A social equalities champion who suffered years of vile taunts and was sacked from five jobs just because she was transgender is urging all victims of hate crime to come forward.
According to campaigner Jenny-Anne Bishop, it’s vitally important people don’t suffer in silence but report the abuse to the police.
She is enthusiastically backing the Hate Crime Awareness Week launched by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Winston Roddick CB QC.
Jenny-Anne, who lives in Rhyl, was awarded an OBE earlier this year for her campaigning work.
Experts say it’s vital to raise awareness about the problem which causes untold misery to many victims.
People are singled out for abuse because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, disability, body shape, age or a host of other personal characteristics.
Both Mr. Roddick and Chief Superintendent Jeremy Vaughan, who chairs the Equality and Diversity Committee for North Wales Police, have urged more people to contact the police or partner agencies if they believe they have been victims of hate crime or hate incidents.
The force has joined together with constabularies and councils across Wales calling on people to report all incidents of hate crime.
Jenny-Anne is a widely respected voice on discrimination, inequality and injustice and runs awareness training courses for government and public organisations, including North Wales Police, Greater Manchester Police, Flintshire Council and Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board among others.
She says people should not hesitate to step forward whether they are victims themselves, observe a hate crime or know of someone who is being victimised.
She said: “Legislation is in place to stop this sort of discrimination. We are in an age where it is not acceptable to sit back and let people be defenseless targets of social media attacks, insulting emails, verbal aggression, property damage or violence.”
Jenny-Anne has known for most of her life that she is transgender and was diagnosed in 1980 with Gender Dysphoria, by which time she was married and was supporting her family.
Gender Dysphoria is a recognised medical condition in which the distress caused by a mismatch between biological sex and the gender a person feels themselves to be.
She had come out to family and close friends in 1971 as Trans but was unable to transition for over 35 years due to family and work pressures.
Over more than 40 years she has bravely encountered mockery, verbal abuse, taunting property damage and the contempt of work colleagues, neighbours, people in the street and family members.
Her most effective weapon against taunters is to be nice to them. “I just try to be friendly to everyone and smile a lot.”
She said: “If someone is throwing insults at you, they are suddenly disarmed when you react in a way they are not expecting”.
“If I think a person is looking edgy, or showing signs of launching into a tirade of abuse, I will approach them first, say hello, ask for directions or what the time is.
“It can calm them down and avoid nasty situations.”
She added: “I am lucky I’ve never been physically attacked. I came near to it once when a man was very aggressive and verbally abusive while I was waiting for a train on a railway platform. I had to call in the police.
“But for me the worst thing was losing my job, not just once, but five times, and being told it was for nothing more than because I’m transgender. It’s a crushing blow, which can ruin your life, affecting your family and home life, career prospects, pension and finances”.
“I’m fortunate that I’ve had the strength to fight back and create a new life, but many others are not in that position.”
Another emotional scar that runs deep is having been cut off by her two grown up children who refuse to accept her as the woman she is.
Today, married to her transgender partner Elen, Jenny-Anne chairs the support group, TransForum Manchester, and is an active Committee member of Unique, the North Wales Transgender network, where she provides information, advice and one to one support to people with gender identity difficulties.
She also manages a transgender community house for members of her community suddenly made homeless, needing support after life changing surgery or needing to make sure they are ready to transition.
She said: “People in North Wales who I never met in my previous identity, have been very accepting of me and I have made many friends here. I think a lot of that is due to the increasingly positive attitude of the authorities and a willingness to educate people about transgender and other minority issues.”
As a member of the Welsh Government Strategic Equality Plan Board, she knows that Wales celebrates Equality and Diversity and this is reflected in the Welsh Government’s mantra for “A happier, Healthier, Fairer Wales”
She praised the North Wales Police force for its transparent policies and pioneering groundwork in training both existing officers and new recruits to counter all aspects of intolerance and engage with all North Wales’s diverse communities.
Despite tougher legislation and an open door policy over recent years, many victims are still reluctant to report hate crime, fearing reprisals, lacking confidence, remembering past unsympathetic treatment, or being afraid that they may not be believed.
When appropriate, she also promotes community restorative justice as a way of settling discrimination between perpetrators and their victims.
Mr. Roddick added: “We know there are more cases of hate crime than we are being told about and victims are suffering in silence. It’s a hidden crime because they hide it but they need not hide it, they shouldn’t have to keep it to themselves. We want them to share with us the fact that they have been victimised.”
It’s a message echoed by Chief Supt Vaughan who revealed North Wales Police recorded 229 hate crimes last year compared to 217 reported in the year to date.
He said: “One of our key objectives is to encourage more people to report all hate crime by increasing the confidence of victims that it will be properly and sympathetically handled by the police when they do”.
“My message is that any incident that someone thinks has been caused by their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or gender identity; should always be reported, because it’s not acceptable and shouldn’t be tolerated.”