Transphobia and a life lived on the fringe

Lisa Annese
Topics LGBTIQ+

Last week filled me with hope. Hope that the Australian community and workplaces were becoming more inclusive and valuing of diversity.  I attended many events put on by Diversity Council Australia members in the days leading up to and on #IDAHOBiT day (the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia).  

The week culminated in a spectacular event on Friday 19 May, the 2017 Pride in Diversity LGBTI Inclusion awards where Australia’s leading employers came together to celebrate inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer identifying individuals across workplaces, in sport and in the community.  At the event, international jurist, educator and former judge, The Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG spoke of what he referred to as "an affront to human rights" – the horrific murder of two gay rights activists in Bangladesh, Xulhaz Mannan, founder of the country’s only LGBTIQ+ magazine and journalist Tanay Mojudr, and the caning of two men in Aceh Indonesia for the crime of being homosexual. Michael Kirby asked all in attendance at the lunch to make it known to local and international politicians that we are appalled by such practices and we would like them to speak out against it.

As Australians, we pride ourselves on giving everyone a fair go. Certainly, organisations who are members of DCA are actively working towards creating inclusive workplaces where individual differences are valued and people can feel free to bring their whole identity to the workplace.  But how inclusive as a society are we really?

Only a few days ago, the President of the AMA, Dr Michael Gannon, wrote to the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader asking for a bipartisan approach to marriage equality as he outlined significant mental and physical health consequences experiences by LGBTIQ+ couples as a result of their exclusion from the institution of marriage.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Homosexuality was only decriminalised in the last Australian state, Tasmania, in 1997. Federal protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status have only been in place since 2013 and transgender individuals have only been able to serve in the Australian military since 2010.

As I was preparing for #IDAHOBiT day, I came across an article by The Gender Centre telling of a transgender woman and activist who was found murdered in her apartment.  I stared at the name identifying the woman and reeled in shock.   Her name was Nadine Stransen and I knew her.  Indeed she had grown up as a close friend of my husband’s and I first came to know her when they reconnected after her transition almost twenty years ago.  We lost touch as sometimes friends do, not because of a lack of fondness but because, you know, work and kids and life – it happens. 

I looked at the date of her death - 4 February 2016 -over a year ago and we were only now finding out. How could that be?  I searched for more information on the internet but there was very little.  An obituary, short and sweet in the Sydney Morning Herald.  A sentence about her in a few death notices.  A line here in Reddit, a line there in My Death Space, a site dedicated to memorial tributes, another line in another tribute website Heaven Address and that was pretty much it.  No media coverage, no reporting on any online news bulletins, no reference to a police investigation either.  How could that be?  We are talking about murder!

Nadine was a member of the Transgender Liberation Coalition and was instrumental in introducing legislation for the inclusion of transgender people and their partners, into both NSW and Commonwealth anti-discrimination law. 

She was an artist. She was also a kind person, someone who had struggled with her identity, someone who found it very difficult to get work and keep friends outside the transgender community.  Nadine had to live her life on the fringes of society because that was the only place where there was room for someone like her.  That, even in death, she should be afforded such little respect was inconceivable to me.

In 2016, there were over 100 reported murders of transgender people around the world. Transgender Europe has been counting the number of trans people murdered since 2008, but we know this is only the tip of the iceberg as huge numbers of murders aren’t reported.

Where murders are reported, the media has often mis-gendered trans-people, so much so that the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission had to release guidelines for media reporting of trans issues.

According to the LGBTI Health Alliance, transgender people aged 18 and over are nearly eleven times more likely than the general population to attempt suicide in their lifetime, and have depression rates five times higher than the general population.

One of the events I attended last week was at Clayton Utz, another DCA member doing great things in the area of diversity and inclusion.  On the speaking panel were two senior lawyers who were focussed on changing the common law in Australia so that transgender kids would have an easier time getting access to puberty blockers and to hormone treatment of their identifying gender so that they would not develop irreversible facial and muscular changes.  Also speaking were the mothers of two children who had already begun transitioning at ages 8 and 11 respectively.  These incredible parents spoke of the journey of transition with their children, what it meant to support kids before puberty hit and how to engage other parents, schools, sporting clubs and other groups along the way.  This support cannot be underestimated given the risks of mental illness and self harm or suicide amongst transgender people.

LGBTIQ+ people – and especially transgender people – face enormous challenges in trying to be who they truly are. Surely treating them with respect and making their journey easier is the least that we can do as fellow human beings?

I encourage all employers to do more to ensure workplaces are welcoming and safe for everyone and that no one needs to feel excluded.  As a society, we certainly need to do more.

Rest in peace Nadine. You will not be forgotten.


Lisa Annese, DCA's CEO

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