Wales: Mayor takes aim at ‘male or female’ gender split

Owen Hurcum, mayor of Bangor, Wales, pictured in Bangor City Council hall. Handout courtesy of Bangor City Council

As the world’s first openly non-binary mayor, Owen Hurcum hopes to help change attitudes towards people who do not identify as either male or female, the 23-year-old said on Thursday.

Hurcum, who this week became mayor of Bangor City Council in northwest Wales, said that when growing up in London, there was little or no representation of non-binary people.

“It’s getting better now,” Hurcum, who is also the youngest person to serve as a mayor in Wales, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“(Becoming mayor) is about being a representation that often isn’t there for non-binary people.”

Television or film portrayals are overwhelmingly negative, the newly elected mayor added, citing the character played by British actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, in 2016 fashion industry parody film, ‘Zoolander 2’.

“(It was) just a caricature of what it means to be non-binary,” said Hurcum.

Around the world, attitudes towards people who identify as neither male nor female are shifting.

About a dozen countries let people mark ‘X’ instead of ‘M’ or ‘F’ on their passports, and during his election campaign last year, President Joe Biden pledged his support for the United States including a similar option.

In Britain, an activist’s bid to secure a passport with an ‘X’ will be heard at the Supreme Court later this year, in a landmark case that could set a legal precedent for non-binary people.

The country’s recent census also ran into controversy, for only allowing respondents to respond to “What is your sex?” with either ‘male’ or ‘female’.

Currently a part-time archaeology master’s student at Bangor University, Hurcum said the reaction to becoming mayor had been overwhelmingly positive, but had provoked hate comments online.

“I’ve read so many I’m practically desensitised,” Hurcum said in a telephone interview, describing comments both before and after the mayoral announcement.

“Of course, when I get death threats, I report them to the police. I’m not laissez-faire about it.”

Hurcum, who uses the pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them’, said LGBT+ rights were slipping backwards in Britain, amid an increasingly toxic row between some feminists and some transgender activists, over what it is to be a woman.

“The UK is becoming increasingly hostile for trans people at the moment,” Hurcum said.

“But it won’t stop with trans people. They’re coming for all our rights (within the) wider LGBTQ+ community.”

By Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh – Thomson Reuters Foundation

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