18th October 2023 15:52
Victorian Legislative Council, Melbourne
Rachel PAYNE (South-Eastern Metropolitan) (15:51): I rise today to confirm Legalise Cannabis Victoria will not be supporting this motion. I am not trans or gender-diverse, so I do not claim to speak for the community, but with a lack of direct representation in this place, allies must use their voices. I have always had transgender people in my life, so today I would like to honour some of them.
When I was a little girl, Noel and Denise were dear friends of our family. Mum and Denise would often spend weekends together at dog shows. They shared a love of showing their prize-winning Pekingese dogs, although it was generally Denise’s dogs that were the prize winners – sorry, Jules. As a little girl, I was enamoured of Denise. She was tall, confident, vivacious and incredibly funny. She was fabulous in the eyes of me as a seven-year-old. One of my favourite childhood memories is of Denise encouraging me to pick some of the grapefruits from her backyard tree, stick them up my T-shirt and pretend to be Dolly Parton. We danced and sang in her backyard. Denise is a transgender woman, now in her 70s, and she and Noel still go to the dog shows with my mum. As I was a curious kid, my mum provided me with a perfectly acceptable explanation as to why Denise was so tall and had a husky voice. It was because she loved a Benson & Hedges, and she was born in the wrong body and needed to change that.
In my first year of university in 2000, only new to Lismore, the first friend I made was Nick. We used to carpool to uni together, for which I am forever grateful, because Nick introduced me to Ani DiFranco and used to play cassette tapes on the journey. Ani DiFranco is still to this day one of the most influential artists in my life thanks to Nick, and Nick’s story from that time has also stuck with me. You see, Nick was in the process of transitioning, and back then you had to spend five years working with a psychologist to be approved to access hormone therapy – five years of therapy. Nick was always a boy, and he struggled to understand why he could not do the same activities as his younger brother – namely, Nick wanted to join the army reserve like his brother. Nick provided me an insight into what the world was like for him and just how hard it was to fight and continue to advocate just to be himself.
Today as an MP in this place I am blessed to have a very talented, intelligent, hardworking, charming and witty staff member who helped me write this and who is trans. It saddens me incredibly that despite the progress we have made, we are still here having to have this fight. This motion shares the same ideologically harmful pseudoscientific foundation as the anti-trans rally on Parliament’s steps earlier this year. It seeks to dehumanise and strip rights away from one of Victoria’s most vulnerable communities, a community that has weathered so much hatred and abuse, particularly in the last 12 months.
Not only is this motion harmful; it is based on countless list of inaccuracies, half-truths and mischaracterisations. Take, for instance, point (1) of the motion, which claims that medical affirmation for minors experiencing gender dysphoria is:
… one of the most controversial areas of medicine due to the lack of clinical consensus about what is being treated …
Incorrect. A clearly defined definition of gender dysphoria backed by almost a century of research is accepted by the Australian Medical Association, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the British Medical Association, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and countless other national and international organisations.
This is as close as you will get to a consensus in clinical science. There are medical professionals who understand and respect the science, and then there are extreme outliers who let their personal biases cloud objective facts. Medical professionals know what they are treating and they know how to treat it.
Point (1) of this motion also asks the inquiry to explore the alternative pathways which exist. The only known alternative to gender-affirming care is conversion therapy, a faith-based practice that does not work. It is not supported by science. It is illegal in Victoria and is known to cause significant psychological and physical damage to people who experience it. I do not think anyone could argue it is safer to trust a member of the clergy with a child’s care over a medical professional. Conversion therapy is not therapy, it is abuse. A 2021 Melbourne University report stated that gender-diverse people who could not access required medical care experienced a 71 per cent higher chance of attempting suicide. That same study showed gender-diverse people who could access care experienced better mental health and overall quality of life. Medical transition is an individual process carefully considered and discussed between doctor and patient – and parent if the patient is under this age of 16. Dr Ada Cheung’s research and work with gender-diverse youth champions an individual model of care and highlights that gatekeeping support and treatment services for gender-diverse minors causes negative mental and physical health outcomes. You cannot just wander off the street into a clinic and walk out on hormone replacement therapy. The medical transition process is long, carefully tailored to each patient’s needs and fundamentally designed to allow people to live a full and happy life. The science is clear, extensive and peer reviewed. Gender diversity is not new, and it is not a phase.
Moving to point (2) of the motion and the concept of rights of the child, parents and professionals, I previously worked at the Family Court, and I saw how traumatising it was for the parents of children with gender dysphoria to attend court just to be able to access treatment. You see, at that time the hospital and the parents would have to bring the child before a judge to receive that approval, which is often a lengthy and tedious process. The parents or legal guardians were always in attendance, and any judge will tell you the rights are with the child, not the parent. As former Justice Bell would often tout, children have rights, parents have responsibilities.
Despite what many in this chamber may think, gender diversity is not some new-age leftie phenomenon. There is a rich history of gender diversity in this country and overseas. In the 2015 book Colouring the Rainbow First Nations people spoke about being LGBTIQA+. Because of their individual stories and countless others like them, we know gender diversity has been in Australia since long before British invasion. One example is the sister girls, who live in the Tiwi islands, an area where over 5 per cent of the population identifies as trans or gender-diverse. Internationally there is evidence of gender diversity in ancient cultures at least as far back as 3000 BC. It is just five millennia before the Nazi regime ransacked and destroyed the world’s first transgender medical clinic, including the incineration and subsequent erasure of thousands of clinical records, research and over 20,000 books on gender-diverse care. Despite efforts to erase gender diversity from the history books, we know it is an ancient part of a kaleidoscope of human diversity, and the science tells us it does not fade over time or from attempts to suppress it.
Being transgender or gender-diverse is not a risk to these young people. Seeking out gender-affirming care is not a risk for these young people. Where these young people are put at risk is in a society where they are subjected daily to horrid abuse, hate and systematic barriers to accessing the care they require.
Motions like this one in front of us today are part of the problem. It represents an accelerated wave of social stigma towards trans and gender-diverse people, not just in Victoria but around the globe, and I encourage every member of this place to consider the real people we are discussing today. We will not be supporting this hateful and purposely misinformed motion.