'Let's talk about trans' Conversation Cafes

Name of Institution: Ayrshire College

Lead Contact:         Sara Turkington, Equality and Inclusion Advisor, Ayrshire College

Contact Details:      sara.turkington@ayrshire.ac.uk


[Image: Conversation Cafe at Ayrshire College, courtesy of Ayrshire College]

‘Lets talk about trans’ Conversation Cafes

The Ayrshire Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT)+ Development Group, a multi-agency partnership[1] working to improve the lives and experiences of LGBT+ people living, working and learning in Ayrshire, held three ‘Let’s talk about trans’ conversation cafes across Ayrshire in November 2016 as part of Trans Day of Remembrance activities.  Hosted at the three main campuses of Ayrshire College, these events each lasted for an hour and half and drew a diverse range of people living and working in the communities of Ayrshire and beyond.  These conversation cafes were in reponse to a growing need to understand better the trans experience in Ayrshire and discuss the ways to, for example, support trans people, their family, friends and supporters.   


Why was the activity established? Was there a perceived need, evidence of issue?

The trans conversation cafes were preceded by a successful conference called ‘Translating LGBT+’ in February 2016 held by the Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group and hosted at East Ayrshire Council Headquarters, Kilmarnock.  The conference was opened by Patrick Harvey MSP and included a variety of focuses relevant to LGBT+.  The primary purpose of the conference was to enhance the knowledge and practice of public and voluntary sector professionals working across Ayrshire. 

The conference also identified areas were it was felt further focus and development was needed – trans was one of those areas.  Moreover, the Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group had reviewed responses from an LGBT survey they had launched the previous year where particular themes around trans inclusion particularly emerged.  Each individual partner within the Development Group also recognised that the issue of trans inclusion was becoming more prominent in their organisations / areas of work.  Therefore, taken all together, an evidenced need was present.   The trans conversation cafes were thus both a response to a need and a means to address it with discussions formed around the emergent, common themes identified elsewhere.

How effective has the activity been?

The trans conversation cafes were the first of their kind in Ayrshire and from that starting place, it is felt, they were successful because they increased trans visibility and sought to effectively foster trans inclusion in Ayrshire.  Each of the three conversation cafes attracted a fair number of participants including trans people, their family, friends and supporters.  It was encouraging also to have representatives from Police Scotland, Ayrshire College and local schools.   Meaningful impact, in terms of changes in, for example public services will be felt later.  However, direct feedback from participants after each event, was positive.  Moving forward, the Development Group, will consider further ways to map impact across its activities and wider changes.   


Any lessons learned or advice for others considering a similar activity?

The trans conversation cafes were not an isolated activity – prior to these, the Development Group held LGBT conversation cafes in February 2015 and ‘Translating LGBT+’ conference in February 2016.  Therefore, a momentum was building and fostering an increased awareness of LGBT+ in Ayrshire and indeed helped to direct where more awareness and knowledge development was needed.  A key lesson then, is to try ensure whatever activity is undertaken, it is one which has a context and is seen as relevant to an identified need(s).


The value of partnership working cannot be overstated – the Development Group has enjoyed success because it works well together with each partner organisation contributing and seeking to make a difference.  A collective effort is a real strength.  A key lesson then, is to build relationships, foster these and use them to positive effect.


A practical key lesson, perhaps an obvious one, is to keep a list of participants for each event or activity because they become a ‘contacts network’ who you are able to contact each time you hold or host an event or activity.  Inevitably, these contacts have contacts and therefore, a contacts network grows and supports participation at any event or activity held.


What has worked well?

Internal and external relationships are vital to success – seed it, feed it and positive outcomes will result.

Have there been any challenges?

While the trans conversation cafes each drew a fair number of diverse participants, a challenge it seems, is to attract particular professionals who such an activity is relevant to yet, on the whole, can be missing.  There may be many complex reasons for this.  However, it can be a challenge as, arguably, to continue a meaningful and purposeful dialogue around trans, an increased number of voices need to be present.  Persistence is key. 


More information on the Conversation Cafes is available on the Ayrshire College website.

[1] The Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group is a multi-agency partnership of Ayrshire College, NHS Ayrshire and Arran, East Ayrshire Council, North Ayrshire Council, South Ayrshire Council, Police Scotland, Scottish Fire and Rescue, and Third Sector organisations such as LGBT Youth Scotland and Terrence Higgins Trust