Mark Latham's bill seeks to ensure trans and queer children remain in the closet | Liz Duck-Chong

Gender diverse young people exist, and their genders are not able to be suppressed, converted or reprogrammed

With everything else going on, one may have barely noticed that Trans Awareness Week recently came and went. The week felt like a momentary lull, not only as Victoria’s case numbers reached record lows and we began to see a glimmer of hope for an inoculated and social future, but it was one week where the news about trans people was positive, with stories of community history, exploration and joy.

This respite was short lived, however, as I remembered that Mark Latham exists, and that he’s at it again. Earlier this year he brought the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) bill 2020 to the NSW upper house, a dirty piece of work that is set to be seen by the lower house next year, and to stir up another media frenzy when it is.

The bill aims to assert the importance of “parental primacy” in matters of “core values” like gender and sexuality, and ensure that any courses of study from kindergarten to year 12 are free from the concept of “gender fluidity” (which, in the case of this bill, refers to any form of identity, physicality or expression that differs from being cisgender, endosex, and heterosexual).

Almost immediately after it appeared, organisations around the country raised concerns, including the NSW branch of the Independent Education Union of Australia, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, and the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia, pointing to the growing body of study on the lives and wellbeing of trans and gender diverse youth.

The research on this is clear — gender diverse young people exist, and their genders are not able to be suppressed, converted or reprogrammed. They struggle when their identities and lives are disparaged or not taken seriously, and flourish when they are affirmed and respected.

However, the true danger of a bill like this is not in its dismissal of the science, but how it positions its concept of “core values” and parental primacy as neutral, instead of what they really are: ideological.

Many parents and carers play an invaluable role in helping forge the moral and political outlook of their children, but this notion of parental primacy sees them as arbiters of what their children can and cannot want, learn and be; it becomes a form of control, the end point of which ensures trans and queer children remain in the closet, no matter the adverse physical and mental health outcomes.

This ideology also dangerously paints any parents whose moral standing differs — including such radical ideas as loving their kids for who they are — as detrimental to the wellbeing of their own and other children.

The conservative right’s distaste of gender fluidity (or as former anti-marriage equality group Binary Australia refers to it, “radical gender ideology”) is not new either. The Safe Schools situation was a particularly loud and public attack on trans children, but the line between acting ignorant and active harm had been walked for decades prior without any external assistance or legislative backing. My own experience of trying to come out at high school came up against this, well before trans people were the degenerates du jour.

As I reflected on the bill earlier this year, and as I write this, I can’t help but consider how my parents’ own core values impacted me as we stumbled through my early transition together. From the moment I told them I was transgender, their intention was to support me. This was unwavering, even in the face of a lack of information, our fights and disagreements, and their fears about my wellbeing and safety.

Surely this is the core value we should be turning to, one of trusting each other, and of love. A value that sees children as whole and happy individuals, no matter their gender and how it differs from what we may have presumed it to be before.

I was lucky to approach my teen years at a time when the internet was not just in our homes, but in our private spaces therein. A feeling that I had carried with me since I was a child — a distortion or dissonance between how I saw myself and was seen — suddenly had search terms, and held some kind of history. Without a shadow of a doubt, I knew what I was: transgender. I had a word, but very little else.

Trans youth today have not just their words, but adults that increasingly want to understand them, schools that in many cases are working to affirm and make space for them, resources that speak directly to their needs, experiences and possibilities, and, most important of all, they have each other.

In my work with young trans and gender diverse people, I’ve been privileged to see firsthand how they look after and affirm each other. I am always humbled that a child who has experienced such awful judgement and shame from their family can turn around and show such acceptance to peers both alike and different.

This bill doesn’t present a bold departure from a system immersed in gender liberation, but simply reinforces an ideology of hate for the very people we should be teaching how to love.

The presses will no doubt run ragged during the next sitting of Latham’s bill, draining the seemingly endless well of derision they hold for a cohort of children, but I am heartened that the scale seems to be tipping.

In my lifetime I have seen trans youth go from being an unknown entity to a cohort that can speak up for themselves and demand support, healthcare and respect, and I am excited to watch them grow into fulfilled adults who will show us the way. Until then, it’s up to us to create that world for them.

• Liz Duck-Chong is a freelance writer, health researcher, filmmaker and peer worker, whose essays, poetry and non-fiction have been published widely. You can find her online at @lizduckchong


Liz Duck-Chong

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