30 under 30: Mina Baird

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Mina Baird, 23, born in London, grew up in Arizona, lives in Glasgow

Mina Baird in an activist with a capital A! In her own words she’s “trans, disabled, queer, autistic, and dealing with mental health issues”, and she speaks out about her journey and challenges along the way to help others who might have similar experiences.

Mina moved to Glasgow two years ago after falling in love with the city, and she has built an amazing queer and trans community around herself including a Facebook group she’s set up for LGBT+ people in Queen’s Park area called Queer’s Park (the girl loves a good pun!).

Until recently she has worked for Inclusion Scotland supporting an internship programme for disabled people with organisations across Scotland, as well as building a network of disabled change makers. Mina also worked on the Access to Elected Office Fund (Scotland), a fund for disabled people to access while seeking elected office to decrease barriers they face and put them on a more equal playing field to non-disabled candidates.

She is currently on a career break to concentrate on her mental health, and to work out what she wants to do next, but don’t let that fool you into believing she’s not busy making the world a better place.

She’s on the National Committee for Living Rent, Scotland’s tenants’ union, and she advocates for homes for people and not for profit, working to ensure that everyone in Scotland has decent and affordable housing. Earlier this month, Mina went to Cyprus (jealous, who we?) for a meeting of The European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and to the City, to discuss shared challenges and best practices and to explore how Living Rent can work with housing movements across Europe.

Earlier this year she volunteered for Scottish Queer International Film Festival (SQIFF) and Document Human Rights Film Festival (both in Glasgow), because she believes that it is important to have media by and for LGBT+ people, and to raise awareness of human rights issues around the world.

Oh and after totally acing her interview about 30 under 30 for BBC Radio Scotland (listen to it here if you haven’t already) we invited her to join our Advisory Panel, a group of young women from across Scotland who share their ideas, opinions and expertise on everything we are up to – from social media to strategy.

Mina is a kickass feminist, and the kind of a woman you’d love to hang out with (we sure did!), and talk for hours about smashing patriarchy, Buffy, Lush bath bombs, photography, and vegan ice-cream. We all need more Mina in the world.

IN HER OWN WORDS…

What’s your proudest achievement?

That’s a really difficult one. Probably the personal journey I have been on past year or so. Dealing with mental health, recognising depression for what it is and doing something about it. Becoming more open about being trans and being able to embrace that. The way that I express myself and the way I situate myself in the world. Getting the courage, and just being able to say this is who I am. It has been very difficult at times.

I have been depressed a couple of times before, but I have always seen it as sort of situational. So, for example, last October when I was unemployed I spent a lot of time in bed just watching Buffy, and I thought it was because I was unemployed, and yes, maybe that had triggered it initially, but for me it was all about recognising that depression was an illness and there are ways to deal with it, to treat it.

So, when I was dealing with depression again this July, I recognised that I could seek help, so I saw a doctor, and I was put on antidepressants. And I also really recognise the importance of self-care. Having a lot of nice baths with Lush bath bombs, candles next to the bath, incense burning, and watching Buffy. Giving myself time to go for walks in the park or reading books. But also doing things like going out, going to events, meeting people, seeing friends, trying do some volunteering. Last year when I was unemployed I was really depressed and stressed about it, but now I’m more relaxed about it and I recognise I can take my time to work out what I really want to do.

There’s a lot to be said about how capitalism is ingrained into how people perceive their worth and sense of identity, in terms of their pay and their occupation, and there’s so much to us beyond that.

What women inspire you?

So many. A lot of really inspiring trans women in particular. As I’ve been dealing with my transition I’ve read a lot of books and listened to audiobooks, and it’s been really good hearing about other women’s experiences.

Julia Serano’s “Whipping Girl” is absolutely amazing. It includes her experiences, but it also has a lot of theory around issues of gender and sexism, and how this relates to being trans. She’s introduced the term transmisogyny, which is misogyny that affects trans women and transfeminine people, it’s an intersection between sexism and transphobia.

Chelsea Manning. I just find her really inspiring in how she released information about injustices committed by the US military because she felt that was the right thing to do, and then how she managed to go through her transition while locked up for several years. Since being released earlier this year she’s been able to really flourish, and even after all that she’s been through she is still so upbeat and hopeful and encouraging, while continuing to challenge injustice wherever she sees it.

I have recently read the book “To My Trans Sisters”, and it has 100 different short letters that trans women have written to other trans women, and that’s really powerful. So these women also inspire me.

Mary Barbour is also definitely up there for me in terms of inspirational women. A lot of stuff I do is around housing activism, and of course Mary Barbour led the Glasgow Rent Strike in 1915. Over 25,000 families refused to pay rent, which led to the establishment of the first rent controls in the UK. It’s amazing how by organising communities, reaching out to people who faced injustice, finding a common cause and taking action, she was able to help bring this change about.

