“The majority of instances of homophobia and transphobia happen within halls and colleges” according to the ANUSA Queer* Department’s report on the observed experiences of homophobia and transphobia on campus. For James Connolly, Burgmann’s Queer* Officer, this report “provided added impetus for University Colleges to facilitate a more open, caring environment for Trans* residents”.
On 22nd April, Burgmann College co-hosted an education forum and workshop with the ANUSA Queer* Department and TranzAustralia. The event was open to everyone, and aimed to educate attendees on the experiences of the Trans* community, the struggles they face and the technicalities that cause common confusion.
The report found that 87% of cases of discrimination go unreported, begging the question of whether colleges and residences, as well as the greater ANU community, are doing enough to support Trans* students.
Someone who is working to address these attitudes is Jenni Atkinson, who founded and ran TranzAustralia through Youtube and Facebook in 2011, before expanding with the help of The Canberra Gay and Lesbian Pink Club. TranzAustralia plays a significant role in providing much needed support and education on Trans* issues. In particular, it provides support and resources for Trans* people who recognise that they do not fit within a gender binary.
Atkinson opened the forum by explaining to the audience four general spectrums that make up someone’s sense of being: sex assigned at birth, sexual attraction, gender identity and gender expression. Some may sit outside these spectrums, and identify as asexual or agendered. The workshop examined a multitude of combinations that can make up a person and taught that, in practical response, this necessitated the acceptance of an identifying person’s identity, and use by others of their preferred pronoun.
Student and resident Freya Willis found the workshop helpful to “clarify common misrepresentations and simplifications that dominate the Trans* narrative”.
The diverse panel of gender fluid members of the Trans* community exemplified that there is no single, archetypal path that Trans* people follow to feeling comfortable with who they are. As the Queer Department’s report indicated, 76% of the people surveyed experienced homophobia or transphobia from other students, making college and university events like this important for educating attitudes and behaviours.
The presenters of TranzAustralia applauded the ACT for being at the forefront of Trans* rights laws. The ACT is the only State or Territory where one can identify as any gender, or no gender, without gender confirmation surgery. But this was dampened when Atkinson revealed that a “Trans* person is killed every 32 hours somewhere in the world”.
Even within ANU, gender markers in school documentation is difficult to change, often leading to students having to correct or “out” themselves through no choice of their own.
As Burgmann Queer* Officer, Connolly had all gender-specific signage removed from bathrooms and showers in the College, and placed on the College public bathrooms “reminders that it was the individual’s prerogative to identify with the gender, if any, they felt comfortable identifying with”. These changes were applauded by one panellist who expressed his “happiness at seeing the signage” which was seen by Connolly as “a personal validation of the work I had put into the changes”. Small changes can truly resonate when we realised something as simple as a sign can remove the incomprehensible discrimination and humiliation often experienced by the Trans* community on a daily basis.
TranzAustralia taught that, in 2015, the gender construction cannot hold people within it against their will and that everybody has the choice to determine how their identity is perceived by others.