Each year on 31 March, the International Transgender Day of Visibility brings the trans and gender-diverse community and their friends, advocates and families together and offers them an important opportunity to publicly affirm and celebrate trans and gender-diverse people’s lives, their stories and their contributions to our communities.
We have seen significant progress in the fight for rights and community acceptance for trans and gender-diverse people in recent years. Much of this progress has been due to the work of incredibly brave and diligent leaders working within their community—people like Georgie Stone, who is an inspiring young activist who was here in parliament this week when she presented a petition with more than 15,000 signatures calling for much-needed legal reforms allowing trans teens to access hormones without going through the court system; people like Sally Goldner, who is the first trans woman named to the Victorian Honour Roll of Women for her longstanding work in the LGBTI community and her outstanding advocacy; and people like Brenda Appleton, who was inducted to the honour roll just a few weeks ago for her many years of groundbreaking work including the establishment of a peer-based mental health support service.
Leaders like Georgie, Sally and Brenda show us the power of public advocacy and visibility. Greater visibility and awareness lead to greater acceptance, and on this note I find it very encouraging that referrals to the Royal Children’s Hospital gender service in Melbourne have increased dramatically over the last five years. In 2012, they had fewer than 20 new referrals. Last year there were 226 new referrals, and I understand that the service is on track to receive around 300 new referrals this year.
This increase is not happening because there are suddenly more trans people, and it is not happening because, to quote the rantings and ravings of the News Limited papers, the Safe Schools program has become ‘a Trojan horse employed by Marxist and socialist-Left activists to force a radical lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex agenda on children and schools’. No, the rocketing increase in the number of kids presenting is because trans young people feel safer and more comfortable in coming forward to seek the medical assistance they need to proudly and happily live their lives as the people they truly are.
International Transgender Day of Visibility is a fantastic opportunity for trans and gender-diverse leaders and communities, allies and advocates to stand together. This solidarity is growing. I was thrilled to meet Tiwi Islander Sistergirls and Pacific Islander trans community members at this year’s Mardi Gras. I hope that, as acceptance and visibility continues to grow in years to come, more and more diverse people and communities will join in the Mardi Gras celebration.
But unfortunately, despite these encouraging signs, there is still a long way to go. Just yesterday, I heard the heart-rending story of Archie, who was physically and verbally harassed and humiliated for wearing makeup on a night out in Melbourne. Archie said he was singled out by a guy in the street. He stopped all his mates to swear at him. After challenging him, Archie was then abused by the group of men for 15 minutes for ‘starting a fight’, ‘not minding our own business’ and ‘taking things too seriously’. Archie continues by saying how later, at a bar, a stranger began propositioning the two women friends he was with, and he says: ‘As I put my arms around them and said we weren’t interested, he began to shout that he knew what I really wanted and that he’d be happy to bend over for me. We finally managed to get to the bar and as we waited in line, the people standing directly behind us openly speculated about my sexuality until one of them reassured the others that I “might not actually be gay”.’ Nobody’s night out should be ruined and their safety compromised simply for being who they are, but sadly these types of incidents still occur.
I also acknowledge that there is work to be done to ensure diversity in who and what is ‘visible.’ Sadly, in mainstream discussions about trans rights in Australia, some voices are too often excluded, such as trans people of colour, trans refugees and asylum seekers, genderqueer people, gender-fluid people, brother boys and sister girls, and anyone who exists outside of the gender binary. To these communities and individuals, I give my heartfelt commitment to listen to you and learn from you about how to be a better ally. I want you to know: if you identify as a trans or gender-diverse person and feel that your voice is not being heard, please contact me, because I want to hear your story. Everybody has the right to be comfortable with their identity, to be safe and happy, and to be part of our community. International Transgender Day of Visibility is a chance to recognise progress, to congratulate communities and individuals working towards justice and equality, and to reflect upon how much more we as a community can do to make this happen.
I would now like to take time to congratulate the Adelaide Crows on their grand final win over the weekend and the whole AFL women’s competition on a thrilling first season. I am only a first generation Victorian. My family heritage is firmly South Australian, and of course I am claiming it this week given the Crows’ win. My cousin Ian will be very pleased to hear me say that! It was a great game, and I am flawed by the skill of players like Erin Phillips—an elite basketballer and just an astounding footballer.
Watching the medal presentation to these premiership players gave me goosebumps. It represented so much, after year upon year of watching the AFL grand final celebrations, to see women on that dais this time. All the pioneering women footballers who came before this year’s competition can claim their portion of the glory, and we thank them for paving the way. Women have been honing and developing this game for years, and some are lucky to be in the generation that have finally taken their place on the elite stage.
It is inarguable that women’s footy is here to stay. This season of elite competition has been thrilling, and it has drawn legions of fans to watch in person and on telly. I went along to my beloved Bulldogs’ first game, at Whitten Oval. It was a beautiful late summer’s night and the warm glow was enhanced when we beat Freo. Commiserations to my colleague Adam Bandt, who was cheering his hometown’s Dockers that night. He was drowned out by the west’s barracking for the red, white and blue. There was a big crowd there that night. This new league brought a refreshed fan base with it. I was surprised and delighted to see the number of young people; groups of friends, men and women alike; and young families with six-year-old girls, with their favourite player’s number on the back of their footy jumper, hanging out on for an autograph at the end of the game.
