Fighting the ‘fires’ of transphobia

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras 2015 Photo: Jeffrey Feng

While the transphobes in the federal Coalition government have not given up on pushing their anti-trans agenda, they face some stiff challenges, according Transgender Victoria spokesperson Sally Goldner.

Last year’s marriage equality postal survey caused a lot of pain for the LGBTI community. But Goldner told Green Left Weekly that the overwhelming Yes vote helped push the homophobes and transphobes back.

“The immediate crushing of [Prime Minister Scott] Morrison’s ‘gender whisperer’ ideas proves that while transphobes are — as usual — trying to light the fires of transphobia, the flames aren’t catching,” Goldner said.

Morrison took to Twitter in early September to assert that teachers were encouraging children to question their gender after a Daily Telegraph article claimed teachers were contributing to a “surge” in the number of children identifying as trans.

The push back came quickly, and from many quarters.

Dr Elizabeth Riley, a gender counsellor named by the Telegraph, who advises school staff about how to recognise a child in distress over their gender identity, said she had run counselling services for children with special needs and occasionally parent information nights in more than 40 private and public schools.

Riley told the Sydney Morning Herald that mental health issues, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and self-harm happen when students do not get the support they need.

This was confirmed by a 2017 Australian study on the mental health and care pathways of trans and gender diverse young people. It found that young trans people are at very high risk of poor mental health, self-harm and suicide.

Young trans people find it difficult to access health services, the report found, with 60% feeling isolated from medical and mental health services and 42% having reached out to a service provider that did not understand or respect their gender identity. The problems included a lack of education about gender diversity, not knowing where to refer trans clients and transphobia.

Goldner said that Australians’ “unique quality to call out phoniness means that we are a little less likely to fall for emotive spin”.

“While trans and gender diverse families are moving beyond the fear and anxiety of last year, there are still many changes needed to eliminate discrimination.”

According to Goldner, they include: inclusive, equitable and affordable health care for trans and gender diverse people; birth certificates and other documentation that ensure easy and equitable recognition; funding trans-and-family-driven projects that increase equity and understanding of trans and gender diverse people; and ending inequitable religious and sport exemptions.

The ACT and South Australia are leading the way with the best birth certificate laws, Goldner said. Tasmania has had no sport and religious exemptions since 2005.

However, all states and territories need laws that allow birth certificates to be simple statutory declarations based on affirmed identity with no need for a medical-sign off. Minors should also be allowed to make those changes with parental or guardian support.

Laws in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Tasmania that force couples to divorce if one wants to transition also need to be changed, Goldner said.

Laws governing health care need to ensure that there are no out-of-pocket expenses for any trans surgeries.

“Surgery and hormonal treatments need to be available in the public system, and in regional and rural settings,” Goldner said.

“General practitioners need to be trained up to reduce demand on specialist clinics, and there needs to be better consultation with trans people.”

Goldner paid tribute to the “trans pioneers who opened the door which indirectly enabled those who are standing up now”.

“There are great trans and gender diverse people, organisations and family members who are driving the changes now through a combination of approaches: advocacy, sharing personal stories and the arts,” Goldner said.

“Every effort is vital and valuable, especially given the religious right has not given up on lighting the fires of transphobia”.