Occupation: Diversity Consultant
Political leanings – “Labour but more about a cause and fighting for minority groups.”
Big Idea – To raise awareness of issues that impact the trans and nonbinary community, starting with access to the Gender Recognition Certificate
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Bubbly, hard-working and empathetic.
Why are you interested in politics?
Trans life. I didn’t really have a choice, to be honest with you. As they say, your existence is an act of protest, because there are people who believe that you don’t exist. I actually had PTSD from homophobia in the workplace, and I was recovering from that. I lost a significant amount of my motor skills, like reading and writing. And public spaces were too much for me to do, my anxiety levels were that high. So I got into videography because it was a soft skill that I could do, but by doing that, I ended up interviewing activists – people in the community who are just outspoken about who they are – so people like Lady Phyll and Aaron Carty. From that, you can actually see my growth on Instagram. I was very, very skinny, a bit timid. I used to work as a camera operator on documentaries, and then the person who ran the documentaries said, “You’re actually quite good at speaking.” And I was like “No, no, no, leave me alone, I want to be behind the camera forever!” And it was him who encouraged me to share my story on the documentary Pride and Protest. And then Black Lives Matter happened, and I was talking on my Instagram about black rights and black history, and then the person I did documentaries with asked me if I wanted to do live streams. So I did live streams for them – LGBT+ Rainbow Films – talking about protest, and about history, and I had people messaging me and saying it was useful, because they never knew that information. I understand that in this country, no-one really wants to talk about colonialism in the curriculum, but that creates a nation of people who are misinformed. It’s uncomfortable to talk about, but it’s important that we do talk about it. And then after that, I had a radio show, and I became a director of TransActual UK, so I started to make speeches inside parliament and outside parliament, and I’m now a trustee at LGBT+ Consortium. LGBT+ Consortium is an infrastructure organisation, and we work with big funders such as the National Lottery and we pitch the need of the LGBT community. So we launched an equity fund recently, with the assistance of the National Lottery, to give to charities. That’s currently what I do right now. And I’m also a diversity consultant, and I produce diversity films as well. Basically, anything trans-related that pays the bills.
How would you describe your political leanings? Do you identify with a particular party?
I would say I’m more Labour, but I do work a lot with people who are Lib Dem. But I’d say I’m more about a cause and fighting for minority groups. I think that’s probably my political agenda. At TransActual UK we do try to keep ourselves politically neutral. If you’re going to try and pass policy, you have to speak to all the political parties, and even though you don’t necessarily agree with everything they’ve done, in the interests of passing the law, that’s the way it works.
Who is your political hero?
I would say Lady Phyll. I interviewed Lady Phyll when I was baby trans – literally so skinny and so timid. I feel like I have a queer chosen family, that has effectively raised me, in a way. Because your second puberty, you don’t know what you’re doing. Every single time I do something, she is always like “Well done Rico,” “Keep going Rico”. So I don’t think I’ve met someone who, in the face of so much adversity, has fought so relentlessly. She co-founded UK Black Pride, and they had an event that had over 10,000 attendees before the pandemic. They create safe spaces; they do a lot of funding and public speaking. The organisation started from nothing and has grown to a massive powerhouse of strength. And she’s not just working in this country, she works abroad as well. I went to Germany the other day, and my passport doesn’t look like me – I still look like a girl – and I was thinking “Bloody hell, this is uncomfortable!” I want my facial hair to kick in before I take my passport photo, because I don’t want to have to take it multiple times. So, for me, I would never go to certain countries with my passport like that, because it’s too risky. Being a lesbian woman in certain countries isn’t just problematic, it’s illegal. She visits those countries to celebrate Pride, and work with the community. That’s risky. Doing trans rights in the UK isn’t particularly fun, but I know I’m not going to lose my life as a result of it. Lady Phyll is pushing boundaries, and I have a lot of respect for her.
What about your political villain?
To be honest with you, I think everyone should hold themselves accountable. I think there are certain people out there who aren’t holding themselves accountable. I don’t think I could pick one person in particular. Currently, on the news, I don’t think Boris Johnson is particularly popular. I saw a video recently which highlighted some of the articles he wrote for The Spectator, and I wasn’t particularly impressed – comparing Muslim women to letterboxes. I think there was a 375% increase in Islamophobia off the back of that article. I went to private school. My dad keeps reminding me that the reason I have this posh accent is because he paid for it, and that I should use it for forces for good. I have this ability to speak in a way that people in this country can relate to and understand, therefore I should speak for minority groups. My parents grew up in rough areas of Brixton, so they come from nothing, they worked their socks off. Some Conservatives will tell you that it’s okay to leave some people behind – people will fall through the cracks. But that’s the response of a corporation. Corporations have the aim of making money – shareholders expect you to make money. But governmental officials aren’t supposed to have that same ideology. Their remit is to create a safe and equal society, and they’re missing the point of why they’re there. That, for me, is concerning.
