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Our History

Australian Transsexual Association

In the very early 1980's, a small band of transsexual people founded the "Australian Transsexual Association" (A.T.A.) with the aim of supporting transsexual people by advocating for legal and social changes. A member of this group, Roberta Perkins, who had earlier completed an honours thesis about transsexuals, had approached Reverend Bill Crews of the Wayside Chapel Crisis Centre to ask if he would consider the use of the chapel as a regular meeting place offering support to the transsexual girls of Kings Cross.
 
After consultation with Reverend Bill Crews and Reverend Ted Noffs together with Roberta Perkins, regular weekly support meetings for transsexuals commenced.
 
Many of the girls working the streets of Kings Cross, from Darlinghurst Road to William Street were vulnerable to assaults, robberies, rape and harassment. Problems of increased dependence on prescription and illicit drugs were also an issue. Often drugs were a means of managing a multitude of issues as a transgender individual, such as limited employment opportunities, no secure housing, verbal and physical abuse, violent attacks etc. These negative experiences reduce an individual's already low self-esteem.
 
Other issues of concern were incidences of transgenders being evicted and discriminatory treatment by landlords and some service providers.
 
In July 1983, Roberta Perkins met with Frank Walker, State Minister for Youth and Community Services, after he had read her recently published book, "The Drag Queen Scene", a book based on a study that she had undertaken about the transgender sub-culture in Kings Cross.
 
During this time, the media had also become involved in the issues of transsexuals and had produced a documentary movie titled "Man into Woman". This film had also highlighted the plight of transgender people in Sydney, particularly Kings Cross. Public awareness of the issues faced by transsexual people was most certainly on the rise.
 
But what had disturbed Walker about Roberta's book the most was the semi-nomadic lives that young transgenders experienced, forced from their apartments by landlords and unable to get overnight residence in either a men's or a women's refuge. The problem of homelessness was significant and providing transsexuals with a safe refuge was crucial. Most refuge services at the time would not cater for transsexuals.
 
Walker's words have never left her: "Roberta, we have got to find them a place where they can lay their heads at night."
 
She made a submission for funding to open a refuge for transsexuals. Frank Walker approved this plan, two months later a cheque arrived addressed to Roberta and a house was provided as a refuge strictly for transsexuals. In October 1983 the doors opened at 75 Morgan Street, Petersham, and its twelve bed spaces - two double-bunk beds in each of three bedrooms - were filled immediately.
 
On 14th December 1983 Frank Walker officially opened "Tiresias House".

Tiresias House

The original "Tiresias House" in Sydney's inner-west.
The opening of Tiresias House was the A.T.A.s proudest moment, the name "Tiresias House" decided upon in honour of the hero in Greek mythology whose sex was changed by the gods from man to woman.
 
With the premises in Petersham being provided by the Department of Main Roads, Tiresias House became the first government funded service specifically for transgenders in Australia.
 
The first group of residents consisted of young transsexuals that had been traumatised by being cast out of their parental homes or had drifted around Kings Cross searching for identity roots but before long, Tiresias House found itself bursting at the seams with prospective residents and had to increase the available bed spaces to sixteen by turning the lounge room into a fourth bedroom.
 
Soon after Frank Walker's department provided a second house located in Ashfield and a third house was also soon provided in Haberfield. By mid-1984 we had a structured residential system from short to medium-term accommodation.
 
Also by mid-1984 a new group sought accommodation. These were transsexuals who had spent time in gaol and were on parole. Most of them had worked on the streets to support a heavy addiction. Tiresias House was registered as a halfway house for their benefit but the mix of the street-wise with the earlier group of naive middle­ class kids proved to be a disaster.
 
Walker's department once more came to the rescue by providing a fourth house alongside the Petersham railway station. These premises became the official halfway house complete with a detoxification unit and residential nurse.
 
By 1993, D.O.C.S. and the N.S.W. Department of Health entered into a joint funding agreement. This meant that Tiresias House was funded to provide services to minimise the effects of H.I.V./ AIDS on the transgender community. These services included outreach and a community worker position. At this time, Tiresias House was incorporated and renamed The Gender Centre Inc., to reflect the change in services and service philosophy.

The Gender Centre Inc.

Rather than targeting simply young transsexuals, the service began to target people exploring their gender, which included people who identified as transsexual or transgender, cross-dressers and any other person who experienced issues, problems or difficulties relating to the gender assigned to them at birth.
 
The introduction of amendments to the N.S.W. Anti-Discrimination Act in 1996, recognised the legal existence of transgender persons. The term transgender replaced the term people with gender issues which had been used to identify the target group served by the Gender Centre.
 
By 1997, many links had been formed with both the public and the private sectors. Training among employers and employees began to take steps in easing transgender individuals' path to maintaining their employment during gender transition and raised the awareness of gender issues throughout society.
 
Today the Gender Centre remains committed to the support and well-being of transgender people, employing eight staff and housing up to 17 residents at any one time, in three refuges and four exit-houses.

Services Provided

The Gender Centre provides counselling to residential clients, community clients, partners, family members and friends of people with gender issues at no cost. The counselling service also provides support and education to school counsellors as well as counsellors in rural areas.
 
The Gender Centre's residential program can house up to 11 residents (16 years of age or over), in three semi-supported refuge houses. Residents can stay for up to twelve months and are supported to move towards independent living, residents are encouraged to consider a range of options available to meet their needs. In addition, our exit-house program provides semi-supported accommodation for six clients (16 years of age or over) in partnership with the Woman's Housing Company in self-contained units. Residents can stay for up to twelve months and are supported to move towards independent living.
 
Intensive case management is provided for those who find themselves in Gender Centre accommodation as well as the Gender Centre's exit-housing program. Intensive case management is also provided to all community clients accessing the Gender Centre within the borders of New South Wales as well as co/case management with other service providers.
 
The Gender Centre provides advocacy support for transgender and gender questioning people to help facilitate effective outcomes. We also offer training, support and workshops to employers, service providers, students and other people interested in gender issues.
 
We facilitate workshops for residential and non-residential clients of the Gender Centre, workshops include recreational and general interest courses, employment, work skills development training, health, nutrition, cooking and living skills courses as well as stand alone nights when guest speakers present forums on current issues relating to the lives of transgender people living in New South Wales.
 
Outreach is available to clients confined in their homes and in hospital in the inner and outer city areas from Monday to Friday. Night outreach is also available to street based sex workers and private parlours in the inner-city and surrounding areas on a Wednesday evening from 8:00pm to midnight. Gaol outreach is available to all transgender and gender-questioning clients confined in a correctional centre within the boarders of New South Wales (all Gender Centre staff are authorised visitors), and court & cell outreach is available to all transgender and gender-questioning clients within the inner-city and surrounding areas.
 
The Gender Centre produces a range of print and online resources on H.I.V./AIDS, medical and other information relevant to people exploring their gender and their service providers. Information packages (kits) fact-sheets and other printed materials including quarterly magazine "Polare". As part of the resources provided by the Gender Centre we have a library with an array of books and audio-visual material on the issues pertinent to gender questioning and transgender people available for loan free of charge, and a comprehensive website.
 
The Gender Centre operates several regular support groups which often involve guest speakers. We also provide support groups and outings for people exploring their gender.

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The Gender Centre Inc. is funded by Sydney Local Area Health District through the AIDS and Infectious Diseases Branch and the N.S.W. Government Department of Human Services, Community Services under the Specialist Homelessness Service (SHS) program.

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