Every year on 20 November, Transgender Day of Remembrance is an opportunity for the community to remember transgender people who have experienced acts of transphobic violence, many of whom have lost their lives.
This year the Star Observer spoke with trans people and their allies from across Australia to look back over a year of significant achievement for the transgender community, without losing sight of the transphobia faced by many on a daily basis.
Community hero, activist and Transgender Victoria spokesperson Sally Goldner told the Star Observer why Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) matters.
“TDOR is important because it’s an unfortunate reality for trans people around the world that many have lost their lives due to direct violence, but also due to transphobia in general. Maybe they’ve died because of being homeless and on the streets, maybe it’s because they haven’t had appropriate medical care,” Goldner said.
“It’s a very significant day on the trans and gender diverse calendar, and has been now for 15 years.”
In a year of significant political achievement for the trans community, Goldner acknowledged the difficulty of how to balance celebrating those successes with the need to commemorate those no longer with us.
“There will be a TDOR for as long as we’re alive, even if we hope—and gosh I wish we could do it, everyone does—that we never lost another person to transphobia, for the ones who have gone already and the ones we don’t know about we will always have this day,” she said.
“But we have to remember that we are getting somewhere on quite a few things: federal equal opportunity law, sex and gender guidelines, general public attitude is improving, mainstream media coverage is improving.”
While she remains optimistic, Goldner worries about a lack of funding for trans organisations.
“We are going to get down, in the end, to decisions that will involve money. We can’t keep doing what we’re doing on a volunteer shoestring. I think this is a critical issue,” she said.
The introduction of legal protections under the Sex Discrimination Amendment Bill and changes to Medicare to make previously gender-specific procedures available to everyone are some of the ways things are getting better.
Former Health Minister, Federal MP and trans ally Tanya Plibersek was instrumental in bringing about these changes, and spoke with the Star Observer about working with the trans community.
“Announcing that the Labor Government was removing gender discrimination from Medicare was a proud moment for me as health minister. The change was long overdue, and I was glad to be able to do what I could in the health portfolio to help remove discrimination against transgender Australians,” Plibersek said.
“I have a close, longstanding relationship with the trans community, including in my electorate of Sydney. I always learn a lot from them.”
Plibersek said greater Government support for mental health is critical to combat the shocking over-representation of trans people in statistics on attempted suicide and mental health issues.
While the recent achievements for trans people have been significant at a policy level, they can often seem far removed from the day to day experiences of trans people in Australia, many of whom experience transphobia.
“After struggling with crippling anxiety and depression all my life and not having any idea why, I started to hear about transgender people like Laura Jane Grace and Lana Wachowski and realised that was what had been going on with me,” Rowen explained.
“Within months of accepting that I am a trans woman, all the unhappiness and dysfunctionality of my life melted away. I wish there had been more trans visibility when I was younger so I might have realised it was a very real option then.”
Rowen said although she doesn’t want to be treated differently than other women, she sees trans visibility as vital in the struggle to change social perception, both to encourage trans people to accept themselves and for the wider community.
“I am not quite the same as natal women. However, I am a woman none the less,” she said.
“My voice is quite masculine. That is ok. I will never be a delicate beauty. That is ok as well. Why should I be denied a fulfilled and content life just because I am atypical? In my experience, most people are more than happy to let me be happy.”
“I started having problems when I was about 11 or 12 with my gender identity. It just got worse and worse over the years,” she told the Star Observer.
“I went along with the family and got married and had kids and all that. I wasn’t happy and I tried to fit in with the usual son, father, mother thing but it just didn’t work. Then about four or five years ago I divorced. I was about 50.”
Willoughby said she now provides support to others struggling with their gender identity through the Australian Transgender Support Association Queensland (ATSAQ).
“I am not looking back, no way. I love my decision. Sometimes ATSAQ ask me to help mentor others that are going through gender identity issues,” she said.
While it is important to understand the ways trans people’s lives are improving in Australia, Sally Goldner said Transgender Day of Remembrance is a time to support each other in difficult times and to remember the people we have lost.
“This is a day that can be upsetting for some trans people and their families and loved ones, and I’d ask everyone to either physically or spiritually connect together on that day and remember that some of us are still here and that more of us are coming out is a strength,” she said.
“Remember that we are, biased as I may be, an amazing group of people and we are going in the right direction.”
For support services and more information, contact The Gender Centre in New South Wales on (02) 9569 2366, ATSAQ in Queensland on (07) 3843 5024 and Transgender Victoria on (03) 9517 6613.