“I prefer to be the grit in the system”
What Steven asked Shea Coffey, co-founder of Medway Pride Radio
For today’s Sunday interview, Steven sat down with Shea Coffey. Shea is an advisor to companies on trans issues and co-founder of Medway Pride Radio. They met at the Nucleus Arts’ shed to have tea and discuss what brought them to Medway, the importance of representation, and the work of Medway Pride as we approach the main event at Rochester Castle next week
Where were you born?
I was born in Wimbledon. Not a traditional Medwayite.
What jobs did your parents do growing up?
My dad was a labourer, a hard-drinking Irishman, and that was the only career he would ever have had at the time. My mother was a bank teller.
How did you find school and university?
Hated it, absolutely hated it. I knew from five that I was transgender. We didn't have a word for it back then, but I knew that there was something. I was put into an all-boys school to ‘toughen me up’, which didn't work and was hell on earth. I actually hated school and attended as little as possible. I didn't go to university. I actually left England when I was 16.
To go where?
I spent some time in Spain and I ended up spending a couple of years in New York working.
What did you do in Spain?
I worked for nightclubs in various guises. But that eventually took me to New York to work at a place called Limelight.
How did you end up in the Medway Towns?
House prices! We were spending nearly two grand a month living in London and at that time, seven years ago, you could buy a house down here for £160,000, so it seemed like a no-brainer.
What is your official occupation?
I suppose it’s ‘manager of a community radio station’, although I don't get paid for it, so is it an occupation? I'm very fortunate in that my wife has a good job so I'm able to indulge at the moment in charity and community work.
What additional roles, paid or unpaid, do you do?
I'm a director of Trans in the City. I'm an advisor for the Met Police. I wear various hats in various guises, advising companies and organisations on LGBT, particularly trans issues, so I'm kept busy.
What does your role with the Met entail?
I’m an advisor there on their trans group, and we meet every month to talk about trans inclusion within the Met Police, but also if particular issues come up around trans people, within the confines of London crime or London organisations. We advise on those where possible, where needed.
What is Trans in the City?
It is a group that essentially promotes trans inclusion in business in London, so, a wider field than that, but mainly in London and we speak with most of the major organisations essentially. Anybody that wants to talk about trans inclusion, we deliver training and are there for answering questions.
What does the average day entail?
There is absolutely no average day. I can be on the radio one morning and in the afternoon I will be taking meetings, and in the evening, it might be the time with my kids, or it may be I have to go out and attend some sort of function. Other days it will be a complete down day, when I can actually answer emails and things like that. I suppose part of the beauty of having so many hats are that no two days are the same and you get a lot of variety, which is really good.
Where do you like to go for dinner in Medway?
Oh, I love the food at Cafe Nucleus, but for a really good dinner out, Poco Loco. The Mexican bar-style food they do there, it's just wonderful and it's a very LGBT-friendly place. Which sadly is something you have to consider these days.
What has been the biggest improvement to Medway in the time you have been here?
I'm honestly going to say Pride. I think we have a large LGBT community here, and we have issues in reflecting it. We have issues in people seeing it, and if you don't see yourself represented, you don't get involved in things. So I think Pride is being a vital game-changer for the local LGBT community.
You’ve had issues with fake social media profiles?
I get that a lot. I think if you are going to get into the environment of advocacy for LGBT, but particularly for trans, you get attacked a lot. I've had in the last year lots and lots of issues. I've been attacked frequently, and I get fake profiles put up. I've been doxed, which is where someone puts your address online. I was at a keynote speech in March, and while it wasn't a secret, the fact I was going to be there was put online the day before, and I came out to find Patriotic Alternative waiting to say hello, which was a little bit of a shock. If you're going to be an advocate, probably for anything, but particularly right now because of the way people feel about trans, you get attacked a lot. Just nasty stuff. We've had to put cameras on my house. My kids have been threatened, my wife's been threatened, I've had numerous rape and death threats. What we are trying to talk about here is trying to improve the health care for trans people, the acceptance of trans people, and some people go off the deep end.
Why were you protesting outside Halling Baptist Church?
I was handed a leaflet about 10 days before and Halling (Baptist Church) had a gentleman from Christian Concern come down to give a talk entitled ‘The LGBTQIA+ community and the sexualization of children’. That is essentially a slur. It is playing on tropes from 40 years ago that because you're gay, you're going to interfere with children, you are a paedophile, you are a danger to kids, and people genuinely in the LGBT community get physically hurt. They get assaulted because they are “a danger to kids.” When we actually look around, we see those people who are convicted of child molestation are rarely gay. They are usually upstanding members of the community. I did ask for the advert to be changed and I got no response whatsoever, so we decided we would turn up on the night and we would set up a refreshment stall, and we would hand out free Kool-Aid, because obviously, they're drinking the Kool-Aid. To be fair, they were very tolerant of us. I don't think we saw eye to eye at all, but should we need to go back and protest again, we absolutely will. We just asked the LGBT community if anybody wanted to turn up, and I think we had 25-30 people show up, not necessarily linked to the radio station, or even linked to Pride. Some of them were people of the village who didn't appreciate that way of putting things.
Is this an issue that is unique to Halling, or an issue you have come across Medway?
It's not unique to Halling, but it's not across Medway. It is a wider issue. There is lots of talk about the banning of conversion therapy and Baptist churches tend to be places where conversion therapy happens, calling openly that they pray the gay away. They had no problem admitting that to us. They had no problem admitting that kids are taken onto retreats, and that's very worrying. There needs to be a complete ban from the government, that includes consent and includes religious exemptions so that conversion therapy is not allowed to happen anymore.