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Durham University

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Professor Stephen Whittle - 'Gender: What Future does it have?'

(13 April 2015)

As part of the Castle Lecture Series Prof Whittle OBE (Professor of Equalities Law at Manchester Metropolitan University) will deliver this lecture at 8pm on Wednesday 22 April, in the Great Hall of Durham Castle.

In September 2014, Time Magazine featured on its cover, and in the inside, the story of a "proud, African-American transgender woman" Laverne Cox; star of Orange is the new Black, Netflix’s prison drama. Cox says "There’s not just one trans story. There’s not just one trans experience….Facebook just gave us 56 custom genders. People are like, ‘I’m confused!’ And it’s like, ‘Calm down…. Who is this individual right in front of you? …."  The newspapers increasingly headline children attending school in their preferred (non-natal) gender role, still more young adults play with gender performativity, parental leave takes over from maternity leave, and the trans community increasingly recognises that "two genders are not enough."

So, what exactly does all that say about the outlook for the gender binary, and its power and role in our social, legal and cultural futures?

Professor Whittle OBE is Professor of Equalities Law at Manchester Metropolitan University. Aged 19, Stephen helped set up the UK’s first local transgender support group in 1975, the same year he transitioned to living as a man. Throughout the 70s and 80s having lost numerous jobs because of being trans, he decided things would only change if trans people became lawyers. He qualified in law in 1990. In 1989. In 1992, Stephen was a co-founder of Press For Change (PFC), the UK's transgender lobbying group. PFC successfully fought cases at the European Court of Human Rights, the Court of Justice and the UK’s House of Lords, for trans people to gain anti-discrimination protection, health care access, and later legal recognition through the Gender Recognition Act 2004. In 2010, PFC also achieved full equality protection for trans people under the UK’s Equality Laws.

Stephen has been an advisor to the UK, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Hong Kong and South African governments & the European Union, the Council of Europe & the European Commission. He advises lawyers and regularly writes court briefs, or is frequently an expert witness in courts across the world.

In 2005 he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE, 2005) in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list for his work on transgender rights.

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