By Michael MacKay
On Transgender Day of Remembrance, I am reflecting on the trans lives lost to anti-transgender violence and how we must all commit to ensuring the world is safe for every trans and gender diverse person.
Warning: This story discusses transphobia and suicide and might be distressing to some readers. For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.
Alarmingly though, as the rights of trans and gender diverse kids in NSW hang in the balance of NSW Parliament – the silence from the vast majority of politicians is deafening.
Far from taking a stand against stigma and prejudice, they are enabling it with silence or overt support for One Nation’s ‘Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill’. As the bill makes its way through Macquarie street, many legislators are ignoring the far-reaching effects it will have on trans and gender diverse children, but also the rights of all students in NSW.
Of course parents also have rights – I’m not arguing against this. But parental rights need to be carefully balanced with the rights of children to have their voices heard and respected.
As a social worker I’ve had the privilege of supporting LGBTIQ+ people process the psychological impact of abuse, violence and stigma.
Here are some things I’ve learned: they often felt unsafe at school; they wish they’d had support which affirmed their identity; it felt frightening to come out; and most importantly: they knew who they were and what they needed, they did not need adults to tell them.
Time and again, I hear about what school was like and what would have made it better – positive representations of LGBTIQ+ identities, safe people to turn to for support, other LGBTIQ+ students who felt safe enough to come out, and adults who took a stand against bullying and discrimination.
As a proud member of the LGBTIQ+ community, this all aligns to my experience of school too. All too often, it just wasn’t safe. And as adults, surely our hope is a better experience for young people.
Kids Do Better When They Are Affirmed At School
This bill is damaging in many ways and would undo progress which has been achieved in NSW schools. Recommendations of the cross-parliamentary inquiry into the bill would dismantle a vital Education Department directive requiring schools to provide safe and supportive learning environments for trans and gender diverse children.
“Research globally…continues to show that trans kids do better when they are affirmed as who they are at school”, said Teddy Cook, Vice-President of AusPath, in his evidence to the Parliamentary Committee.”
We know trans and gender diverse people experience poorer mental health outcomes. Data recently published by LGBTIQ+ Health Australia shows transgender people aged 18 and over are nearly 11 times more likely to attempt suicide in their lifetime.
We also know that adverse childhood experiences detrimentally impact adult mental health – imagine the impact on mental health outcomes when the school system that should support and protect becomes even more hostile.
Bill Erodes The Rights Of Children
The bill would stop school staff from affirming a student’s gender and helping them access support without medical or parental involvement, and would prohibit teaching students about trans and gender diverse identities. It would put children at risk by restricting rights and limiting access to often life-saving supports.
For example, students would need parental consent to access LGBTIQ+ support groups, even though this would force them to come out – something that is often terrifying. The bill extinguishes children’s rights to the extent that trans and gender diverse students will lack a say in even the most fundamental decisions about their identity, including the bathrooms they use and how they engage in team sports.
This bill further erodes children’s rights, by enabling parents to pull their children out of lessons which contradict their social and political values – even when those lessons might be the one time a trans kid gets to hear something positive about their identity. Imagine proactively eliminating opportunities to learn about respect and diversity in the year 2021! It tacitly sanctions for prejudice of all kinds.
Even If you aren’t already incensed by what this will do to children, their adult lives, and the prejudice this will breed, you should be alarmed by how the bill takes NSW backwards, indeed contradicts its own child safety laws and policies which have been shaped by the Child Sexual Abuse Royal Commission – one of the most transparent and extensive enquiries into child abuse worldwide
The NSW government has legislated child safety standards – 10 things that organisations such as schools must do to keep kids safe. They are borne of the stories of thousands of survivors of abuse.
Amongst them, the standards demand equity, respect for diversity and importantly – that children are able to participate in decisions which impact them. Our position at Child Wise is clear. You can’t have it both ways. It is impossible to enshrine law which requires schools to protect equity and children’s rights, whilst introducing a bill that silences some children and makes them invisible.
As advocates for children’s rights since 1991, Child Wise is shocked at what is unfolding in NSW. A message to every MP in NSW: we implore you to reflect on how your decisions will compromise children’s safety and wellbeing.
To citizens of NSW who think such an archaic bill couldn’t progress into law in 2021, there are indeed decision-makers supporting this bill, whether they are spurred on by fear, ignorance or wilful blindness to the data on health risks to trans and gender diverse people. Make your voice heard by writing to your elected representative, or emailing them via the Equality Australia website.
Michael MacKay is the Director of Quality Assurance and Practice at Child Wise; he is also a mental health social worker specialising in LGBTQ+ health.
If you feel distressed reading the story, you can reach out to support services.
For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14
For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.