“It’s totally undermining of everything, your confidence, your self-worth, anything that is positive in your everyday life is just undermined by this stuff. The online world isn’t this abstract thing, it’s real,” Bridget Clinch told Star Observer.

For two years now, Clinch – a former Greens member and activist who was the first transgender soldier to transition while serving in the Australian Army – has been embroiled in a deeply personal and highly publicised court battle between herself, and Canberra radio presenter Beth Rep – whom this month was been ordered to pay $10,000 in compensation.

“The articles that have been written to date, and the people who have claimed to have read the report have downplayed it a lot.”

As Clinch explained, the online abuse began following a public event held in Brisbane in 2018. An event for which the organisers were later condemned for having politicised in a highly contentious manner.

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 “The organisers of International Women’s Day in Brisbane were heavily involved in abortion rights, and then went full TERF at the time.

“They had all this anti-trans stuff at the IWD event. But because they were running the IWD event in Brisbane everyone pretty much went to it. However, when people saw what [they were promoting], they were pretty horrified by it.

Within a couple of days, the Queensland Greens and the Green Women’s Network put out a statement distancing themselves from the event organisers.

I shared that statement, which is when the pile on started and this Rep character and her followers jumped on my socials. But it didn’t stop, it just kept going and ended up getting quite personal.”

When Clinch worked out that Rep was located in Canberra, she lodged a complaint with the relevant bodies. However, it took some time for Rep to reply to repeated requests for communication from the ACT Humans Rights Commission.  

“The Humans Rights Commission said that Rep would not conciliate. So they had to refer it to the ACT Civil & Administration Tribunal.”

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 There are of course very real and damaging effects that the victims of online abuse often experience, and as Clinch explains, these often extend far beyond the digital realm.

“One of the comments on one of the threads that was used in the tribunal was talking about someone identifying me and where I ran as politician, and that they themselves lived in the same area.

“They made claims they would ‘embarrass the fuck out of me’ if I ever ran again. So if I did decide to run for office again or speak at a local event I’ve got the knowledge in the back of my head, that some of these trolls who believe what they are saying about me online are potentially going to bring that into my everyday life.

“The commentary was pretty disgusting. They’ve reproduced some of the comments which were considered vilification or victimisation under the act, but there are other things they didn’t want to say out loud, or even reproduce in the report.” Clinch said.

Rep, a self-proclaimed radical feminist was found to have breached discrimination laws by liking Facebook comments which vilified Clinch.

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 Rep said that the “few posts she made involved gender critical comments that reflected her views which she said were ‘honest and reasonable’ in an ongoing discussion about the impact of what she described as ‘aggressive trans activism on the human rights of women.’”

Rep claimed, in her defence that she neither invited not participated in the vilification, saying her only participation was “liking” the comments and that “liking” a comment did not indicate approval.

The tribunal rebutted her explanation, saying she could have deleted the comments and that by leaving them on the post she had continued to incite hate. 

“I hope this decision makes people understand that there are consequences for this sort of behaviour.

“This process has really made me take stock of where I am with a lot of things,Clinch concluded. I have been keeping an eye on other trans people around the world via Twitter. We are all coping it all the time, it’s a constant slog.

“This has been simmering away from the mainstream for years, but now it is in the mainstream people are hopefully going to be able to nit-pick all the silly ideas they are basing their trans hatred on and hopefully truth prevails and we can get past this era of misunderstanding and straw man arguments.”

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