Trans People Are Under Attack In The US, Here’s What That Means For Australia

Anti-trans lobbyists in Australia are taking their cues from the culture war in the US - and we need to be on alert.

trans rights US australia trans day of visibility photo

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In the northwestern state of Idaho, the Senate has just narrowly defeated a bill that would have made it a felony to provide gender-affirming care to young people. This is just one of the latest attacks in a two-year-long siege against the trans community across red states.

With how hectic global politics is right now, many people in Australia are unaware of the coordinated attack on trans people that is now underway in the US, and how we could quickly see it emulated on our shores.

Trans Americans Are Under Attack

Over the last year, there have been more than 130 pieces of anti-trans legislation tabled in states across the US. About 38 of these have targeted trans kids, aiming to deny children access to gender-affirming health care. Of these 130 bills, 13 have been successful, with 11 states banning trans women from competing in women’s sports.

Even when these bills fail on the floor, they succeed in heightening a climate of harmful debate, contributing to rising levels of discrimination and violence against the trans community.

This concerted push is largely being led by far-right religious conservatives, right-wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, and trans-exclusionary radical feminist organisations (TERFs) like Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF). As Shon Faye notes in her book The Transgender Issue, the Heritage Foundation has played a key role in resourcing campaigns that aim to use the trans community as a political wedge for their extreme agenda.

The campaigns are multi-pronged, well funded and have often been successful. And now they are escalating.

Last month the Texas Governor issued a directive to the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate the parents of children who access gender-affirming healthcare. While an injunction has now been served, the damage has been done, with many families choosing to leave the state rather than risk being separated from their children.

All of this is happening against the backdrop of the Equality Act. This historic Act would strengthen legal protections against discrimination for LGBTIQ people across industries such as healthcare and education. If passed, it could make it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their gender identity. Groups like the Heritage Foundation are now using damaging narratives about trans kids to try and undermine support for the entire bill. This is a key strategy of the anti-equality movement. They hope that by attacking trans people, some of the most misunderstood members of the LGBTIQ community, they can undermine the increased public acceptance of the wider community.

The Anti-Equality Agenda

This wave of anti-equality legislation has aimed to do three things: to limit access to gender-affirming care (particularly for children), to ban trans people from accessing spaces that align with their gender identity (e.g. shelters, sports teams, schools, and bathrooms), and the resourcing and normalising of damaging anti-trans conversion practices (see Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by Abigail Shrier).

All of this is incredibly damaging to our community and aims to undo decades of work by trans activists.

The debates around these bills have also proven incredibly harmful. With so many bills being debated, Republican legislators have been given free rein in the media to spread dangerous lies and dehumanising perspectives on the trans community. A video recently went viral of a state Senator asking a 14-year-old transgender girl, on public record, about her genitals and whether she wanted gender affirmation surgery.

So much for protecting children.

Tragically, we know that public debates about trans people have a human cost. When hate speech and transphobia are given a platform we see increases in hate crimes, violence, and discrimination.

Anti-trans violence reached a new record high in 2021 with at least 50 transgender people murdered in America. Of the victims, 85 percent were trans women and 66 percent were Black trans women. We have also seen a similar trend in the UK — in 2019 anti-trans hate crimes rose by 81 percent against a backdrop of increasing TERF activism.

What Does This Mean For Australia?

So firstly, Australia is a totally different beast to the US.

In Australia, most people already support trans equality. A YouGov poll commissioned by Equality Australia in 2020 found that “78 percent of Australians agree that trans people deserve the same rights and protections as other Australians (57 percent strongly agreeing)”.

Over the last 10 years, this support has grown alongside a number of landmark reforms at both the state and federal levels that allow trans people to legally affirm their genders, access care, and protect them from certain kinds of discrimination.

Also, the state of politics in Australia is vastly different from both the US and UK. For one thing, we don’t have states that are fully captured by the religious right in the same way that the US does. Additionally, having compulsory voting laws means that major parties do often try to appeal to more mainstream views.

But trans people have a lot to lose if the culture war from the US is brought over here. Unfortunately, this work is already underway. Anti-equality lobbyists in Australia have been taking notes and there are now a number of far-right groups, TERF organisations, and conservative Christian lobbyists beginning to work with politicians to build support for anti-trans bills.

Organisations that have been successful in the US and the UK have now started to set up Australian branches — such as so-called gay and lesbian organisations that exclude trans people, and one-woman outfits purporting to “save” women’s sports.

We have also seen a rise in the number of bills and motions targeting the trans community. Such as Senator Chandlers’ bill to exclude trans women from women’s sports, One Nation’s motion in the Senate to block access to gender-affirming treatment for trans kids, and One Nation’s anti-trans bill in NSW parliament that sought to undermine trans kids safety in our schools.

And now it seems the media have jumped on the bandwagon too. In 2021, the Australian Press Council said that reporting in The Australian “was unfair and caused substantial distress when it published almost 50 articles over a 10-month period about gender-affirming healthcare and transgender children and teenagers”.

Trans people have a lot to lose if the culture war from the US is brought over here.

Luckily, this hasn’t worked very well for them so far.

During the fight over the Religious Discrimination Bill, there was widespread outrage when it was revealed that the bill would protect kids who are gay from being expelled, but would not protect trans kids. Clearly, trans kids were being used as a bargaining chip to appease the Australian Christian Lobby. However, this strategy backfired and effectively sunk the bill for good. Five members of the government crossed the floor to vote with the opposition, the Greens and the cross-bench, standing up for new protections for LGBTIQ students. And the government responded by withdrawing the bill indefinitely.

This was a groundbreaking victory for equality advocates, and the first time a majority of the Australian parliament expressed support for new protections for LGBTIQ students in religious schools.

Unfortunately, the more that the public demonstrates support for our communities, the more pronounced and ugly the attacks of our opposition will become. If we are to keep our families, kids, and friends safe from these harmful debates we need to take action now.

What Can We Do?

As new attacks on the rights, dignity, and safety of trans people in Australia arise we need our communities, coworkers, families, and friends to stand in solidarity with us. That means donating to trans campaigns, having hard conversations with friends and family, and sharing our voices on social media.

With such outrageous attacks on our community happening both here and overseas we need allyship that is visible and proud. It is not good enough to be silent when we are fighting for our lives.

Trans Day of Visibility is on March 31st. It’s a day to celebrate the trans people in your life and a great opportunity to learn more. Talk to your work or clubmates about hosting an event and inviting someone to speak on the day.

You can check out my other article on how to be a trans ally here.

Jackie Turner is passionate about community power, developing the leadership of LGBTQIA+ people, and building movements that can win. They are currently working on a trans equality project at Equality Australia, working to win a society that guarantees the dignity, safety, and equality of all transgender and gender-diverse people. Follow her on Twitter.