Trans advocate: ‘Bill Shorten is wrong to quash inclusive birth form’

August 2, 2022
The gender neutral language on a Medicare form that trans-exclusionary campaigners pushed to get removed.

Government services minister Bill Shorten decided on July 21 to end a trial of a Medicare form that used gender inclusive language for parents to add their newborn child to their card.

The term “birthing parent” was swapped out for “mother” at three hospitals on Services Australia’s digital forms. Only 1100 parents had participated in the trial.

It appears Shorten is being influenced by the culture wars against trans people. Nine’s Today Show interviewed anti-trans ideologue Sall Grover, positioning her as a “new mum” who said the form was derogatory and dehumanising. Grover is the CEO of a trans exclusionary social media app Giggle for Girls, which uses facial recognition technology to attempt to only include cis women.

Grover claimed in the interview that the form, referring to her as a “birthing parent”, was derogatory and dehumanising. She did not explain how.

Playing devil’s advocate, Today Show host Karl Stefanovic asked if the language being used was simply inclusive of trans men, non-binary and intersex people, as well as same sex couples and surrogate parents. However, when she rejected this explanation, he gave up his veneer of impartiality to laugh along with his interviewee.

As trans people face extra burdens when navigating the health care system, nearly 30% avoid it due to perceived or experienced discrimination, according to a United States 2020 study.

Transmasculine people are more likely to avoid healthcare than other trans identities. Poverty and gender nonconformity also play a part in people not accessing healthcare.

Transgender advocate and medical student Benji Rabeling told Green Left that it was very important for health care institutions to be trans inclusive.

“I have avoided seeking the healthcare services I needed from a grave fear of how I would be treated. At times, this fear has put my life at risk. For instance, I have spent years avoiding drinking water so as to avoid [having to enter] public toilets and [face] potential discrimination/harassment. This has predisposed me to kidney and other urinary tract infections.

“The fear of being misgendered, fear of being harassed, fear of being mistreated, has been so paralysing that at times the lesser pain was to just live with my injuries and illnesses, and not seek help.

“When I did seek help, my fears were confirmed, or new experiences were added. Often I get by now in the healthcare sector by not disclosing my trans identity, unless I need to, or I know I’m safe.

“It’s not because I am ashamed to be trans — I’m very proud — but I do not know how I will be treated. Will my health be at risk if I disclose to my healthcare professional that I am trans?

Asked what governments or healthcare providers can do to ensure trans people feel safe, Rabeling said inclusive education and human rights laws were essential for understanding and respect, as well as appropriate care and treatment.

“A number of studies have investigated trans and gender diverse peoples’ health and wellbeing and what can be done to better support them,” Rabeling said.

“A 2016 study from Beyond Blue has stuck with me. Specifically, it said there was a need to rewrite the medical curriculum to include trans and gender diverse healthcare so that our community does not avoid treatment.

“Inclusive training is good but it’s not enough. We should be included in reproductive biology and anatomy classes within the medical degree.

“Government forms, human rights laws and legal barriers to accessing treatment need to be considered and re-evaluated by trans and gender diverse people. Workplace policies, practices and training protocols for healthcare professionals will be heavily determined by public opinion, the government and the law.

“Things as simple as intake forms — whether or not there is a space for preferred pronouns and gender identity — determines from the very beginning whether there is a space for the trans patient.

“Why would someone return to a place that has no space for them?”

Rabeling said they were disappointed that Shorten ended the trial of gender neutral terms on government forms. “It’s the kind of disappointment that sits with me. It feels like he’s made a decision that says ‘You shouldn’t exist. I’ve decided there’s no space for you.’

“He’s wrong. But it bothers me to think how much harder this will make it for the community to access the healthcare they need.”

Rabeling said the media “debate” about “whether trans and gender diverse people exist or should exist and what capacity they should exist in has had such a polarising effect on my life and those around me.

“To have your existence and rights debated over the dinner table, like a football game, is unique to trans and gender diverse people,” Rabeling said. “I hope that governments and healthcare providers do start listening to us and ensure that health care includes gender neutral language.”

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