I READ with tears in my eyes, that the ACT’s same-sex marriage laws have been overturned by our High Court. A couple of days earlier, the high court in India recriminalised homosexuality, reinstating laws that make gay sex punishable by life imprisonment. And it’s only been a few weeks since the suicide of Dasha Stern, a beautiful Russian transwoman fired by a municipal authority that was forced to discriminate against her in order to avoid breaking Putin’s “homosexual propoganda” laws.
Fortunately, not all the news this year were bad.
We have new federal anti-discrimination laws. Two thirds of Australians support marriage equality, and our Catholic Prime Minister is at least being polite to his lesbian sister and is using the right pronouns when he talks about his good friend Kate McGregor.
Australians aren’t about to see homosexuality recriminalised or transgender people banned from using the bathroom.
With conservative forces gaining political power, we don’t have any excuse to become complacent. Social and political change will only happen if people are passionate enough, and if people who care manage to win enough hearts and minds that we can swing more votes than the extreme political groups who dream of India’s laws and Putin’s laws being introduced in Australia.
In the transgender community, I see a lot of work that still needs to be done. A short film called Bamboozled recently won the 2013 Tropfest festival. A straight man wakes up in bed with someone he thought was his former girlfriend, but who was in fact a man who tricked him. The “joke” would be a whole lot funner if not for the many transgender people who get bashed or murdered around the world every year by men who feel they were “bamboozled”.
In spite of much social progress over the last few years, the concept that transgender people are somehow dishonest still runs strong within our society and our legal system. “Gay panic” is still a valid legal defence in Queensland, and could be used as a basis to giving a murderer a more lenient prison sentence if his victim was gay or transgender.
NSW anti discrimination law gives transgender men the legal right to play women’s sport but tells transgender women that they should play single-sex sport with men, ignoring the realities of what hormone therapy and removal of gonads does to one’s physique over time. Superannuation schemes are allowed to treat transgender people as being of their birth sex, as are religious-run schools and nursing homes.
In Victoria, changes of name may be declined if a transgender person does not have a good credit history, unless he or she has been able to negotiate a payment arrangement with every single creditor. The argument used to justify this policy is that we might be somehow trying to mislead our creditors and avoid paying our debts, and that informing a creditor of the new name and contact details is somehow not enough.
In Western Australia, transgender people are not covered by state anti-discrimination laws unless they have had both surgery and individual approval by the state Gender Reassignment Board. The law allows anyone in WA to deny employment, accommodation, and services to a transgender person who dares not to be post op, or to stay married to their spouse from before transition.
Throughout Australia, relatively high levels of unemployment, suicide and mental health problems within the transgender community are used to justify “gatekeeping”. Transgender people wanting to start hormone therapy are often referred for psychiatric evaluation and occasionally are declined and refused medical treatment. Treatment protocols being promoted in Australia call for a two year real life “test” ahead of surgery approval, twice the period required by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. In China the waiting period is five years, while in Belarus the evaluation must be undertaken as an inpatient in a psychiatric institution. Stereotypes that portray gender transition as an extreme and potentially crazy act were used, until recently, to justify a legal situation in which parents wanting to help their transgender children to avoid puberty in the wrong gender had to seek permission from the family court.
There’s not much point complaining about a problem unless we can find a solution. The gay and lesbian community has won social and legal acceptance over the years by coming out of the closet. Successful gay men and lesbians have become role models within the community and have helped create a world where homosexuality is no longer illegal or classified as a psychiatric illness in Australia.
I believe that, as more transgender people come out and stop hiding who we are and what we can achieve, we will help to improve our acceptance. I hope that, as a transsexual lesbian 14 years after my own transition and surgery, my own recent “coming out” will help with this process and encourage others to do the same.
Melissa tweets under @MelissaStarNews