Australia's first legal transgender person Estelle Asmodelle looks at the growth of anti-trans movements in Australia, a country she believed was reasonably tolerant.
*CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses transphobia
ON 13 OCTOBER 1987, I became the first legal transgender person in Australia after changing the name on my NSW birth certificate from a male to a female name.
I was also the first transgender person to be given a passport with the new sex designation. This all happened after a long personal campaign to gain equal rights. I wasn't a member of a group or political organisation member but just one person on a mission.
That mission started in Singapore after being contracted to work as a professional dancer at the Peninsula Excelsior Hotel.
After a police preview of the show, it became apparent by my documentation alone that I was transsexual (the common usage of the word transgender has only been recent). I was immediately placed under arrest and much discrimination and persecution resulted. Neither the Australian Foreign Affairs department nor the Australian Embassy was interested.
So, it began: when I returned home, I worked tirelessly over two years to change some antiquated laws.
Afterwards, I worked as a professional dancer in some of the best venues in the world as a female. Eventually, I had to leave behind dancing and move on to other lines of work. And so, I returned to my career as an artist. I was happy until recently, thinking that Australia was a tolerant country and laws were in the right place and getting better for trans people.
Then came Donald Trump and his particular brand of hate and discrimination. He made it okay for the American people to hate again. The tolerance the U.S. had achieved was erased within a few months of his presidency. Since then, his brand of discriminatory cognitive dissonance has swept the world, including Australia.
Since the start of 2023 in the U.S., no less than 471 anti-trans bills have been introduced in 36 states. Many of them target trans youth, where the motivation is to close gender-confirming clinics that help trans youth. The irony is that gender-affirming care has helped many young people and reduced suffering and suicide.
According to the Washington Department of Epidemiology School of Public Health, those who have received gender-affirming care had the following:
'60% lower odds of depression and 73% lower odds of self-harm or suicidal thoughts.'
However, that is all about to change. The conservative Christian lobby and the far-Right are behind many bills and much disinformation sweeping the U.S.
"Transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely."
Basically, this appears to be calling for genocide against trans people.
The situation in the UK is not much better, where it is reported that the political Right are 'rolling back civil rights for trans people specifically and LGBT people more broadly'.
And it is not much better in Australia, which is abhorrent to me now, but once seemed a more tolerant place for trans people.
Admittedly, in the 1980s, I experienced a lot of discrimination, but I always believed tolerance came with education. That is until we entered the era of fake news and disinformation.
Liberal candidate Katherine Deves has touted anti-trans disinformation as a primary aspect of her political campaign. This disinformation has appeared on paid ads by Binary Australia. We are now seeing the far-Right and QAnon influencing such rhetoric.
The protest in Melbourne by Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull (aka Posie Parker), entitled "Let Women Speak", was basically a transphobic rally. Some trans people protested peacefully against Parker, only to have neo-Nazis align themselves with her while giving the Sieg Heil.
Honestly, it was hard to watch and realise this was Australia in 2023.
Later, Liberal MP Bridget Archer admitted that rally organisers are"openly saying that it is an anti-transgender protest".
Posie Parker has publicly invited gun-carrying men into women's toilets to protect women from transgender women. This is insanity and extreme vilification of trans women.
Recently, about 15 LGBTQ+ protesters were peacefully protesting against Mark Latham and Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party outside a church in Belfield when some of the large (about 500 people) audience listening to Latham's speech attacked them, hitting the protesters with projectiles.
What has happened to the Australia that I believed was tolerant and caring? It has been sidetracked by hate speech and misinformation, and it is challenging to fight ignorance.
Trans people are at risk at the best of the time.
Almost 50% of trans people have tried to commit suicide, according to a report by the Kirby Institute at University NSW:
' [Comparatively] 53.2% of participants had reported experiencing sexual violence or coercion [compared with] 13.3% among a general sample of people in Australia.'
That number will surely go up now.
In other parts of the world, things are even darker, specifically for trans people and broadly for LGBTQ+ people. An example is Uganda's Parliament passing a Bill criminalising people identifying as LGBTQ+ — imposing the death penalty for some offences.
And sadly, it looks like the shooter of the latest mass shooting in the U.S. was transgender. This will make the anti-trans movement even stronger in the U.S. (Although, clearly, mental health issues and guns were behind this shooting, not sexuality.)
I think the world has lost its way on many issues, but one that affects people like me is this anti-trans hate spreading like a virus.
Trans people want to live their lives and now we will have to hold tight to what we have and hope people see the truth and find the tolerance they seem to have given away. We are all human beings. It doesn't matter the skin colour, the land of birth, our sexuality or our religion.
We should all respect each other and have compassion towards one another.
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