Gender expert panel attracts anti-trans flyers and vocal allies

A small group of protestors gathered outside the State Library of Western Australia on Friday in response to a WA Equal Opportunity Commission event hosting experts speaking on gender identity for Youth Day 2022.

This article contains the views of people opposed to gender affirming health care for people who are transgender. Reader discretion is advised.

Panelists included Director of the Department of Adolescent Medicine at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne and the RCH Gender Service Associate Professor Michelle Telfer, former Headmaster of Prince Alfred College Adelaide Bradley Fenner, Principal of MLC girls’ school Dr Marie Perry and gender diverse young people Allie Messenger and Zavier Wileman.

Facilitated by Pride in Diversity Relationship Manager WA Alyce Schotte the panellists discussed how their own experiences both professionally and personally had led them to understand the importance of including a gender identity ground in the Equal Opportunity Act would be vital to the wellbeing of gender diverse youth.

Dr Telfer said despite the care and support given to young trans people through her team at Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, discrimination and abuse in their day to day lives had a hugely negative impact on this cohort’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

“When it comes to affirming one’s gender we know it takes incredible courage and perseverance.

“In terms of transphobia I see things from a distance, but I am still rocked to the core by what young trans people experience, and I back that no one would choose to put themselves in that position,” she said.

She said each one of us deeply feels their own gender identity and sense of self which is a human right. Dr Telfer said in Victoria there had been a massive change in the lives of trans youth thanks to the support of the Andrews Labor government.

“We have an extraordinarily supportive government that has put in place laws to support trans people.

“Young people can change their name and sex on birth certificates to have identity documents that reflect who they are, and you can appreciate how much safer that makes them feel,” Dr Telfer said.

She said she encourages WA to change the Equal Opportunity Act so trans young people can also be protected from gender identity discrimination.

“Every layer of safety is important and vital,” she said.

Allie Messenger said as a member of the Fremantle LGBTQIA+ community she had heard terrible stories of discrimination and abuse from other community members.

“(Trans students) have a rainbow room at their school which is a target for bullying, and users of the room have rocks thrown at them, they have been called slurs and the school has not supported them.

“They have supportive parents, but it is taking its toll,” she said.

Zavier Wileman said trans people just wanted the State Government to change the law so young trans people could get on with their lives.

“When you think of the stats around self-harm and suicide in young trans people you would have thought they would have changed the law by now,” they said.

Kate Salinger from PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians) attended the event, telling OUTinPerth that she found it to be an event that presented a hopeful outlook for changes to the state’s anti-discrimination laws and it was filled with exceptional speakers.

“The speakers were a perfect balance of youth voices, medical facts and context on the educational setting. Although the counter presence was unsettling it paled in contrast to the quality of speakers and familiar faces in the audience.

Salinger said that during her presentation Dr Telfer directly addressed the issue of detransitioners.

“When asked about the very small percentage of people seeking gender affirming treatments that may experience regret, Dr Telfer explained very clearly and precisely the research, outlined the statistics, the social pressure that is the reason most often given for the regret, and compared gender affirming medical care to other medical interventions, where the ‘success rate’ and importance of gender affirming health care was starkly illuminated,” Salinger said.

Protesters say gender affirming model should be abandoned

Protesters targeted the event claiming transgender health care has long term negative effects that medical experts are failing to acknowledge.

Outside the Library a small group of protestors spoke out against transgender affirming healthcare, handing out flyers claiming medical treatment left people with long-term side effects effects, and that gender affirming care has been made “mandatory”.

Currently in Western Australia, trans folks must present to the Gender Reassignment Board in order to have their gender legally affirmed, and there must be no disagreement or ‘controversy’ among a child’s parents and the members of the treating medical team to begin medical intervention such as hormone blockers, testosterone or estrogen. If parents do not consent to treatment on a minor, the case can then proceed to the Family Court.

The protestors also voiced concerns about mainstream media not covering media that contradicts trans-affirming healthcare, despite national broadsheet The Australian featuring a dedicated Gender section, which had been found to report overwhelmingly negative coverage on trans lives and healthcare, and well as breaching Australian Press Council reporting standards.

Among the protestors, two people had arrived to counter-protest in support of the event and defend transgender youth.

Local mum Carmen Stobaus, who was wielding a sign that read “Protect Trans Kids” on one side and “Stop Bigotry” on the other, told us why she felt it was important to show up for trans kids.

“I have dedicated my life to supporting children, I have two children of my own and I’ve spent the last 10 years working as an education assistant in the public education system,” Stobaus told OUTinPerth.

“My life is about supporting and protecting children and when I hear about a protest rally about protesting a trans child’s right to exist as they want to exist in the world, that is bigotry and I will drop things and come into the city and show them there is an alternate position.”

“The medical professionals are the experts on the situation, not armchair enthusiasts watching Sky News.”

Speaking on her experience working in public education, Stobaus says progress towards a more safe and inclusive society for trans youth is far too slow.

“It took us three years of fighting to get one transgender toilet in the school and it’s constantly locked.”

This week Western Australian Attorney General John Quigley announced a major overhaul of the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

Leigh Andrew Hill, Graeme Watson 

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