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Safe bathrooms and respecting pronouns: What trans people want to see change in Australia.

On International Day of Transgender Visibility on March 31, Mamamia launched a three-part series looking into the reality of the trans experience in Australia. Part one looked at what it's like to come out as trans. Part two looks at what it's like to live as trans. And today, the final part looks at what trans people would like to see change. 

Through conversation with our four transgender interviewees - Melbourne jazz singer, cabaret performer and CEO of Transgender Victoria, Mama Alto; Geelong-based fashion stylist and co-host of Mamamia podcast, What are You Wearing?, Deni Todorovič; Construction worker from NSW's Central Coast, Jess Peroy, and Year 11 student, Theo Boltman - this is their list of collective top priorities for progress. 

To make Australia safer, fairer and more inclusive for the transgender community.

Greater respect, equity and inclusion.

  • Importance placed on respecting pronouns (and the negative impacts of misgendering) in all spaces - particularly in schools, institutions and the workplace.
  • Ensure correct language options are offered on all governmental forms (offering the full spectrum of gender identities).
  • Gender neutral bathrooms, or a safe space for trans people to use the bathroom.
  • Elevate the conversation: The tone of the conversation about trans people in politics and the media is one of demonisation and dehumanisation. This needs to shift to acknowledgement and respect. 
  • Better representation: Measures to actively encourage trans people into all areas and industries, particularly public life (media, politics, etc.) to show positive role models for younger trans people, and also normalise trans people and their stories in the mainstream.
  • Abolishment of the Religious Discrimination Bill.

Better access to quality healthcare.

  • Greater access to medical treatments (expensive, top surgery not covered by Medicare).
  • Greater investment to ensure more doctors are better educated and trained on trans issues and are trans aware (to avoid trans people going without quality medical care, and being stuck on waiting lists for months on end).
  • A more streamlined process towards gender-affirming surgery. 
  • Improved mental health outcomes, particularly for trans youth: The suicide rate is 15 times higher for trans youth aged 14-25; and 80 per cent of transgender and gender diverse people aged 14-25 reported having self-harmed in their lifetime.
  • Address health issues for trans people who are Indigenous and/or live in regional, rural and remote Australia, and therefore face greater barriers to accessing quality healthcare. 

Improved education in schools, institutions and workplaces. 

  • Better education on diverse gender and sexual identities in schools.
  • Ensuring queerness and gender identity are a part of the sex education syllabus at schools: This encourages correct and respectful language, fostering respect and inclusion for those grappling with their gender and sexual identity - particularly important given strong accounts of school bullying faced by LGBTQI+ students, and the impact on their mental health. 
  • Improved workplace education: For managers - in being equipped with the knowledge to effectively handle situations where an employee who identifies as transgender might encounter discrimination in the workplace; ensuring all staff understand what constitutes discrimination, that it is unacceptable that there are mechanisms are in place to report gender discrimination.

Obviously individuals and organisations can and should take it upon themselves to implement these opportunities for progress where possible, but with a federal election around the corner, what do our politicians say in response? Mamamia asked them.

This gets a little heavy, but is necessary reading, so buckle up, and make a cuppa. 

This is what the federal government told us –

  • On greater respect, equity and inclusion.

On the need for gender-neutral language, a spokesperson from the Attorney-General’s Department told Mamamia, that “the government supports the rights of individuals to make use of any pronouns or descriptors they prefer while encouraging respect for the preferences of others.”

Meanwhile, in response to the discrimination often faced by transgender people when using public bathrooms, the spokesperson said, “As a general proposition, a person should use facilities that correspond to their gender identity,” advising that “any concerns about inappropriate behaviour or potentially criminal conduct should be immediately referred to the police".

While both are positive steps, the government stops short of introducing any initiatives that either prevent or address the underlying issues of protection from discrimination.

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Deni Todorovič shares their coming out story with Mia Freedman on No Filter. Article continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.
  • On better access to quality healthcare.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health told Mamamia that “the Federal Government is committed to supporting, protecting and promoting the health and wellbeing of LGBTIQ+ people”. 

“That is why the Government has included LGBTIQ+ people as a priority population across a number of national health strategies, plans and frameworks. This is in recognition of their experienced health disparities, and acknowledges that each individual has unique and often complex health needs.”

The spokesperson also said the department “recognise[s] mental illness disproportionately affected that LGBTIQ+ Australians and often face challenges seeking the help and treatment they need”.

As for the exclusion of gender-affirming surgery being covered by Medicare, the spokesperson asserts there “are a range of surgical procedures and consultation services eligible for Medicare rebates” - and sites the important role of private health insurance. 

But of course, we know that not everyone has the privilege of being in a position to afford private health care.

And yet, on the need for better educated and trans-aware doctors, the spokesperson says - rather broadly - they’re “working with a range of stakeholders… to ensure better health for all Australians and equitable access for vulnerable groups including the LGBTIQ+ community.”

