Academic transsexual honoured for crusade

January 7, 2005

This year promises to be one of the best of Stephen Whittle's life, for not only will the Manchester Metropolitan University academic become the first person to be honoured by the Queen for his campaigning work on transsexual rights, but he will also be allowed to marry his long-term partner Sarah and adopt their four children.

Dr Whittle, reader and head of the Graduate School in MMU's School of Law, says he was "gobsmacked" when his name appeared in the New Year's Honours List.

His OBE is for "services to gender issues", which is government shorthand for the years of unstinting work that Dr Whittle has put into battling for legal recognition of the human rights of transsexuals. Rights, which were largely ignored when Dr Whittle began his gender reassignment in 1975, will be strengthened this year when the Gender Recognition Act 2004 takes effect.

The Act is a personal triumph for Dr Whittle. Not only is it the culmination of a ten-year campaign for legislation (he is founder of the Press for Change pressure group) but it will allow him to correct the designated sex on his birth certificate and so legally to marry Sarah, his partner of 20 years, and to adopt their children.

"Who'd have thought back in '75 I would reach this point? Back then we were meant to be ashamed. You were really meant to get nowhere," he said.

"I am very proud of this honour. It is a way of saying to people, 'it's okay to be transsexual' and if you work hard then you can be a member of society."

Dr Whittle, born into a working-class family in Manchester, studied law part time at MMU, where he also did his PhD. He now specialises in gender issues and the law, with his academic work drawing on his work representing transsexuals in a range of legal cases.

With little time to celebrate his OBE over New Year, because he was preparing transgender guidelines for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Dr Whittle plans to celebrate properly after collecting his honour from the Queen, an event that he said would particularly please his mum.

As for a wedding date, he said: "Watch this space."

Honours list, page 6

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