Day-to-Day Discrimination Against Trans Women

I keep hearing people talking about this particular story that’s been in the news. You’ve probably heard it by now, too, about a transgender woman who ran into some security check troubles with her bank.

She felt her human rights were violated because her account was frozen and probed, as the people she spoke with on the phone flagged her for sounding as if she had a man’s voice when the account was for a female.

Sophia Reis said she was distressed and humiliated.

The forty-seven-year-old Nottinghamshire woman said in Metro UK, “I was crying my eyes out, and I am not that type of person at all. I am a very courteous person, and I am outgoing but to feel that way when all I asked was for my money to be transferred… I feel mistreated.”

Ms. Reis says that she had already shown documentation about being transgender to the bank and that they had all the necessary paperwork. In addition to that, she told them over the phone that she was transgender.

Reis was clearly upset by the incident and felt triggered by the reminders of her past biology.

“I felt embarrassed. I felt humiliated because yet again I have to explain myself,” she told the BBC. “For the first time in my life I felt embarrassed of who I am… I want for the bank, as an institution, to have something in place where people like myself get protected and don’t have to go through this every time.”

While it was certainly understandable that someone would be frustrated and upset, the bank’s motivation was clearly protecting its clients’ bank accounts. Santander bank said it regretted any offence caused, but it had a duty to Reis to protect her account for any reasons of suspicion whatsoever until it was sorted out.

A spokesperson told the Daily Mail, “We have apologized to Miss Reis for the experience she had when using our telephone banking service and offered her a gesture of goodwill. It was certainly not our intention to cause any offence, and our service was not as good as it should have been. When verifying customers are who they say they are we have to balance our duty to protect the security of their accounts. If a customer rings up with their banking credentials they should be able to pass security with no problems. Santander works closely with LGBT+ colleagues and charities to identify the barriers that are in place to access our services.”

So who was right? Was this a case of discrimination and transphobia, or a case where a trans person happened to experience inconvenience? We have all had problems accessing our bank, say, on vacation, or using a different purchasing pattern than we usually do. Is this because the bank security officials are prejudiced, or because they are doing their job?

While I personally feel the incident was overblown by Reis and the media, I don’t join the detractors either who chastised her online for being “hysterical” or “thin skinned.” I don’t know what the lived experience is like when everything you do is frustrating because systems aren’t equipped to deal with your unique variations. No doubt this wasn’t a big deal, but for Reis is may have been the final straw in a series of upsetting incidents when she just wants to get through the day in a normal way.

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