Vale Aidy Griffin 1954-2021, by Norrie May Welby

AIDY GRIFFIN (1954-2021)
by Norrie May Welby

The Passing of Aidy Griffin

VALE Aidy Griffin

Aidy Griffin, strategic driver of law reform and social inclusion of sex and gender diverse people, passed away in a hospice on Thursday 7 October 2021, at the age of 67. Aidy worked with others and then local state MP Clover Moore in the mid nineties to draft the first transgender recognition and anti-discrimination bill in the western world. That bill lapsed when parliament rose for the next election, but the cause was taken up again to the government by Aidy and other activists, and it passed the Transgender (Anti-Discrimination and Other Acts Amendment) Act of 1996 (NSW). This is the Act that made possible the later ruling in the High Court recognising non-binary sex (NSW Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages v Norrie [2014].

 

I first met Aidy at an early meeting of the Transgender Liberation Coalition (aka Transgender Lobby Coalition) in the early 1990s, when they gave me advice about finding a doctor who supported non-binary choices with regard to hormone therapy. Aidy was studying at UTS, which was hosting Queer Collaborations, so they invited me along to co-present some workshops on sex and gender. Aidy gave an academic dissection, and I did a little song and dance, show and tell. Everything I know about Foucault and post-modern deconstruction I learned second hand from Aidy.

Aidy was fiercely intelligent, and spoke in a very quiet Irish voice. They were very street smart and politically savvy, and taught me a lot.

At Aidy’s instigation, the two of us took a proposal to the Sydney Star Observer for a regular column on gender and transgender issues, and this became Gender Agenda. We were hosted by Philip Adams on the panel of his ABC Radio National Late Show Live, along with avant-garde drag artiste Cindy Pastel and American feminist academic Jane Gallop. When Philip asked about their gender journey, Aidy replied,“ I took a taxi here”.

We took every opportunity to get in front of cameras and microphones to challenge gender norms and inspire social inclusion, and you can see and hear Aidy starring in the docudrama Sexing the Label, sitting on Gilligan's Island (corner Oxford and Flinders Street) as the 1996 Mardi Gras parade speeds by in fast motion.

A nightclub in Kings Cross that was part of Abe Saffron’s network was accused of discriminating against a transgender woman. In response, Aidy negotiated with the nightclub network for a free venue to use for a fundraiser to benefit the trans community. This led to the 'Trany Pride' Ball at the old Les Girls nightclub, which raised money for the first 'Trany Pride' float in the Mardi Gras Parade. This helped build enough community support for the successful law reform achieved in 1996.

There aren’t many people as caring and intelligent as Aidy, and their passing is a devastating loss. But too, Aidy was part of many invigorating heady and sometimes terrifying adventures, memories to cherish, or to just wonder at how we survived them.

 

Trans Community Call for DPP Appeal #JusticeforMhelody Bruno.

Click here to read the Response to Mhelody Bruno Appeal.

The Gender Centre’s observations of the Westmead article

 07.05.2021

In light of Westmead’s recently published article, Australian children and adolescents with gender dysphoria: Clinical presentations and challenges experienced by a multidisciplinary team and gender service the Gender Centre thought it important to give some perspective from the only organisation of its kind in NSW and Australia. The Gender Centre works with children and families and we sit at the hub of the largest support group of trans families in Australia. We offer over 90% of the trans specific services in NSW and our caseworkers, counsellor and psychologists work with hundreds of families each year.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that while some commentators have burrowed into the data and come back with interesting and superficial perspectives on the Westmead paper, what they are focusing on is concerning but doesn’t capture the full theme of the report. It would be ill advised to see the negative views on the Westmead article as representing the entire paper or even the spirit of the doctors and psychologists who work there.

Much of what the article discusses is also the day-to-day experience of the Gender Centre’s psychological and casework support team. Limited access to transition services in NSW to date have led to an environment where families are desperate to support their gender diverse and gender exploring children and will literally knock down the door to find that support. This is entirely understandable from the perspective of parents and carers. It’s also something that clinicians, psychologists and counsellors are gravelly concerned about and that is reflected in the Westmead paper. There remains serious concerns from gender clinicians, support organisations and professionals — not about the right or rightness of trans and gender diverse children to live their authentic selves — but rather as a direct consequence of historically inadequate funding, and a focus on medical transition without the absolutely essential social and welfare support that is vital to making sure that families and their trans and gender exploring young people get to be their authentic selves healthily.

