Standing against transphobia and for the right to protest

Things aren’t great in Australia. 

The coronavirus has plunged the world into the worst recession since the Great Depression. Once the pandemic itself subsides, the scars left by the recession will run deep for much longer. In full-on death drive, the Liberals are promising an environmentally disastrous ‘gas-led recovery’ mere months after catastrophic bushfires, premature cuts to Job Seeker and Job Keeper and wild deregulation, including the removal of lending restrictions. With a staggeringly inflated and unaffordable housing market being one of the centrepieces of the Australian economy, its inevitable crash will hit hardest on the working class and the minorities within it. Setting fire to the country, burning down the economy, and stealing what riches are left from the ashes is the Liberal Party’s agenda.

But out of this looming Mad Max hellscape that is Australian politics, an individual has emerged with a true political vision. His name is Mark Latham, and he knows exactly what political question we must urgently address: whether or not trans kids should receive any form of support in schools.

Yes, in this political context, the spectre of trans teenagers haunts Mark Latham. This Saturday October 10, Cat Rose and I will host a rally held by Community Action for Rainbow Rights (CARR) in Taylor Square, Sydney, to fight back against Latham’s attacks on education. The Education Legislation Amendment Bill that he taking to the NSW Parliament proposes to ban the teaching of trans or gender-diverse content in schools, to keep teachers from standing against transphobic bullying, and to disallow counsellors from assisting trans kids with gender dysphoria.

Mark Latham is a clown, a crank, more pundit than a politician, a perennial loser of Australian politics. Some political operators are of the belief that protesting such bills brings more attention to them when they will inevitably die on the floor. But the reasons to protest against them are broader than that.

Right-wing backlash to LGBTIQ communities has brewed since the passing of marriage equality. While the coronavirus knocked the Federal bill on religious discrimination off the table for a while, it will inevitably rear its ugly head again. Mark Latham’s proposed Bill is kindling to a fire that may, in months or years, begin to rage. We know that inadequate responses to a recession can stoke reactionary movements like right-wing Brexiteers in Britain or racist populism in the US. With the Liberals pushing inequalities deeper than ever before, the reaction here could be even stronger and worse than what we imagine or see today.

Trans people have become a popular target in this culture war. Building popular support against transphobia may be crucial in a deteriorating political landscape.

You could claim that One Nation is a powerless fringe party in NSW Parliament in any case. But history tells us that the real threat of One Nation is when the Liberal Party quietly absorbs its rhetoric and policies down the track. One Nation may never truly take power in Australia, but its integration into the Liberals’ agenda has historical precedent, and even today it has a significant overlap with the right-wing of the Liberal Party. This protest is as much about stopping the Liberals from pursuing these ideas as it is about opposing One Nation.

We face another political problem. Right now, the right to protest in Australia is under attack. One of the major hurdles in building popular support for any cause is the determination by the police to quash demonstrations, no matter how small. This has produced pronouncements fit for a dark comedy, such as an officer announcing at Sydney University that if students were on the lawns to eat lunch they may stay in the area, but if they were there to protest, that they must leave.

The hypocrisies are easy enough to point out. Pitt Street Mall bustles, the NRL will let 40,000 into the stands for its Grand Final. Most protests provide a COVID Safe Plan as thorough as any business currently operating. But the nation, the state and the police clearly wear their cynicism proudly on their sleeves. This is the long shadow of the post-9/11 psychosis of the imperialist capitalist project. No doubt this project of suppression had been the fever dream of many in the state and police apparatus for some time, and coronavirus provided them with a ready excuse.

The oppressive relationship between the police and minorities will only intensify in this environment. Police had no qualms about pepper-spraying individuals protesting against deaths in custody at the Black Lives Matter rally in June. That was a direct provocation by the police, long after crowds had been dispersed, and in a protest against their own brutality. The question is how the police will react now to trans and gender-diverse people protesting against the vilification of their community.

The police are no friends of the trans community and they stand to make things worse if they intervene in this protest. Police brutalised a trans woman in Liverpool last year. The police/prison system put trans women into male prisons where they are put at risk in many ways. And trans women have also been deaths in custody, murdered by the system. 

We know that if the police are emboldened enough, they make arrests at these protests of individuals they think key to the movement. Many of the radicals involved in the centre of this are trans identifying. I am a trans woman and was elected to the Mardi Gras board last year by Pride in Protest, a radical group that holds the position that the police should not participate in the Mardi Gras parade because of their brutalisation of First Nations people, as well as violence towards the LGBTIQ community.

If the police are serious enough about pursuing the authoritarian agenda, trans radicals face the possibility of an arrest at this protest. If that dire situation emerges, the echoes of the 1978 first Mardi Gras might start reverberating again. We as an LGBTIQ community must begin to take very seriously the mire of right-wing reaction we live in, from the cranks in One Nation to their influence on the state and the police.

Charlotte Murphy

Charlotte Murphy is a communist and member of the radical queer collective Pride in Protest. Charlotte was elected to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Board in late 2019 as the lead candidate for Pride in Protest.

More by Charlotte Murphy ›

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