Meet the Yorkshire non-binary gender community fighting back against a rising tide of stigma and hate

The non-binary gender community has praised Yorkshire for being friendly and accepting, ahead of Leeds Pride on Sunday, despite a “hate campaign” in the British press and rising abuse.

There are hundreds of people in the region who identify as non-binary gender -- not a man nor a woman -- which comes under the transgender umbrella.

The organisers of Non-Binary Leeds. Left-right top-bottom: Leigh Newton, Luna Morgana, Joni Clark, Leo Adams.

The organisers of Non-Binary Leeds. Left-right top-bottom: Leigh Newton, Luna Morgana, Joni Clark, Leo Adams.

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Though their numbers are growing rapidly, non-binary people told the Yorkshire Post they had experienced more incidents of abuse and harassment recently.

Joni Clark, a non-binary person based in Leeds, said: “There's definitely been an uptick in hostility in the last couple of years but I think that's because people are often misled; there's been such a huge amount of transphobic press and a really sustained transphobic hate campaign in the UK the last two years.”

Hate crime against transgender people is the fastest-growing form of hate crime in the UK, rising 427% between 2011/12 and 2017/18.

West Yorkshire had the highest rate of transgender hate crimes outside London last year, with 108 incidents, according to Home Office stats.

South Yorkshire had 69 incidents and North Yorkshire 7.

West Yorkshire Police said trans hate crime not only affects individuals but “can also have a ripple effect in the wider community, making people feel unsafe and anxious”.

“We know hate crime has traditionally been under-reported and it is vital that victims and witnesses feel confident in reporting offences, whether that is directly to the police or to another agency.”

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Mx Clark (Mx is a non-gendered title that many non-binary people use) has experienced people shouting abuse in the street and says friends have been physically threatened in broad daylight.

“What I've found harder to deal with than the street harassment is that nobody ever does anything when it does happen -- it's really isolating. We all like to think we'd step in if we saw someone in danger, but this hasn't been my experience. I'd ask anyone reading this to check on someone if they see them being harassed. Silence is complicity; not saying anything says a lot. Even just coming over to ask if we're ok is so much better than keeping your head down and walking by.”

Quinn Daley, who has a beard and wears a lot of typically men’s clothes, hasn’t experienced abuse but said they think it is down to being afraid to wear anything that might make them a target.

“If I was less afraid, then I’d probably experience it more often,” they added.

In spite of this, non-binary people have said Yorkshire is generally a safe place where harassment and abuse doesn’t happen very often.

Luna Morgana, who lives in Armley, Leeds, said: “I’m quite visibly trans and I can’t quite hide that and there are times when I’ve been threatened with physical violence. But there is a lot of support out there and sometimes people surprise you.

“I think Yorkshire is very good like that, people are generally trying to be nice people, even if they don’t get it. It’s the general thing of ‘I don’t understand it but I’ve just got to respect it’.”

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Mx Morgana is one of the organisers of Non-Binary Leeds, which acts as a support and advocacy group and has about 130 members. As the only non-binary support group in Yorkshire and the first in the north of England, it has been a lifeline for many people in Leeds and beyond.

Leigh Newton, a member of the group who grew up in Merseyside, said: “When I moved to Leeds and found organisations based around trans and non-binary people, I was blown away.

“I'm not sure I knew before then that so many of us were out there, and that we were able and allowed to be proud. The solidarity of knowing so many other non-binary folks, being able to discuss the problems we face and find solutions, or just commiserate -- it helps you to believe what you feel.”

Mx Clark said: “It's a bit of a cliche but I'd always felt non-binary but never had the words. Finally finding other people like me, and together building a community, has been one of the best things to happen in my life; the years before I came out were really challenging and I struggled a lot.”

They added: “Having that community has saved my life to be honest.”