative reform is what has brought to the surface divisions within the SNP which Councillor Murray suggests are as potent as the anti-semitic and anti-Islamic sentiments that currently bedevil the two main UK parties. Two committees at Holyrood are currently considering changes to the Gender Recognition Act and the 2021 census. Murray says both areas of legislation “affect the trans community” but has described the convenors of both committees as “avowedly transphobic”.

The convenors, Joan McAlpine and Ruth Maguire, both welcomed a letter last Thursday from Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, which stated that the National Records of Scotland propose the continuation of a binary gender question in the 2021 census. It appears that, at present, all the aces appear to be landing in the lap of the status quo as Murray described the decision as “severely disappointing”.

Despite being outspoken on social media, Murray also recounts frequent experiences of disproportionate online abuse ranging from disparaging comments on appearance to death threats. “Being the first of anything is never easy” says Councillor Murray, “it is isolating and, in the last year, there have been some real low points.”

I have my own misgivings about transgender identity but, on a personal level, the individual I met last week carries a fierce pride for their constituency, appears to wear the mantle of responsibility with a tangible awareness of the gravity of expectation and is admittedly reflective and repentant for areas of wrongdoing.

I genuinely wish Councillor Murray well in the next phase of public service.

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