Transgender rights activist Paris Lees inspired a large audience at DMU with her stories about fighting prejudice at every turn in order to become a vital voice in the media for the trans community.
Paris appeared at DMU as one of the star attractions of the Cultural Exchanges 2016 festival, a celebration of art and culture organised by students studying the BA (Hons) Arts and Festivals Management degree, which will include appearances by author and comedian David Baddiel, crime writer Mark Billingham, playwright Willy Russell and the stars of Educating Yorkshire.
Her warts and all talk covered her time as a working class kid from the former mining community of Hucknall, Notts, how she dealt, like many trans people still do, with family rejection, public harassment, violent attacks and mental health issues and her fight to become a respected journalist and campaigning voice for transgender rights.
She also quoted statistics showing people's ignorance of trans issues, such as how there are more people in America who have claimed to have seen a ghost than a transgender man or woman. And how much still needs to be done to prevent the isolation of trans people, with the shocking statistic that 48 per cent of young transgender people have attempted suicide.
But she left the audience with an overwhelmingly positive message about how the trans community is becoming more accepted through the media, sighting sitcom Boy Meets Girl, with Rebecca Root, and EastEnders introducing its first transgender character in its 30 year history. BBC singing competition The Voice UK also has transgender woman, Jordan, in the live rounds.
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Paris said: “Everywhere I look there is change. I can’t keep up. The door has been opened.”
When asked by one audience member to give a message to young transgender people Paris added: “You are fine as you are. Yes you need support and access to medical care and better media representation. Just do not go down that route of internalising the problems people have with you. They are the problem, not you.
“Do not waste your time getting upset by other people’s prejudices. It is toxic. Enjoy life and do not let people push you down. You are beautiful and have every chance of leading a full, loving life, as anyone else has.”
Before her appearance at the festival Paris also took time to commend DMU for its LGBT festival #DMUpride, which has run throughout the month of February, as well as the university's rise up the Stonewall Top 100 Employers League Table.
She said: “I think that anything that any institution can do to make people feel included is crucial. One of the things that LGBT people need to be able to do is participate fully in life. Social rejection is one of the worst things that can happen to a human being. It is painful and can drive you mad.
“University is all about realising your potential and for DMU to be recognised by Stonewall and to be inclusive is vitally important.”
Paris is on the advisory group of All About Trans, a project to connect media professionals with young trans people in informal settings where they “don’t preach, don’t accuse and don’t do trans 101” but make the media more aware of real-life stories to help shape their opinions. You can read more about the project HERE
Posted on Tuesday 1st March 2016