Transgender Day of Remembrance is an opportunity to remember our trans siblings whose lives have been lost in acts of anti-transgender violence. At this moment in time, perhaps more than ever, trans people need allies. It is vital that we platform the voice of trans peoplem listen to what they say, and take action together against transphobia. This Transgender Day of Remembrance, we present you the story of Brabara Ross OBE, a woman who took the time to platform and listen to trans voices, both locally and internationally. Brabara’s legacy extends far beyond the boundaries of Norfolk, but it is here that her love is still felt by those who knew her so well. This article was written by Serena James, a friend of Barbara and a member of Oasis.
Barbara Ross OBE was an experienced counsellor and qualified social worker who gained experience in the East End of London in the 1950s and 1960s. She moved to Norfolk in 1970 where she became involved with gender counselling at a time when there was little understanding of, and support for, people with gender dysphoria. In 1974, a social work colleague asked Barbara, because of her interest in minority groups, to see ‘a strange young man who is probably gay’. She met Robert and her life changed. She became aware of the anguished world of a person with inner gender conflict. She saw the pressure of self-doubt, guilt, fear of being found out, and intolerance. Robert, tragically, took his own life because of a lack of understanding by the medical profession at that time but Barbara found her raison d’etre – to find a way to help and support transgender people, and to promote greater understanding and tolerance.
Barbara Ross OBE
She founded the Norfolk-based Gender Identity Services to provide support and counselling. For forty years she worked tirelessly to provide high quality advice and support for clients navigating the complexities of physical and mental issues associated with gender dysphoria.
In 2012, I was finally able to ‘come out’ but felt hopelessly uninformed. I Googled ‘transgender in Norfolk’ and found Oasis and a telephone number. With great trepidation I rang and the wonderful Barbara answered. The rest, as they say, is history.
In the 1980s she had opened her own home for meetings of a group called ‘Oasis’, and that is where I went.
As Oasis grew, a larger venue was needed for bigger meetings and this still carries on today.
An information leaflet produced by Oasis
There are over 170 people on our database and our monthly meetings attract between 20 and 40 members. We offer a safe space, friendship, support and advice. We also arrange meals and trips out to the theatre or places of interest.
When people come to our meetings there are changing facilities for people who are unable to travel ‘en femme’. It may be they do not want to be seen by a neighbour or maybe their partner does not know.
Beccie-Louise ran it for 10 years assisted by her wife, Ann, and friend, Vicky.
When she stepped down, I ran it for 3 years but had to step down for personal reasons and it is now in the capable hands of Lilly who is taking it from strength to strength (oasisnorfolk.com).
In 2001, Barbara instigated a series of biennial conferences, held at the University of East Anglia, which ran until 2016. The conferences were a forum for experts in the field of gender dysphoria to come together with health professionals and transgender people and their families, to hear about the latest research and developments in the field.
In 2009, Barbara founded the Barbara Ross Association to ensure her work continued. The Association took on the responsibility of organising the TG conferences and the continuation of the Oasis group. The Barbara Ross Association no longer exists but its ethos and work carries on. Its remaining funds were divided between Oasis and a group called Evolve, run by the Mancroft Advice Project, to support gender questioning young people between the ages of 11 and 25.
During her 40 years as a counsellor, it is impossible to say how many people have been helped by Barbara. Many owe her their existence and many their lives. But she also influenced the wider community, promoting a shift in attitudes among health professionals and the public, helping to promote understanding and tolerance, and reduce prejudice. Much progress has been made but there is still a long way to go. Barbara’s contribution has been immense.
On 30th December 2010, the London Gazette announced that Barbara Ross had been awarded Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to gender dysphoria. It is in recognition of her commitment, and the quality of her contribution to promoting a genuinely inclusive society.
Information leaflet about Barbara Ross OBE, more here.
She died in 2015. She was an amazing woman and both my wife and I feel privileged to have known her and been her friend.
Serena James has been transgender from the age of five but only came out in 2012 at the age of 63 with the help of Barbara Ross and Oasis. Serena ran Oasis, a self-help transgender support group, from 2019 to 2022. She also sat on several advisory committees at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.
Serena still plays an active part in promoting Oasis at the increasing number of Pride events around the county, providing a point of contact for people who are seeking help and advice about their gender identity.
She has a very understanding wife, to whom she has been married for 53 years, and they have three children and three grandchildren. Serena has lived near Dereham for 35 years.
For more information or to contact Oasis, visit oasisnorfolk.com