The ABC is running a series called The Hamster Wheel. I don’t watch it because it is usually dull.

A colleague drew my attention to the November 16 episode where the panel was having a go at Paul Henry, a right-wing media personality and would-be politician in New Zealand.

Their attack concluded with the statement that Henry was so “on the nose” with the New Zealand public that, at election time, he was “beaten by a transsexual”.

When I became aware of this bigoted stereotyping, I lodged a complaint with the ABC. A few days later I received an answer from the ABC’s Audience and Consumer Affairs Department.

They were “sorry” I found the material offensive but stated, “the point that was being made was that he [Henry] was so obnoxious that voters in a highly conservative rural seat would not vote for him but preferred a transsexual from a left-wing party” and that “it is because there is often prejudice against transsexuals that it was relevant to mention the politician’s sexuality”.

They said they were satisfied the broadcast was in keeping with the ABC’s editorial standards but I could refer the matter to ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority) if I wished.

I replied to their response, indicating I was not satisfied since the whole point of my complaint related to their assumption that it was all right to suggest that transgenders would not normally be electable, unless their opposition was so “on the nose” that nobody in their right mind would vote for them and voters were forced to fall back on the only other choice, a “transsexual from a left-wing party”.

I told them to substitute the word ‘Aborigine’, ‘Jew’ or ‘homosexual’ for the word ‘transsexual’ and see if the offensiveness of the The Hamster Wheel statement became more apparent to them.

I also said their use of the word ‘sexuality’ was inaccurate, as ‘transsexuality’ is not a sexuality (which is one reason why the word is falling out of use), and that a transgendered person can be heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual or asexual. I suggested they avoid pontificating in areas where their ignorance is evident.

Their insult is compounded by the fact that the election to which they refer was the one in which Georgina Beyer was elected to the New Zealand Parliament for the Labour Party, the first transgender in the world to be elected to a national parliament.

I pointed out that Beyer had already served with distinction in local government, first as a councillor and then as mayor of Carterton before her election to the national parliament, and that she went on to serve the New Zealand public honourably and well, working energetically in Parliament for improvements in human rights among other matters.

The matter has now been referred to ACMA and to the Anti-Discrimination Board.

Watch this space.

INFO: Katherine Cummings, Information and Resources worker, NSW Gender Centre

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