Brothers’ Cambridge Union speech contrasts UK with US ‘hostility and bigotry’


The disabled woman hoping to become the first transgender person to be elected to parliament has spoken of her battle to win an apology from The Sun newspaper, in a speech to an historic university debating society.

She was speaking as part of the bi-centennial celebrations of the Cambridge Union – the oldest continuously running debating society in the world – which this term will also hear from speakers including former US vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, journalist Jon Snow and composer Stephen Sondheim.

Brothers focused for much of her talk on the need for effective press regulation, following offensive remarks made about her by Sun columnist Rod Liddle, and The Sun’s refusal to apologise, after she had come out in the media as a gay woman with a transsexual history.

She told the union yesterday (11 February): “Regulation must be independent, effective, authoritative, above all fair.

“It needs to recognise that individuals can often be isolated by powerful vested interests.

“In my case, I’m trying to balance the expectations of people from the transgender community and wider public who are concerned, whilst grappling with a powerful newspaper and reassuring a political party which would rather not have one of their candidates in conflict with The Sun just before an election.”

She also said that she had been impressed by the UK reaction to her coming out about her gender history.

But she said that her story had been received in the US – in online comments on an interview with the website The Daily Beast – with “hostility and bigotry”.

Brothers said after her speech, and a subsequent question and answer session, that it had been “really encouraging to hear so many young people talking passionately about mainstream politics as well as embracing LGBT issues”.

She said: “I was particularly struck by the younger generation being focused on non-gender binary issues, with quite a few of them neither identifying as male nor female.”

She added: “This is the new frontier for equality that I think will seriously gain traction in coming years.

“I look forward to observing progress, whilst hopefully helping in some small way to bring about a greater understanding and acceptance for this group.”

Brothers will be standing for Labour against the Liberal Democrat former minister Paul Burstow in the Sutton and Cheam constituency in south-west London in May’s general election.

She told Disability News Service last year that she has experienced far more discrimination as a blind person than she has as a transgender woman – she began living full-time as a woman in March 2007, and received a gender recognition certificate in October 2009.

Brothers is a former programme head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, where she specialised in health and local government, previously worked at the Disability Rights Commission and RNIB, and is a former president of The National Federation of the Blind.

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