With just days to go until the federal election, we hear from one of the few candidates campaigning on issues affecting LGBTQIA+ communities. Hannah Maher is standing for the Senate in NSW for the Reason Australia Party, along with feminist author Jane Caro and businesswoman Diana Ryall.
Out of the thousands of candidates running for both the lower house and the Senate, there are maybe six trans or gender-diverse candidates. It’s an enormous privilege to be one of them and I feel a huge responsibility to advocate and speak on behalf of this diverse but underrepresented community.
We think about 11% of people in Australia identify as LGBTQIA+ (there isn’t an exact figure as the census does not collect this data). While there are some openly gay or lesbian federal politicians (ALP Senators Penny Wong and Louise Pratt, Greens Senator Janet Rice and Liberal MPs Trent Zimmerman, Julian Hill and Tim Wilson, for example), we still don’t have a politician who represents trans and gender-diverse Australians.
Just as with women’s suffrage, we are trailing behind New Zealand, who elected Georgina Beyer to their federal parliament in 1999. Beyer was the world’s first transgender Member of Parliament, after serving as the world’s first transgender Mayor (of Carteton 1995-2000). The voters she represented felt well-served by her — they re-elected her in 2002 with an increased majority.
The US now has Sarah McBride, the first openly transgender state senator in America, elected to represent the state of Delaware. She is credited with the passage of legislation in Delaware banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity in employment, housing, insurance and public accommodations.
So what difference would it make to have an out and proud transgender woman in our Parliament?
Like Georgina Beyer and Sarah McBride, I would be in a position to draw attention to the issues that matter to our LGBTQIA+ communities, advocate for our rights and influence our laws to be less discriminatory.
The greatest threat for LGBTQIA+ students, teachers, health workers, clients and patients is if the Coalition is able to follow through on its promise to re-introduce the Religious Discrimination Bill.
Scott Morrison is standing by his decision to push ahead with the religious discrimination act, without making changes to the Sex Discrimination Act to protect sexuality and gender-diverse students at the same time.
This Bill was designed as a direct response to the Marriage Equality legislation. In my view, it’s not about protecting people’s religious views; instead I think it will have the effect of entrenching active discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Gender Diverse, and Queer students, teachers, patients and staff by religious organisations.
It's time we saw an end to the current exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act that allow religious schools and health services to treat LGBTQIA+ students, employees, clients and patients differently, on the public dollar, without recourse.
How do we achieve this change? By having more diverse representation in our political leadership for people to hear informed views on the issues that matter to us, instead of receiving what I would describe as biased media coverage expressing views of right-wing organisations, candidates and politicians.
For example, the way Warringah Liberal candidate Katherine Deves and her “Save Women’s Sport” bill was pushed in the mainstream media has, I believe, deeply harmed the trans community. In my view, it is not reasonable. It is not evidence-based. It is not compassionate. And it is certainly not being done in the spirit of women’s equity.
What’s really happening in sport is very positive — many sports are adopting the Human Rights Commission’s guidelines for the inclusion of transgender and gender-diverse people in sport.
In developing these guidelines, there were extensive consultations with over 100 stakeholders — including clubs, player associations, state and territory human rights commissions, legal and medical experts, academics, and cisgender and transgender/gender-diverse athletes. This process failed to uncover any significant concerns about trans and gender-diverse participation in sport.
The underlying principle of the guidelines, as set out by sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins, is that "participation in sport is a human right". "This makes it essential that everyone has the opportunity to participate in sport, regardless of their sex or gender identity," Jenkins writes in the foreword.
In reality, trans people participate less in team sports due to fear of discrimination. There is no evidence that trans women in sport have a ‘physical edge’ over their cisgender peers. There is some evidence that hormonal changes that accompany gender reassignment for trans women increase fat and reduce muscle strength.
This public vilification of trans women has been so harmful. I have seen people in the trans community who I love and who had been growing in confidence, go right back into their shells and live with anxiety because it feels like everyone is watching and judging us.
LGBTQIA+ people need much better access to health and mental health services, especially in rural and regional parts of the country, which need much better services for everyone.
I was born in the Trundle-Parkes area, went to school in Leeton and university in Wagga Wagga and only recently moved to Sydney with my girlfriend. Coming out as trans in Trundle was scary, but I found that everyone who knew me, was very accepting. Now my trans friends, and my girlfriend come home with me to Trundle to get spoilt by my parents.
People in the bush don't need more stereotyping. Farmers and rural town-dwellers need to be able to send their kids to school with enough teachers, and get their healthcare needs met by clinics and hospitals with enough doctors, nurses and allied health professionals.
I think the most important message I have for people voting in this election is don’t be afraid – don’t be afraid of change, or of a hung parliament. Check out the policies of the people and the parties who want your vote and find out which ones really resonate with you, especially in the Senate. Electing a more progressive Lower House will only be a job half-done if we have a reactive and regressive Senate blocking our progress. Put people into Parliament who share your concerns and your interests – and who care about the greater good.
To find out more about Hannah and her campaign for the Senate, visit https://www.janecaro4reason.com.au/about_hannah_maher.