Transgender hate crimes remembered

December 2, 2006

On November 20, a meeting initiated by the NSW Greens marked Transgender Remembrance Day. Below is an abridged presentation by Rachel Evans, co-convener of Community Action Against Homophobia, National Union of Students female queer officer and NSW Socialist Alliance upper-house candidate.

Transgender Remembrance Day began in 1999 when Rita Hester, an American, was brutally murdered on November 28. It is a day of mourning, a day to rail against bigots and a day to work out how to stop hate crimes.

Our transgender sisters and brothers have a lot of trouble changing their identity: they have to tell a doctor that they are suffering a mental disorder — gender dysphoria — in order to be placed on hormones. Some risk the public health system for an operation, but given this unappealing option, most transgender operations cost between $20,000 and $30,000. The other option is Thailand, where it costs a little less.

Not only do successful transgender sisters and brothers have to have enough money, they also have to "pass" the gender test to be able to find work and rent a house. Then they still face the prospect of: a passport with restrictions of movement, traumatic experiences getting birth certificates changed, avoiding being beaten, and not being able to get married to the person they fall in love with.

A LaTrobe University report, Private Lives: A Report on the Health and Well-being of GLBTI Australians, noted that 46.9% of transgender females faced threats of violence and intimidation compared with 29.4% of transgender males, although the latter faced more verbal abuse (73.5%) compared to transgender females (69.7%). Many transgender sisters and brothers cannot escape bigoted and discriminatory employers: 34.9% of transgender females surveyed were refused employment or promotion compared to 23.5% of transgender males. Transgender people are also refused housing in this so-called "fair-go country". Even Mission Australia refuses to take them in.

How easy would it be to increase funding to Sydney's Gender Centre? If Cuba can change passports and birth certificates to the new gender and grant free sex change operations, why can't Australia?

We need affirmative action programs for transgender people in jobs and training. We urgently need a nation-wide education campaign about the need to accord human rights and dignity to transgender people.

If we're to make Australia free of hate crimes, the major parties have to stop creating a political climate of hatred towards lesbian, gay, bi- and transgender people. PM John Howard's "straight Australia" policy has to end; this includes his ban on same-sex marriage, funding for preachers in schools, funding cuts of LGBTI material in schools, and funding transfers from HIV centres to religious organisations.

The major party leaders, who are supposed to be secular, are giving Family First and the Exclusive Brethren political prominence. It's a crime against science, queers and women, who have to deal with their attacks on our democratic rights. We have to make it stop. Our transgender sisters and brothers led Stonewall and while, today, we reflect on the pain, we must also marshal our forces for the fight ahead.

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