On Friday, March 31st this year, the weather in Melbourne was appalling – even by the usual standards of Melbourne weather1I’m allowed to say that because I’ve lived here most of my life.. Nonetheless, over 3000 people assembled at Trades Hall in the pouring rain, and marched down to Parliament House, where they occupied the steps. The crowd stretched down Collins Street past Exhibition Street, and sprawled along Spring Street towards both Bourke and Flinders Streets. Over two hours, as it got steadily darker, wetter, and colder, they cheered, applauded, and chanted slogans of defiance and celebration. There was no violence, and no need for any police intervention. It was the definition of passionate, peaceful protest, and it made me, as a trans person, proud of my community and deeply grateful for our allies.
The occasion was the international Trans Day of Visibility. It was one of the few bright spots for LGBTQIA+ folk and their allies, in a month that was supposed to be dedicated to celebrating diversity.
Even before Pride Month officially kicked off, hatred of queer people, especially trans folk, was ramping up. Don’t misunderstand me, though, it’s always there. And I’m not just talking about someone giving their opinion that being trans is somehow unnatural or un-Christian. I’m talking about targeted bullying, about conspiracy theorists “analysing” celebrity jawlines to prove whether Michelle Obama is “really a man”. I’m talking about deliberate lies being spread to further an agenda as vile as it is incomprehensible.
On February 25, parishioners at the Pitt Street Uniting Church in Sydney painted its steps in rainbow colours as part of preparations for inclusive church services during Pride Month. One elderly woman was harassed by a man who filmed her as he shouted that she was going to hell, that what she was doing wasn’t “Christian”. She answered him with grace and dignity, but apparently that wasn’t good enough. Later that night, another video surfaced, in which men can be heard laughing and saying “Fuck the LGB”, as they splashed grey paint all over the steps. Those videos were shared widely on social media, with many commenters expressing their approval for the vandalism.
On March 18, UK anti-trans activist and self-described “TERF”2Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshul (aka “Posie Parker”) held a rally on the steps of Melbourne’s Parliament as part of her planned tour of Australia and New Zealand. She was joined by a small group of her supporters, anti-vax “cookers” out for their usual Saturday afternoon stroll around Melbourne, and by former Liberal MP Moira Deeming. She was also joined by members of the National Socialist Network, a neo-Nazi group who were permitted to stand on the steps with a large banner that read “Destroy Paedo Freaks” and perform Nazi salutes. The Nazis were later escorted by police past a group of queer and ally protesters who had been shoved back against walls on the far side of the street. Those same protesters were later manhandled by police in an unnecessary use of force.
Keen-Minshul uttered lie after despicable lie about trans folk. She claimed that children were being coerced and brainwashed into being trans, that they were being forced to undergo “irreversible” hormone treatment and “mutilation” (her word for gender-affirming surgery) which would leave them autistic, homosexual, and traumatised. She repeated unfounded accusations that men were “pretending” to be “women” so they could invade “women’s spaces” – toilets and sport. Not one shred of proof was offered, but that didn’t matter to her followers. They screamed for trans folk to be locked up, castrated, even executed.
Moving on to Tasmania, on March 21 Keen-Minshul held another rally – this one considerably smaller, and without accompanying Nazis. At that one, she attacked Greens MP Cassy O’Connor, calling her a “groomer” for supporting her trans son. Two days later, Keen-Minshul appeared in Canberra, where we were treated to the disgusting sight of Federal Senators Pauline Hanson, Alex Antic, and Malcolm Roberts supporting her as she spewed her hate and lies yet again. Hanson took her own turn at the microphone to make it clear that she, as an elected representative, was perfectly happy to endorse these lies. When Senator Lidia Thorpe attempted to protest the rally, she was grabbed by Keen-Minsul’s supporters and knocked to the ground.
It wasn’t all about Keen-Minshul and her Tour of Hate, though. Queer folk reported being verbally abused, spat on, and assaulted by people claiming to be “protecting the children”. Videos popped up all over the internet in which unseen narrators raged about seeing Pride flags, and how “the gays” were “stealing God’s rainbow”. Conspiracy theorist David “Guru” Graham took it upon himself to abuse and threaten volunteers at a lifesaving club who dared to hang a Pride flag on the window, and to call upon his followers to go to other clubs and engage in the same behaviour. As a result, planned events at the club were cancelled out of fear of violence.
On social media, the bullying ramped up even further, with people going out of their way to spew hate at trans folk. For example, one of my tweets, made after the vandalism of the Pitt Street Church steps, simply said that we, as queer folk, would continue to live our lives. In the space of the next few days, I was told to shut up, to keep my hands off “our” kids, to stop spreading filth. I was also told I should kill myself, that I should “get AIDS and die”, and that I deserved to be hanged. And this was mild compared to some of the vicious things sent to other LGBTQIA+ people.
