River City star David Paisley on dealing with online abuse and the rise of transphobia in Britain

The former Holby City actor spoke to GCN about his trans allyship and how he became engaged in LGBTQ+ activism.

Image: @DavidPaisley

David Paisley is a Scottish actor and LGBTQ+ activist. He has had roles in Holby City and Casualty and currently plays Rory Murdoch in the BBC drama series, River City. He has also been fighting against the wave of transphobia that has crashed across the UK in recent years.

Just speaking out in support of trans people, even as a cis white man, has led to vicious online abuse, being targeted by a certain Father Ted writer and threats of legal action from an MP. He recently set up an organisation called the LGBT+ Glitterati to “create a positive voice of support for all members of the LGBTQI+ community.” 

He chatted with GCN about his activism, the rise of transphobia and what Ireland can learn from the UK.

What is the motivation behind your activism?

I suppose I take after my mum in a lot of ways, she was a campaigner and supporter of women’s rights and LGBT+ rights. When we were children she took us on CND marches, marches to save the women’s refuges in our home town – we’d be out in the streets shaking cans for Women’s Aid – and after I came out, my mum was active in promoting LGBT+ equality in Scotland. She was an inspiring force, and everything I am is down to who she taught me to be.

That’s one of the reasons I passionately support not just LGBT+ rights but women’s rights, as an ally and campaigner for Women’s Aid in Scotland. There’s a very pernicious and false suggestion that if you support the rights of trans people you must in some way be in opposition to women’s rights. Nothing could be further from the truth. LGBT+ rights and women’s rights are complimentary; we are fighting the same system of oppression and are natural allies.

How do you think the UK can combat the rise in transphobia?

It’s hard to say what the best course for action is, the UK is becoming such an unwelcome and frightening place for our trans and non-binary siblings, and increasingly so for the whole LGBT+ community. There’s a very organised and dangerous movement within the UK that’s focused on dismantling established rights for trans people, and it’s likely they won’t stop there. If they have successes they will progress to limiting freedoms for the whole community.

There are many ways to help counter this, take positive action, support local LGBT+ groups and organisations that are working towards equality, be vocal about your support for the trans community, and give space to members of those communities to have their voices heard. As an ally it’s important to step aside and hold space for those who are often side-lined in these debates. I feel like we hear enough from white cis men, including myself.

In the UK, broadcasters and media think nothing of debating and discussing the rights of trans people, without involving people from that community and that’s no way to conduct public discourse. Providing a platform for trans people to share their experiences and be heard also helps demystify. Fear often comes from the unknown, rooted in ignorance, so the best way to combat fear is through knowledge and experience, listening to and appreciating other communities. 

What lessons do you think Ireland can learn from the UK? 

Well, whatever the UK is doing, do the opposite. Being alert and aware to these changes is how we challenge them, and seeing anti-trans groups set up in Ireland is something to be aware of and challenge. Social media is where these groups establish and promote their message, it’s fertile ground for disinformation, the best antidote to disinformation is accurate information and the truth.

So, keeping people informed and alert is the best strategy, and keep an eye on how things are developing in the UK as undoubtedly similar tactics will be used elsewhere.

How do you deal with the abuse you have faced from your activism and being visible? 

Block and move on mostly. I’ve been in the unfortunate position of having to speak with the police about some online activity that crossed the line in terms of my personal safety and wellbeing, and that’s been quite challenging. It can take quite a toll, so I do recommend stepping away from social media and spending time doing things you enjoy, with people that care about you and know you, if you’re facing a challenging environment online.

Your health and happiness are more important than getting into arguments with trolls online who aren’t there to engage in good faith, so log off and check in with friends or family. It’s a great way of reminding yourself what really matters.

© 2021 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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