We have come so far in the last decade. When my sons were playing junior football the girls they played with, though small in number, were often amongst the best players in the team. But once they got through under-12s it was: ‘Sorry love, you can’t play anymore.’ Last Sunday morning I rode my bike past one of the grounds they had played at, JJ Holland Reserve in Kensington, and there were two women’s games in full swing! While the AFL competition has been a breath of fresh air, we still have a long way to go in terms of how our women footballers and athletes across codes are recognised and compensated on an equal footing with their male counterparts. The average female wage in the AFL is $8,500. The average male wage in the AFL is $300,000.
I went along recently to the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance’s Game Changers forum in Melbourne. It was a platform for an important conversation about women transforming Australian sport. We heard from the likes of Angela Pippos, Caroline Wilson, Ros Lanigan and Kelli Underwood—all women who live and breathe sport and play vital roles in our media landscape. We heard about the problems with our mainstream media. ‘It’s still male, pale and stale,’ said Angela Pippos commenting on the white blokes dominating the sports media. That is pretty reflective of many other public spaces, wouldn’t you say? It is unfortunate, but this is still the case. Kelli Underwood noted that, unlike women in sports media, Gerard Whateley has never been rated out of 10 for an outfit on a red carpet! It is thanks to women like Angela and her colleagues, as well as the players and other women’s footy pioneers, that we have some reason for hope—hope for women to take the field, to take the premiership days and to take the commentary microphones in even greater numbers. This is their rightful place, and we should celebrate them.
This Parliament has played a role in celebrating women’s sport in a range of ways through the years. To further that work, I have been pleased to have fruitful conversations with my parliamentary colleagues about the prospect of establishing a parliamentary ‘Friends of AFL Women’ group. We will of course follow the proper avenues with the President and the Speaker in due course, but we hope to have the support of our colleagues across the Parliament.
Congratulations again to all the teams who took the field in this first season of the AFL women’s competition. It has been a blinder!
I want to finish tonight by reflecting upon my experience in the Senate over the almost three years that I have been here. When people ask me how it is going, I will often prevaricate. I say what a privilege it is to represent people, to be an advocate for them. I reflect upon meeting people such as the Muslim women I had morning tea with on Sunday. They were wonderful engaged women. They were engineers, entrepreneurs, medical practitioners. They were bringing their community together and contributing to our broader community in so many ways. It is a privilege to be their advocate and to represent their views in this parliament. They do not deserve to be the brunt of the racism and prejudice that is thrown at them in this parliament, such as that spouted by Senator Hanson earlier tonight.
When I reflect on how my almost three years have been going I move on to how, because of senators like Senator Hanson and others in the government ranks, I often find being here in parliament pretty soul destroying. It is not because people are challenging me with ideas different from my own. I relish that. I love to be challenged. I love to tussle with ideas and new ways of looking at things. No, it is because so much of what passes for debate in this chamber is based on division, prejudice, arrogance, total disrespect for evidence and science, and spruiking total fantasy as fact.
My politics is based on respect and love; on treating all people as equals regardless of background; on presuming the best in people; on celebrating difference and diversity, not being challenged by it; on seeing us Australians as citizens of the world, a part of a global humanity; on respecting the rights of the rest of nature that we share our small planet with; and on respecting the rights of the people and species of the future. They deserve to have the same chances as we do to live healthy lives.
My politics is also based on paying attention to evidence and to science. What I find particularly galling in the debates here is the people in positions of power and influence, the senators in this chamber, who wilfully deny scientific evidence; who are helping to put the lives of all of us and of future generations, and the amazing diversity of life on this planet, at risk; who, despite the evidence of the harm being done by global warming, refuse to act on that evidence; who talk platitudes about protecting the Great Barrier Reef but plan to open up a coalmine that, when that coal is burnt, will result in carbon pollution equivalent to the emissions of New York City; and who laugh when the starkness of the evidence, the record coral bleaching that is going to kill the Great Barrier Reef, is put before them, as it was in question time today. They laugh, and they wash their hands of the shared responsibility of all of us to act. Our life support systems on this planet are at crisis point, yet we are sleepwalking into these crises. The Greens are committed to tackling global warming and all the other crises that we are facing with an emergency-scale response, appropriate to the scale and the urgency of the problems we face.
To get over the soul-destroying elements of being here, I try to stay positive. I try to feel that our role here is to continue to try to bring people together. So I want to conclude by inviting all others in this place to join with us in facing reality and in being part of the solutions to the problems we face, not the problems. I will do my best to stay positive and optimistic that others here will eventually see sense and we can tackle these problems together.
Chamber Senate on 28/03/2017 Item ADJOURNMENT – International Transgender Day of Visibility, AFL Women’s League, Senate Speaker :Rice, Sen Janet Parliment of Australia Transcript used for News Reporting