Even on the Trans Day of Visibility, viewers of livestream broadcasts of the rally bombarded the accompanying chats with both hate and threats. Here’s just a sample:
“That crowd needs a truck to drive through them.”3In 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, a neo-Nazi rammed his car into a crowd of people counter-protesting a far-right, white supremacist rally, killing one and injuring 35.
“Where’s a shotgun when you need one lol.”
“Disgusting pedos!!! Get away from our children!”
“Protect the kids!”
“Save the kids bash a tranny”
“Uganda’s got the right idea!”4 Uganda passed a law in March this year that would punish anyone who engaged in “homosexual acts” with death.
And then there was Belfield.
NSW Senator Mark Latham planned to give a speech at a local church denouncing the “trans agenda”. A small group of queer rights activists decided to hold a peaceful “speak-out” protest on the other side of the street from that church. Upon learning this, a man named Christian Sukkar who is a member of the “Christian Lives Matter” group, posted a video in which he urged men to go to the church to confront the protesters, “grab them and you drag them by their fucking hair and you fucking get them out of there … you fucken shake them up”.
The result? A large mob of men, many wearing Christian Lives Matter tshirts, armed themselves with rocks and bottles and violently attacked the protesters. People were terrorised. The thugs punched people in their faces, and were caught on video delivering coward’s punches to the back of protester’s heads. And yes, protesters were dragged to the ground by their hair. Police were completely outnumbered, but nonetheless tried to shield the protesters from harm – they were also attacked.
All of this took place in one month – and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the truly frightening hate that is out there.
We are not hated for anything we’ve done. We’re not targeted for having committed any crime. We are being attacked simply for being who we are.
Anti-trans people will tell you that it’s about “protecting the children”. They’ll parrot easily provable lies that claim we are predators. They’ll say women are not safe from “men pretending to be women”. They’ll rail about women’s sports being “invaded by men”.5Keen-Minshul and her followers, in particular, love to scream in the faces of people they suspect to be trans women, “You’re a man! You’re a man!” They’ll scream that governments are bowing to the “trans agenda” and taking away parental rights, that kids as young as 10 years old are being subjected to horrific medical abuse because of “activist” doctors and politicians. And they’ll rant about drag queens preying on little children and “sexualising” them while pretending to read them stories.
NONE OF THIS IS TRUE
It takes barely any work at all to expose these claims for the lies they are. Doctors cannot simply decide, on a whim, to overrule parental rights. There are provisions for situations like family breakdown and parental abuse where a doctor may contact welfare authorities, designed to protect children, but these are extremely unusual and subject to strict rules and scrutiny. Men are not rushing to medically and surgically transition in order to steal women’s gold medals. Neither are they subjecting themselves to a lifelong regime of medical intervention with all its complications just so they can go into a toilet and attack someone. Go look it up for yourself, and you’ll see just how quickly these lies fall apart. I’ll wait.
As for the claim that trans folk and drag queens are paedophiles… well, this is the same boogeyman that queerphobic groups have been trotting out for some decades now, except that back in the 1970s and 80s the target was gay men. Otherwise, the rhetoric hasn’t changed. Baseless claims that by their mere existence, trans people endanger children. Lurid stories about depravity and filth supposedly taking place at drag queen story time, and of children being “sexualised” by having drag queens paint their faces and encourage them to dress up in glitter and sparkles.6If you’ve ever been to a market, you’ll know that these exact things happen every week, and no one screams then about the cute makeup on a happy kid’s face.
Ironically, these same groups are utterly silent about the proven institutionalised child abuse in organisations like the Catholic Church, sporting clubs, and the Scouts. Horrific abuse carried out by cis straight men, and systematically covered up and excused for decades. When victims and their families rightly wanted to protest outside the funeral of Cardinal George Pell, some of the loudest voices condemning them were the same self-anointed “protectors of children” who attack trans folk on a daily basis.
Too many people are taking the lies on face value, though. For a while, I thought I could understand why some might be misled – when a lie is told with enough assumed authority, supported by “evidence” that doesn’t tell the real story, and endorsed by elected representatives and some of the loudest voices in mainstream media, people will tend to go along with it. But the facts are out there, easily findable. So at best, we’re looking at laziness. At worst, wilful ignorance.
And that doesn’t account for the outright vicious hatred directed at trans folk for even existing. People go out of their way to tell us we are mentally ill, perverted, disgusting. We’re told to “get help”, to “keep it to ourselves”, to “not inflict it on the rest of us”. Complete strangers make a point of telling us that we “just need a good fuck” to sort us out.7And if that sounds horribly familiar to you, it should. So-called “curative rape” is a long-established part of hatred towards marginalised groups. We’re told we should all die or be killed.
Why? What have we ever done to cis folk that they should do this to us?
