Transphobia must die

The recent spate of violent anti-queer attacks in Australia is disgusting, and a long time coming. Honi condemns them in the strongest possible terms.

CONTENT WARNING: This article contains mentions of violence, queerphobia, transphobia, police violence (including towards First Nations’ people) and mentions of Nazism. 

Over the last month, a series of increasingly violent attacks on queer people, and queer rights protests, has unfolded across Australia. Black-clad Christian men first took to the streets of Newtown, ostensibly intimidating queer passersby. Then, Nazis accompanied transphobes on the steps of the Victorian Parliament. On Tuesday night, a group of LGBTQIA+ activists holding a speak-out in Belfield against transphobia were met with mob violence. Today, Federal Independent Senator Lidia Thorpe was tackled by police at British transphobe Kellie-Jay Keen’s rally outside parliament. 

The suite of transphobic attacks across Australia is at least partially attributable to Keen’s ongoing tour of Australia. In Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Hobart and now Canberra, Keen has held events that are aimed at denying trans people the right to exist. She has been doing this elsewhere for years. The crowds supporting Keen, at each event, have been outnumbered by queer rights protestors who have bravely turned out to protest these events. The extent to which these protestors have outnumbered Keen’s transphobic supporters has increased at every event thanks to the efforts of queer rights activists. 

But the events have also been spurred by Christian men — some linked to the Christian Lives Matter group — who were responsible for the violence in Newtown and Belfield respectively.

These events represent an undeniably serious escalation of anti-queer attacks in Australia, and an alarming infringement on the rights and safety of queer people — particularly for members of the transgender community. No one should have to hear these sorts of vile slurs. No one should have to face assault and harassment by queerphobic cowards. No one should have to walk down the streets, afraid that because of their identity, they will get hurt. Honi is disgusted; the queer Editors writing this piece are speaking from a place of anger. The recent spate of violently transphobic events is deserving of the most severe condemnation. We wish to lend our full support to the queer community in this deeply upsetting and traumatic time. 

The immediate cause of these attacks is frighteningly clear: queerphobia and transphobia. Nothing more than a virulent hatred of queer and trans people can explain the conduct of these attackers. In recent weeks, Christian figures have claimed that “religious freedom” justifies this conduct behind the defence of “family values, children, society and country”. This is an unacceptable argument. To assault queer activists, to hurl gravel and projectiles at them, to label them pedophiles, and to pledge to “grab them and drag them by their fucking hair” constitutes a direct, calculated, and illegal attack on queer people. To claim, as the Maronite Eparchy did, that “the freedom of expression and opinion is important for all of us”, is to completely disregard the brutal violence that has been inflicted on queer people. Honi does not care about any of the perpetrators’ supposed desires to uphold religious values; we are consciously aware that these attacks have come from a place of hate.

Although trans exclusionary radical “feminists” (TERFs) like Keen claim that they are fighting for women’s rights, there is no tension between trans rights and women’s rights. In fact, the two are mutually reinforcing. As feminists fight against the power of the patriarchy, trans rights activists fight against the enforcement of the gender binary which sustains that same patriarchy at the expense of women and queer people. 

Trans women are women. It is anti-feminist to oppose the rights and very existence of trans women, as Keen and those like her spend so much energy doing. 

But TERFs are not feminists. They have no interest in women’s rights. And they know this. Their interest lies in the terrorisation of trans people. This much is clear from their rhetoric and the types of people who associate with them: nazis, racists, and misogynists.

Part of the reason we have seen such extreme displays of violence and hate directed at queer people is the way that queerphobia — particularly that directed towards trans people — has been normalised as a feature of discourse in this country. The media should be attributed responsibility for this, framing trans rights as a legitimate debate and publishing article after article about trans people, whipping society into an anti-trans moral panic.

In recent weeks, academics at Australian Universities — including two at USyd — have made alarming comments about the transgender and gender non-conforming communities. Transphobia is now endemic in academia. It has become so under the guise of academic analysis and under the flawed pretences of TERF logic. 

Mainstream politics also should be attributed with some degree of blame. From Victorian Liberal Party MP Moira Deeming — who attended the Melbourne event attended by Nazis — to TERF Katherine Deves, the Liberal Party candidate for Warringah in last year’s federal election, transphobia has begun to infiltrate mainstream politics. This is not to discount the role played by One Nation in the rise of transphobia: Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts were both present at Keen’s Canberra rally and the party has been consistently responsible for advocating for anti-trans legislation. The violence in Belfield immediately followed an event held by One Nation NSW leader Mark Latham.

The Labor Party has not done enough to prevent this normalisation of anti-trans hatred. Anthony Albanese told the Daily Telegraph during the Federal Election campaign that men cannot have babies, a response which validated an anti-trans dog whistle of a question. Albanese is yet to condemn this month’s events in any meaningful way. 

The political response to the spate of transphobia gripping Australia has been meek. The Liberal Party federally introduced a bill to ban Nazi symbols, which was rejected for now by Labor, citing the rushed nature of the Bill. In Victoria, the Andrews Labor government decided to fly the trans flag outside parliament and has promised to introduce laws to ban the Nazi salute.

But amidst these responses has been a fundamental failure by Labor and the Liberals to go beyond condemning violence and Nazi displays and extend this condemnation to the transphobia which has caused this recent spate of violence. Transphobia has been systematically permitted to be a legitimate facet of discourse, and the failure of politicians to unequivocally condemn transphobia — except in the most violent forms — is a failure that has, and will, hurt the trans and queer community for years to come. 

The political response to these events ought to also include the removal of barriers to healthcare and self-identification faced by trans people. Politicians should drop all attempts to restrict queer rights in the name of “Religious Freedom”. Mere lip service and symbolic actions in support of queer people will not have the effect of these measures to meaningfully protect queer rights.

The fact that police have targeted queer rights protestors  — with a particularly violent response in Melbourne and against Thorpe in Canberra — is unforgivable as well. Even when a small group of queer rights groups were brutalised in Belfield, police did little to protect queer people. The police do not protect us and should not be trusted to do so. 

Queer rights are under attack. That attack has played out so devastatingly violently on our streets this month. The severity of the recent attacks on trans people should not be underestimated. They may indeed escalate. Trans and queerphobia in all its forms is disgusting and condemnable. Those in power have a moral obligation to publicly say this. If they don’t, they are culpable for failing to prevent the pain and violence suffered by the queer community. Honi stands with the queer community in this difficult time. Honi will always stand with the queer community, and recognises that its trans members are facing the brunt of queerphobic violence and hatred. It is profoundly alarming that this position is not universally shared.

The title of this piece has been ammended.