The only openly trans politician in Britain, Cambridge
City Councillor Sarah Brown recently came in at number 28 in the
Independent on Sunday's annual Pink List.
How does it feel to be voted as the most influential
trans person in the country?
I'm still recovering from the shock really! I'm thrilled and
really, really humbled, it's just an amazing feeling and I want to
thank the judges and everybody who nominated me. I've been joking
with all my friends that I'm on top of Gok Wan!
You seem to be sandwiched between him and Clare
Lots of innuendos!
What does this listing mean to you?
It's not so much me personally, but more about greater visibility
for the stuff we're doing to put transgender issues on the radar. I
do a lot of trans activism, particularly around health care for
trans people and access to transition services where there is
rampant discrimination. It also happens when you're trying to
access standard healthcare for an everyday medical complaint. A lot
of the equalities work we're doing in Cambridge City Council has
been really fantastic, and I think we can use this to really push
things onto the agenda.
What did you think of the list?
This year it includes a really nice mix of the celebrity names
you'd expect and the down to earth, behind the scenes activists,
and I think it's improved by not just being the usual
What about the number of women?
It would be nice to have an even split. I see this in politics a
lot, not particularly at the level I'm at - in Cambridge we have a
lot of women on the council - but as you go higher, you start to
look at the House of Commons and it's dominated by men. You see
that a lot in LGBT activism as well; it wasn't that long ago that
when a list of influential LGBT people would essentially be
dominated by white gay men. Obviously we're not at parity yet, but
we've taken massive steps in the right direction.
Do you think the smaller proportion of trans "Pink
Listers" reflects a lack of powerful and influential trans people
in the country?
Yes I do, and coming back to the gender balance, it's almost the
other way round in the trans community because we don't have many
trans men represented. I'd like to see that change because quite
often the media spotlight is on trans women, not always in a
positive way, and usually not in a positive way, but people do at
least know about us.
So the list reflects the journey that women and trans
people still have to take?
I think so, but in some ways it's a little bit ahead of the wave,
because it's not just recognising these people; it's enabling them
to campaign and say, look we are out there, it's not just people
you see on TV, like Stephen Fry or Derren Brown. They both do
fantastic stuff, but this list does put a spotlight on everyday
What did you make of the comment in Stephen Fry's entry,
regarding his "ladyboy" jokes?
I like Stephen, but I don't always think he's been particularly
sympathetic towards trans people. He has said some hurtful things
and it would be nice if maybe he paid attention to that and owned
Is there anybody missing from the list?
I think most obviously Peter Tatchell. He does a lot of work and
sacrifices a lot of his health… so maybe not even in the main list:
I think he is a national treasure.
Agreed. Who were you happy to see there?
I'm really pleased to see Roz Kaveney; Roz has been around for a
very long time, she's absolutely tireless in the work she does, and
was doing trans activism when it wasn't a very safe thing to be
And good to see so many trans lesbians?
Absolutely; trans lesbians have been a little bit below the radar,
even though we do make up quite a large proportion of trans women.
You get these terrible media stereotypes about trans women trying
to "trick" straight men into having sex with us - and of course the
trans community is not like that!
As a councillor, do people struggle more with you being
a trans, or gay?
Definitely with me being a trans woman. We have lot of people who
are LGB on the council, but being a trans person in politics is
hard. I'm lucky, because Cambridge is very tolerant and
cosmopolitan in many ways, but there are places in the country
where I don't think it would be safe even now for a trans person to
be elected. When you're elected, all your details become public -
you become public property. The local press here have been pretty
good and I think a lot of that's because we had a transgender mayor
a few years ago, so people here have seen it before. But there's
always the possibility that some of the national press could find
out about something you're doing and really savage you. Your life
can really be made very, very hard, and I'm well aware of this, so
it's a bit "there for the grace of God go I".
And finally, why should trans, or gay, people stand for
In Cambridge, we're currently refurbishing the changing rooms in
one of our swimming pools as they've come to the end of their
working life. We've done a lot of public consultation, and I made
sure that the council consulted with transgender groups. As a
result, the new changing rooms are going to have a male area, a
female area and a new gender neutral area - all with cubicles.
There are a lot of trans people who are really not well served by
sex segregated facilities, not to mention families with children
who are a bit older than toddlers. It's little things like that
where you can make a big difference.
Read more from Sarah Brown in META - a digital
publication aimed at the trans community, which launches this