How does our having different pronouns from the ones others think we should have hurt them? What does it matter to them if we wear a dress or pants? What rights will they lose by us existing? How are they harmed by us living openly as the genders we know that we are and not the ones imposed on us?
They’re not. The idea that cis folk are somehow going to be disadvantaged if we are not ruthlessly suppressed and excluded from being a normal party of society is an old one. You don’t have to think back very far to remember the hysterical bleating coming from opponents of marriage equality. They claimed that allowing the marriage of two men (or women, or any couple that wasn’t cis and heterosexual) would somehow destroy the very notion of marriage itself. And yet here we are, six years after marriage equality became law in Australia, and strangely, heterosexual marriage has not, in fact, been affected in the slightest.
It’s no surprise that Christian fundamentalists – or at least, those calling themselves Christians – are right in the vanguard of this crusade of hate. LGBTQIA+ people have been targets for their vitriol for over a century. These “Christians” have advocated using everything from incarceration, to electroshock treatment, to abusive “conversion” practices in order to erase queer people from existence.8Oh, and let’s not forget the ones who just think a bullet is the best solution. Some of them say it’s because they love us and want to “save” us. Here’s a hint for you – if you’re calling for us to be subjected to abuse and violence, you don’t love us.
Others are just proud of their bigotry. They bleat about how we’re not “normal”, how an artificially created gender binary is “fact”. They condemn us for having sex that isn’t some IKEA “insert tab A into slot B” procedure. And they see nothing wrong with using violence to enforce that.
Oh, and lest you think that this is confined to one month, or maybe it’s just something that happens in the United States … think again. This level of hate is what Australian trans folk have to deal with daily. Turn on the news, and we’re confronted by stories about drag queen story time being shut down because of threats of violence and harassment. Go on Facebook, and you’ll see posts from the most unexpected people wanting to know why we just can’t “keep it to ourselves”. Go on Twitter, and our little tweets celebrating some aspect of our queer existence draw hate and threats from complete strangers halfway around the world. And let’s not forget YouTube, where simply typing “trans” into the search bar produces hate and lies in its top results.
Watch Parliament, and we see politicians like Pauline Hanson, Malcolm Roberts, and Alex Antic spew disgusting lies into Hansard and call for laws to be passed that would deny us healthcare and force us into a miserable life of denying who we are. We also see politicians who claim to be our allies minimising the situation as a “fringe” issue designed to distract voters from the “real” concerns of Australian society.
Our lives are not fringe issues. Over 60% of us will experience depression, and half of us will contemplate suicide at least once in our lives. Half of us will be sexually assaulted, overwhelmingly by cis heterosexual men. Trans women of colour, in particular, will be targeted for assault. Not because we’re trans, but because we are confronted daily with a society that, increasingly, hates us for even existing.
People like Keen-Minshul, and organisations like the National Socialist Network, can freely scream their lies and hate from the very steps of our state Parliament. Queerphobes can broadcast these same lies on every mainstream media platform. In Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia, there are currently no laws to protect us from public vilification or discrimination.
And yet even supposedly rational, fair-minded people wonder why we take to the streets and march for our rights. After all, what possible rights could we want that we don’t already have?
The right to live our lives openly and in peace as the genders we know ourselves to be.
Without being vilified for being who we are.
Without being discriminated against.
Without being accused of horrific crimes that we have never committed.
Without being threatened with harassment and violence.
Without laws being passed that are designed to abuse us.
Without being driven to the point of suicide by people who think we shouldn’t exist.
Without being afraid of being bashed, raped, or murdered by people who think they’re righteous crusaders for some imagined moral standard.
But make no mistake. We don’t “want” these rights. We claim these rights.
They can paint over our steps. They can deface our murals and tear down our flags. They can spew their hate and their lies. They can spout their nonsense and their conspiracy theories until they’re blue in the face.
We have always been here. We are not going anywhere. They won’t chase us back into the shadows, and they won’t make us cease to exist. We will not sit down, we will not shut up, and we cannot let hate win.
But we need allies. We need you. Maybe you’re reading this and thinking it doesn’t affect you, you’re not trans and you don’t know anyone who is. Respectfully – you’re wrong. Transphobic hate and violence affects everyone. Your families. Your friends. Your children. If you turn a blind eye, you send a message that you are happy to live in a world where diversity is criminalised and viciously suppressed. That you condone horrific abuse against the most marginalised and vulnerable people. That you are perfectly content to be fed lies by people in authority who know they are lying.
I’d like to believe that you are not that kind of person. I desperately want to feel that you are compassionate, and wise, and courageous. That you care enough about other people to even do the smallest things. Read about us in our own words. Learn about being an ally. Encourage your workplaces to respect our gender identities. Call out lies when you hear them. Support local LGBTQIA+ events by asking your councils not to be intimidated by hate. Sign petitions. Maybe even stand with us when we counter hate and lies screamed into a microphone.