Finally, on my bedroom wall, I have a picture of Emily Davison, portrayed as an angel on the 1913 cover of The Suffragette newspaper after her death from being hit by the king’s horse at the Epsom racecourse. She inspires me because of her unwavering dedication to the fight for women’s suffrage: she hid in a cupboard in the Palace of Westminster for the night of the census, was arrested nine times for various actions in the cause of women’s suffrage (including multiple times for interrupting public meetings which banned women), went on hunger strike seven times, and was force fed forty-nine times. On her gravestone is inscribed the motto “Deeds Not Words” – something we could all do to remember.

What change would you like to see for girls and young women in Scotland in next 10 years?

There is a lot to be said about the importance of culture shift, including in the media. The ways in which women are portrayed, access to role models, rape culture and sexual harassment, and how all of that needs to be challenged. The portrayal of trans women in particular, and the attack by media on trans people just this week. The Scottish Government is looking to update legislation around trans people, so hopefully that will be a step in a positive direction.

It is important to feel empowered, be yourself, and feel proud in who you are, and to make a change in whatever way you want to. We need to have more young women taking on leadership roles and making change in their communities. If the Scottish Parliament were proportional there would around 20 young women as MSPs, but there are only 2. We need to have women who are leading change. Women with intersecting identities, whether they are trans or queer or disabled or deal with mental health problems or are women of colour – I think it’s really important that young women are able to see other young women who are like them and have gone through similar things and are in leadership positions.

What can we do to shatter the glass ceiling once and for all?

There are so many glass ceilings. Obviously, there is still such a massive barrier for women in certain roles. For example, when you think about the presidential elections in the US. And whether you like Hilary Clinton or not, she has a lot of experience, knowledge of policies, and clear positions on lots of issues. And on the other side you have someone who says nonsense, makes things up as he goes along, lies all the time, changes his position several times, says the most outrageous things, and has been caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women and YET he was elected as president. It just shows you how much is still to be done.

There are so many different interconnected issues, and the best way to tackle them is not to think about a glass ceiling as a whole, but think about different panes of glass that compose it. So, issues around normalisation of sexual harassment; issues around equal pay for women; issues around workplace discrimination in terms of, for instance, dress codes; portrayal of women in the media; lack of role models; women taking on caring responsibilities and how little value we as society put on that. All of these different things together create this glass. There also isn’t a single glass ceiling because there is so many different experiences based on different individual circumstances, and the way that different women are seen by the world around them.

What 3 women (past or present, real or fictional) would you invite to your dream dinner party/picnic?

I have actually put a lot of thought into this. There are some many women who are role models for me, like Mary Barbour, but I don’t know much about their personalities. So I decided to go for three women that I read biographical graphic novels about, and I feel like I’ve got a good sense of what they’re like as people.

The first is Rosa Luxemburg, who was a German revolutionary at the turn of the twentieth century, and had a lot of interesting ideas. I read this really good novel about her called “Red Rosa” (by Kate Evans), and it’s just really accessible, and a really interesting read. It follows her from her childhood and how she dealt with physical disabilities and the prejudice she faced as a Jew, discovering socialist theories, studying and teaching economics, involvement in politics and revolutionary activities, and her eventual execution for opposing the First World War.

The second woman that I’d invite is Marjane Satrapi who wrote “Persepolis” about her experience of growing up in Iran during times of upheaval, which she describes with so much humour even in really dark times. I think that’s such an important attitude to have, particularly seeing all of the issues we have in the world today.

And the third one would be Alison Bechdel who is most known for the Bechdel test, which asks whether a work of fiction features two women who talk about anything else than a man. (It’s ridiculous how many films fail that very basic test!) I recently read a graphic novel she wrote about her childhood, which is called “Fun Home”, because her father ran a funeral home, so it’s short for that. I’m just fascinated by her ability to talk about really difficult topics in a humorous way. And the story is all about her relationship with her dad throughout her childhood. She came out as a lesbian when she was at uni, and just after she came out, it turned out that her dad had been sleeping with different young men. So, her coming out was overshadowed by that. And immediately after that her dad committed suicide – she explores how she dealt with all that.

What would your message be for girls and young women in Scotland?

Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Be upfront about who you are. Embrace that.

Feel that you can change things. Feel that you can make a difference in the world. Have an attitude of “if not me, then who?”

Understand the privilege that you have and take ownership of that. So, in my instance, it would be being white, being from comfortable background, and having come from two countries (the UK and US) that have historically profited at the expense of the rest of the world. Recognising that and recognising the injustices that you benefit from, and trying to do something about that is so important – alongside fighting against the injustices that you are subject to.

Find Mina on Twitter @minabaird17 

Pictures courtesy of Mina Baird


You can see the full list of our amazing 30 Under 30 2017 finalists here, and keep a look out on the blog as we feature a different finalist every day throughout November.

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