What would your strengths be in the role of Prime Minister?
I would say humility. People say to me I’ve done quite a lot. I say, “I know people who have done a lot more.” I am standing on the shoulder of giants. There are people who have sacrificed their livelihoods and their careers in order to be their identity, and I should recognise that leadership. I also worked in finance for four or five years, so I understand how corporations work. In my work in diversity, I quite frequently work with corporations who will say “This is terrible! But what can we do?” And I’ll say “Well, this particular policy of your organisation is a little bit racist. You can’t exploit the minorities in a developing country in order to create a make-up brand.” I think a lot of natural resources in Africa have been previously exploited and sold at a massively discounted rate on the back of corruption. So you have corrupt officials in a country, getting paid by corporations, and those corporations own assets of countries. That, in itself, is diabolical.
What about your weaknesses?
I would say I am quite new to politics. I had my father speaking to me about politics over cereal since I was young, but that doesn’t necessarily make a good politician. I’ve purposely surrounded myself with people who actually know what they’re talking about. I’m good at listening, and I know what I don’t know, and am willing to learn.
If you were PM what is the first law you would pass?
Because of my political backing, I think it would be non-binary recognition. But I wouldn’t say that that is the most important thing that needs to be done. I think the cost of living crisis is the most paramount because people are starving. That’s shocking. I would probably address inflation and rising fuel prices because that’s making everything unaffordable. And I think the education system needs some reform – I feel there is a lot of privilege, a lot of hierarchical systems. In order to make teaching a sustainable career path for teachers, I’d increase their salaries. I’d increase the salary for nurses as well. You shouldn’t be working in a job like that and be unable to feed your family – I think that’s ridiculous. Corporations are going to hate me, but taxes: I don’t understand how Starbucks paid just £5.4m in UK corporation tax last year despite making a gross profit of £95m. That’s 5%. The average citizen in the UK spends more than that on their income tax so it's diabolical. So increase the wages of nurses and teachers, reform UK education to be less exclusive and more equal, and also to teach entrepreneurial skills. Education trains people to be workers and not businesspeople.
According to Theresa May, the naughtiest thing she ever did was run through a field of wheat. What is the naughtiest thing you have ever done?
Oh my God, Theresa needs to live a little! I like getting up and dancing. I like to vogue, but I really can’t do it very well!
What specific aspects of the show are you looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to challenging myself. I think this is an incredibly rare opportunity. I think the main reason I came on to this show was to represent my community. Most people haven’t really met trans men. I get that a lot, actually. I find it problematic. Things like Ru Paul’s Drag Race are important. Because it brings us into the limelight, but it also creates this perception that we belong in the entertainment industry. And in reality, we don’t, we’re just human. So mainly I’m doing this for representation. The Times wrote 365 opinion pieces about trans people throughout the pandemic, and not a single one of them consulted a trans person. So there’s a massive amount of misinformation. Trans people are one per cent of the population.
What aspects of the show are you nervous about?
Fresh transphobia. And, I guess, the fallout. If you say something in anger, or you say something you regret, or you say something that hasn’t been phrased correctly, you can’t really take that back, because it’s on national television. I’m quite careful with my words, but I think sometimes if you encounter the wrong character, they can rub you up the wrong way. So doing something that’s to the detriment of my career, or the detriment of communities that I’m trying to represent.
If the chance arose in real life, would you consider standing for parliament?
How do you feel about working with Sayeeda Warsi and Alastair Campbell?
I feel as if I have a lot to learn from both of them. I’m really looking forward to learning from their political experience. I have a lot to learn, and I’m aware of that. So far in my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really impressive people. So the learning curve has been there. To have the wisdom of Tony Blair’s previous press officer, for example, will probably be quite useful.
As you are about to embark on this experience, how are you feeling?
Excited but nervous. I do a fair bit of meditation because I’ve had anxiety and depression before, because of PTSD. Part of my work means that I have access to LGBT individuals who do yoga and meditation, and one of the things that I learned on a course is that excitement and nerves use the same part of your brain, so if you’re really, really nervous, you change it to excitement. So I’d say I’ve got a bit of both.