International Transgender Day of Visibility and what it means to me

Wednesday 31st March 2021 marks the International Transgender Day of Visibility (ITDV). The event celebrates the resilience and success of transgender people and raises awareness of transgender rights around the world. Group Chief Risk Officer, William McDonnell talks to us about what it means to him.

Why is ITDV particularly relevant to you?

Two years ago, our son, Conrad, came out to us as transgender. My wife and I are incredibly proud of him – I’m now a trans ally, and my wife is a counsellor specialising in historical trauma and trained to support trans clients.

 

What challenges have you faced on your journey as a parent?

It’s tough as a parent when you sense there’s something troubling your child and you’re not sure what it is. We knew Conrad hadn’t been comfortable since puberty, and he’d battled a host of teenage mental health issues, despite being bright, talented and successful.

However, when he came out to us in early 2019, it made total sense: my immediate feelings were relief and huge love. Yet this was mixed with a strong sense of apprehension, knowing that my child was likely to face a hard road through life.

 

Are there any organisations who have helped you and your family in terms of support, advice & guidance?

Aha - Conrad set us a load of homework at the outset! He came out to us via a lovely letter, and had prepared a reading list and watch-list for us to work through before we spoke to him – we dived in, and took him out to dinner 3 nights later. We started with great resources from Mermaids and Gendered Intelligence, and moved onto many frank and helpful YouTube videos that tackle everything from pronouns and terminology to toilets and healthcare, such as Trans 101.

 

Conrad Landscape
Conrad in Parliament Square at the Trans Rights demo, 4 July 2020.

Is there an example of a positive experience you’ve had that you can share?

We’ve been moved by the kindness and mutual support within the trans community. Conrad has made a load of fab trans friends. My amazing RSA colleagues made me and Conrad so welcome, inviting us to join in with Pride and other events in Conrad’s first months ‘out’. And everyone was so lovely at the trans demo in Parliament Square last summer, protesting transphobic government policies.

 

What barriers do you think transgender people face and do you think we’re moving in the right direction to make it easier to be a transgender member of society?

There are many barriers, I’m sorry to say.

  • Healthcare – there are multi-year NHS waiting times even for a first appointment at a gender clinic.
  • Vulnerability - Trans people are a particularly vulnerable minority, with high rates of attacks, homelessness and self-harm, and often don’t want to be visible. I have been genuinely shocked by how much hostility trans people face, daily and weekly. Why on earth do strangers who are unsure of Conrad’s gender feel they have the right to challenge him about it on the bus, in the street, or in the gent’s toilet? So corrosive!
  • Generally, society has been getting more tolerant – It’s a Sin shone a light on how things were in the 80s – but it is disturbing and a bit scary that for trans people in the UK, this has started to reverse in the last few years.

What would be your advice to others going through a similar situation?

If your child or another family member or friend comes out as trans, or questioning their gender identity, that takes massive courage and they are vulnerable. Think of a hermit crab that has left one shell but not yet put on a new one. I find it heart-breaking every time I meet a trans person who has been rejected by family members at their time of greatest need. Start with love and unconditional support, and then don’t be afraid to talk to others and ask questions – find a trans ally and start tapping into all the advice out there. Another of Conrad’s YouTube links says it better than I can: Dear Parents of Trans Youth.

 

What are your views on how progressive the insurance sector is or isn’t? or attitudes to it?

I’ve been bowled over. Shortly after Conrad came out, I reached out to RSA Building Pride and LINK (the insurance sector LGBTQ+ network). They welcomed us with open arms – I dived in and hosted a trans talk with the wonderful Emma Cusdin, and invited us to join them on the Pride March in London, which was terrific and a hugely affirming experience. That said, like all sectors of society, many people are still unsure or relatively unfamiliar with the experiences of a trans person, which is why events like this are so important.

 

Are there initiatives at RSA that you’re particularly proud to be a part of?

I’m the exec sponsor of RSA Building Pride who do a superb job together with LINK. I’m also Chair of the D&I Council at RSA, with employee resource groups embracing other areas such as ethnicity, ability, gender and families (parents and carers). It is a joy and a privilege to see the best of RSA and humbling to work with colleagues who show such insight, care and humanity!

If you’re interested in more on all this, Conrad and I are taking part in a fireside chat and live Q&A hosted by David Lever (who leads Building Pride), on 6 April. Email buildingpride@uk.rsagroup.com and we’ll send you details including how to join.