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We can and must end the discrimination of trans and gender diverse people

Speeches in Parliament
Janet Rice 25 Nov 2015

Last Friday, we marked Transgender Day of Remembrance, an important day on the calendar of the transgender and gender diverse community both in Australia and internationally. It is a day to remember those transgender and gender diverse people, who have been killed due to violence and prejudice. It is a day to commemorate the many, many lives lost and cut short by hate. And it is a day to raise our collective awareness about the impact of transphobia on the lives of our trans- and gender-diverse family members, workmates, friends and community members.

Australia is not immune to anti-transgender hatred, prejudice or discrimination. In many ways the impact on our young people is the worst. The 2014 report From blues to rainbows into the mental health and wellbeing of gender diverse and transgender young people in Australia found that almost half of the young people surveyed had been diagnosed with depression and up to 38 per cent have had suicidal thoughts. This is inexcusable. The lives of our young people matter, and we need to make sure our young transgender and gender diverse people know that their lives matter too.

So as we mark Transgender Day of Remembrance for 2015, we all have a duty to take up the fight against transphobia, homophobia and discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people and their families across Australia.

Tomorrow marks International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In my home town of Melbourne, there will be a Walk Against Family Violence to take a stand to ensure every woman and child is free from domestic violence. If I was not in this place, I would have taken to the streets to join them.

But as we engage in this vitally important national conversation, I wish to also draw attention to another national conversation we urgently need to have. With nine out of 10 trans- and gender-diverse young people who have experienced physical abuse thinking about suicide, we need to talk about LGBTIQ domestic and family violence.

In New South Wales, we recently saw the launch of the report Calling it what it really is, produced with organisations including Sydney's Inner City Legal Centre, NSW Police, LGBTI health body ACON and the City of Sydney. I congratulate them on their important work in this area. The findings from the transgender, gender diverse and intersex people surveyed was profound. More than half of the respondents reported physical abuse in past relationships. The report also noted that abuse in an intimate partnership is a real and significant experience for many members of these communities. The report states:

Transgender, gender diverse and intersex people may experience a range of unique forms of domestic violence, wherein their partners use aspects of their gender identity, gender expression or intersex trait/s to control and hurt them. For example, an abusive partner may ridicule their partner by making negative comments about their gender identity, gender history, gender non-conformance, intersex status, or physical features.

A common theme of this report, and of the submissions received this year to the Royal Commission into Family Violence in Victoria, is that there still remains very little known about ongoing experiences of domestic and family violence amongst transgender, gender diverse and intersex people. We must and we can change this. Among other things, we need more research, more cultural training in mainstream services and our police force, better funded LGBTIQ support services, better use of inclusive terminology and language, and more education and information for the communities experiencing violence. I applaud those hardworking agencies, social and support services and communities who provide the support and services now and thank them for their continuing work.

I want to talk about some other specific issues facing the transgender and gender-diverse young people living in our communities today. Because the federal Family Court maintains mandatory oversight of the administration of stage 2 hormone treatment to people under the age of 18, there are massive delays and costs involved in getting the treatment critical in these younger years. A 10- or 12-year-old child who attends the gender clinic in Melbourne for the first time today will be told that it will take two to three years of a lengthy, costly, stressful court process in order to access the hormone treatment they so desperately need. This has got to stop.

Over these past six months I have been meeting with parents and carers of young transgender and gender diverse people who are desperately advocating for their children to receive easy and timely treatment, just like any other medical treatment they can consent to. I have met with the amazing and hardworking clinicians at the gender clinic at Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital, one of the leading Australian clinics of its kind. New referrals to the hospital have risen from just one child in 2003 to 109 in 2014, and this is growing every day. I have heard from young people from Ygender, the Melbourne-based peer-led social support and advocacy group for trans and gender diverse young people. These incredible young people talk about the distress caused by the court process, especially to those who have little or no family support. Together with my colleagues in the other place, Cathy McGowan and fellow co-chairs of the Parliamentary Friendship Group for LGBTI Australians Warren Entsch and Graham Perrett, I am working to remove the unnecessary, costly waste of time that is the Family Court's oversight of stage 2 hormone treatment for these young people. I really hope that we can see this issue resolved in the very near future so that these people in our communities are able to receive the treatment they need and deserve in order to be the people they really are.

Today I also want to acknowledge a very timely new curriculum resource being launched in Melbourne this coming Thursday. All Of Us is an innovative and very timely new teaching resource that has been jointly developed by Safe Schools Coalition Australia and the Minus18 foundation. The resource aims to increase students' understanding and awareness of gender diversity, sexual diversity and intersex topics. It captures the real life experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex young people through a collection of short videos and teaching activities that are aligned to the year 7 and 8 Health and Physical Education learning area of the Australian Curriculum. Congratulations to the young people involved and to Safe Schools Coalition Australia and the Minus 18 foundation for what will truly be a wonderful life-affirming and life-saving resource. I especially want to commend all staff in schools around Australia who will start to use this curriculum resource to increase students' understanding and awareness of gender diversity, sexual diversity and intersex topics. I wish this had been around when I was at school.

Finally, I want to bring the Senate's attention to the launch next week of another resource for children, families and schools called The Gender Fairy. Written by Jo Hirst, a Melbourne mum who has a young transgender child, The Gender Fairy is a simple children's storybook about two children who are taking their first joyful steps towards living as their true selves. What is important about The Gender Fairy is that it reinforces to transgender children, and to their families, that they are normal and they are not alone. Jo and other parents and carers of transgender and gender diverse children and young people I have met—Naomi, Andrew, Ann, Rebekah and Natasha—are such wonderful advocates and supporters of their children. Jo, I congratulate you on your book and thank you for your contribution to improving our collective awareness and understanding of what life is like for some of our younger transgender members of our society.

So I end as I started. We all have a duty to take up the fight against transphobia, homophobia and discrimination faced by LGBTIQ people and their families across Australia. We all have a duty to educate ourselves, to inform ourselves and to ensure our services are culturally inclusive and welcoming. Above all, we must respect our transgender, gender diverse and intersex community members. I stand proudly here to say to our transgender, gender diverse and intersex community members: you do matter, and I and the Australian Greens will continue to work hard in this place and around Australia to make the world a better place for you and your families.

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