Indeed, in addressing the unique and dire mental health outcomes for trans youth, the department says it has invested a record $2.3 billion “to reform the mental health and suicide prevention system”.

They continue, “This funding ensures all Australians, including LGBTIQA+ Australians can access the support, treatment and services they need, when they need them.”

But how much money has gone towards an organisation that specifically addresses the unique needs and nuances of LGBTQI+ health?

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Just $3.5 million to LGBTIQ+ Health Australia’s initiative, Q Life, which offers Australia-wide anonymous, LGBTI peer support and referral for people wanting to talk about a range of issues including sexuality, identity, gender, bodies, feelings or relationships.

Meanwhile, in a letter penned to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt dated March 5, 2020, the Royal Australian College of Physicians (RACP) wrote that those who identify as trans or gender diverse or experience gender dysphoria are “an extremely vulnerable group who need the support of clinicians, the health system, their families, friends and wider support networks”.

These groups “experience stigma and extremely high rates of depression, self-harm, attempted suicide and suicide,” the RACP stated, going on to push the Australian government on three measures; to work with states and territories to improve access to and consistency of care within and across jurisdictions; to facilitate the development of a robust evidence base through funding and research into gender dysphoria; and to develop evidence-based fact sheets that will be made available to all patients and their families to support informed consent. 

The calls have been backed by Transcend Australia, the first parent-led, national peer support network and community for parents and carers supporting their trans, gender diverse and non-binary child.

Three months later, Minister Hunt requested the Australian Health Minister's Advisory Council (AHMAC) develop a national approach to the care and treatment of children and adolescents experiencing gender dysphoria. 

And since then?

It’s up to the individual states, it seems.

“Given the clinical nature of the activities, it is appropriate that states and territories undertake this ongoing development of an evidence-based national approach,” said the department spokesperson. 

Listen to Mia Freedman talk to Georgie Stone, the teen who changed gender. Post continues after.  

  • On improved education in schools, institutions and workplaces. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Education, Skills and Employment told Mamamia that while the Australian government is committed “to supporting school communities to be safe, supportive learning environments that promote wellbeing, resilience and learning outcomes for all students… it is the responsibility of the government and non-government education authorities in each state and territory to manage schools, including ensuring equal access to education and support for all students’ wellbeing.”

While the spokesperson shed light on the various anti-bullying initiatives in which the government has invested funding, it is the ‘Respect Matters’ program that focuses on LGBTQI+ students, consisting of targeted respectful relationships education resources for diverse student groups, including students and their families who identify as LGBTQI+.

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“All students have the right to be safe at school and bullying of any nature is unacceptable. All schools have a responsibility to ensure that their students are safe, respected and supported each day,” said the spokesperson.

As for improved education in the workplace, the spokesperson for the Attorney-General reiterated the Sex Discrimination Act which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender identity, sexual orientation and intersex status in public life, employment and education. 

They emphasised that the Australian Human Rights Commission has the power to investigate and attempt to conciliate certain complaints of sex discrimination, including gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination.

The spokesperson also encouraged those who believe they have been unlawfully discriminated against to consider contacting the Australian Human Rights Commission to lodge a complaint.

Mamamia also approached Labor Shadow Ministries of Education; Health and Ageing; and National Reconstruction, Employment, Skills and Small Business for comment. 

Labor’s Campaign Spokeswoman Senator Katy Gallagher responded:

“Labor has a proud record of taking action to protect LGBTQ Australians from discrimination."

"In government, we would work with the LGBTQ community with respect to these issues.”

'I want growth and joy through togetherness.'

While it may be easy to be overwhelmed by the politicisation of wide-ranging issues that affect transgender people, at its core, it's actually really simple. 

Our schools and workplaces and media and public spaces and healthcare and society needs to do better by trans Australians - to make their lives fairer, safer and more equitable.

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Our government needs to do better too - whoever that is to be after May.

Critical mental health outcomes, access to health care and exceptionally high statistics around suicide and self-harm are evidence enough. 

But it's about more than statistics - or labels. 

Says Jess, “Honestly, I just love just being outdoors. Camping, kayaking, hanging out with my friends. That's, that's who I am and what I love. I’m just me. Jess.”

“At my true self,” contemplates Theo, “I exist as a being beyond gender. I’m a Jewish person. And I'm a person that has been named Theo. I go to a school. I will graduate soon. I'm a teenager - that's who I am at my core. And that has nothing to do with my gender.”

Meanwhile, Mama Alto has a simple dream: “I just want for myself, and for the world, to be able to create growth and joy through togetherness.”

And Deni?

“I’m just a fashion-obsessed ‘wog boy’ from Geelong who loves Turkish bread from their local Turkish restaurant, who loves watching reality TV with their mum; who loves the beach in summer and watching the Geelong Cats play in the winter. Just very regular.”

“But here’s the thing - Trans people are just very ‘regular’ people.”

Read more: 

Keen to read more from Rebecca Davis? You can find her articles here, or follow her on Instagram,  @rebeccadavis___

Feature Image: Supplied/Mamamia.

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