On August 7, 50 sex and gender diverse and transgender people gathered in Petersham in Sydney’s inner west at a “Save the Drop-In” BBQ. The event was in response to the Gender Centre — the only community service provider for transgender people in Sydney — closed a cornerstone of its service: the weekly “Drop-In” service.
The drop-in attracted about 40 people each week. It was held in the evening and food was provided. The service accounted for 28% of the Gender Centre’s client contacts, according to the Centre’s 2010 annual report.
Transgender people need safe spaces and peer support. Private Lives: A Report on the Health and Wellbeing of GLBTI Australians (2007), noted that 46.9% of transgender females and 29.4% of transgender males faced threats of violence and intimidation while 73% of transgender men and 69.7% of transgender women faced verbal abuse.
Gender Centre management closed the drop-in service on June 8.
Phinn Borg, manager of the Gender Centre, told Green Left Weekly: “The service has not been closed, it is under review. It was not meeting its objectives. We had complaints about the behaviour of clients and the food. The service had been running for a long time, and it was not a funded program. But the service will come back in, but not in the same form.”
Asked when the service would be reinstated, Borg said: “We have a report being done, and the recommendations of the report will be implemented. We don’t have any idea when the report will be done.”
An activist group, Save the Drop In, has been formed. Kari McKern, an activist with the new group, told GLW: “If clients complain about how a service is managed, their first reaction seems to be to cancel the service to punish the impertinence of the clients.”
Fiona Ryan, spokesperson for Save the Drop-In, told GLW: “The first thing we heard of anything out of the ordinary was when management told us they will close the service.
“If people were behaving badly, then it is common practice to have a talk with the person, ask that they stop, then if they don’t, impose a ‘service ban’ on them. But management reaction to the complaints seems to have been to collect them so as to justify closing the service …
“It seems to us that they slandered all their transgendered drop-in clients just to make their jobs easier by closing a service that has been a vital part of transgender life in Sydney for 20 years.”
McKern said: “One thing is for sure, be it an error of judgement, burn-out, or paranoia that drove this foolish decision, the fuss won’t stop until this service is resumed.”