To the many hundreds of people who know of, and have benefited from, Barbara Ross’s work for the transgender community will be remembered with love and gratitude.
Barbara is acknowledged as one of the most experienced gender counsellors in the UK and is highly regarded by experts in the gender identity field around the world. She is a qualified social worker, initially gaining wide experience in the East End of London between 1950 and 1970, and thereby building her expertise in dealing with the most intractable cases in an area of severe social deprivation.
She moved to Norfolk in 1970, where she eventually became involved in gender counselling, at a time when understanding of, and support for, individuals with profound issues of personal identity was almost unheard of. The origins of her work in this field lie in a chance referral in 1974 by a Social Work colleague, who 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! Her eyes were opened to a problem she had not previously come across in her social work round: the anguished world of a person with inner gender conflict. Through Robert, she saw at first hand the pressures, the self-doubt, the guilt, the fear of being found out, the intolerance within society – which people with gender issues have to live with. And later, when Robert tragically took his own life, because of the lack of comprehension of his condition by the medical profession of the time, Barbara just knew she had to do something. She must find a way to change the climate, to provide a more focussed service for transgender people.
GENDER IDENTITY SERVICES: Barbara founded the Norfolk based Gender Identity Services, to provide support and counselling, and to develop appropriate pathways through the psychological/medical maze that confronts people with transgender issues. For the past 37 years she had worked unstintingly in this field, providing a quality of advice and support for her clients that must be unique. To underpin this work, Barbara subsequently opened her own home as the venue for a social support group called OASIS, which had been meeting twice monthly for the past 25 years. OASIS branched out by finding a venue nearby for one of these monthly meetings – which has resulted in increased membership and extension of activities.
TRANSGENDER CONFERENCES: In 2001, Barbara Ross gave her work a new dimension by inaugurating a series of biennial transgender conferences at the University of East Anglia. These conferences bring together leading experts in the field from across the world and offer a unique opportunity to professionals and clients to hear about the latest research and the most advanced surgical techniques. They also provide for transgender people and their families the chance to see the whole picture, to draw encouragement and comfort from each other.
During her 35 years as friend and counsellor to hundreds of clients, Barbara Ross has seen – and indeed influenced – the gradual shift in attitude of medical professionals and of society in general. The prejudice faced by those with gender related problems is not quite so widespread, even if there is still some way to go. The award of the OBE to Barbara in 2011 is an important indicator in this respect – it places a significant flag of recognition in the public domain. It marks the depth of her commitment and her professional excellence in serving the transgender community; but more fundamentally, her award signals an acceptance by society at its highest official level, of the gender dysphoric person. It is another step towards a genuinely inclusive society – where people with gender issues do not have to dissemble or be apologetic but can be confident in their personal worth and of the contribution they can make to the rainbow of the wider community.
For Barbara, the cardinal principle has always been the primacy of the individual – a person’s right to come to terms with who (s)he is, no matter what society thinks. To facilitate this, often painful, journey, to provide a sympathetic ear and a skilled professional insight, has been her unswerving objective. She had achieved her remarkable success through a combination of unqualified loving kindness and an honesty of purpose which enables her both to affirm her client and to charm the professional.