Here’s the missing part of the story that is present in the report but not evident to the lay person.

Westmead is a once a week clinic. It sees transgender and gender diverse children between the ages of 9 to 15 with most of those children being around 12 years old. The report points out that just over half of those children began identifying as trans girls or trans boys from 2-4 years of age. Another 27% began identifying before the age of ten. That means that conservatively, at least half of the families that were able to get onto the wait list and attend Westmead had no support for themselves or their children for around five years. Of those children consider that, according to the report 72% were either very distressed or extremely distressed about their gender. 

The other important part of this story is the amount of mental illness being reported in parents. 63%. Later the report is even more specific. ’Three-quarters of the families (58/79; 73.4%) [are] presenting in a state of stress due to family conflict or perturbations to family function.”

What does an average transgender family look like according to the Westmead report? Like this: a transgender child comes out as a toddler with persistent distress around their gender identity. Parents then spend around five years trying to get those children support while they wait to be eligible to enter a once a week clinic at Westmead. The wait list is extensive. Often they find their way to the Gender Centre for psychosocial support. They attend our groups. As puberty ticks nearer and nearer they work to keep their increasingly distressed child alive. Those children experience bullying. Those families watch as friends and relatives disappear. Often a child’s distress becomes so great that one of the parents stops working or both parents go part time. For years. Financial and relationship stress grinds away at these families. Media coverage paints these parents as child abusers, straining relationships breaking apart families. And all the while parents are trying to hold their children and themselves together. 83% of mothers are supportive. Another 9% are ambivalent which usually represents a state of grieving at the perceived loss of a child. Parents burn themselves out trying to find a solution. 3/4 of the parents of transgender children in the report are looking for a more holistic approach to helping their kids. Unfortunately however, the only path that families have available is through the medical/clinical model. The mantra for them becomes puberty blockers can save my child. The clinicians at Westmead think so too. 82% of those trans kids are prescribed puberty blockers.

As the paper points out, there is a small cohort of children who have complicating issues around mental health, abuse and trauma that necessitate a careful, professional approach. It is also absolutely true that not all children and/or young people who start the process of exploring their identity see or describe themselves as trans. Frequently along the way, and working with caseworkers, counsellors and psychologists, children and their families find an authentic sense of self. Sometimes that means they are trans or gender diverse. Sometimes it means they are not.

Medical transition is one aspect of transition. One of the other complicating problems that you get with a medical/clinical only model is that parents default as being part of the problem. Parents are caught in the most awful dilemma. Fully responsible for their children. Painted as child abusers in the media. Having to hold themselves together for years and support a highly distressed and isolated child. Then being considered in isolation to the child as the clinical model by its nature only focuses on a patient.

Currently this is the only funded model that parents and families can access. The Gender Centre attempts to support this gap need for psychosocial support. So far this year we’ve seen just under 300 families with gender questioning children. We’re not funded to do so. Couple it with limited gender clinic services and you break parents. Breaking parents means breaking families.

Gender diverse and gender exploring children and their families need vital psychosocial supports that begin before the clinic door and continue long after a child’s time in clinical health services. We need a model of care for transgender and gender exploring children that takes into account the absolute necessity of supporting parents and siblings, and having a whole-of-family approach. The current arrangement in NSW  contributes to family break up. The incredible journey and the displays of love, strength and resilience that trans families demonstrate on a daily basis needs to be included in this conversation.

48.1% is the attempted suicide rate for trans and gender diverse children between 12 -17, as reported in Trans Pathways. That’s an attempted suicide rate 20 times the national average. The same report points out that if transgender and gender exploring children are kept within the safety of a loving family that, that attempted suicide rate drops to the national average. This is a revelatory figure and one that needs to be at the forefront of the way that we discuss, argue and defend transgender and gender exploring children and their families. Trans people are real. Trans children and their families are real. Their journeys are filled with love, insight and bravery. It’s also filled with fear, doubt, discrimination and having to make complex choices. We support our transgender and gender exploring children and families best by acknowledging and embracing this complexity and not by reducing their journeys as a choice between polarised options. In this the Westmead paper captures that complexity and invites further discussion and reflection.

Eloise Brook

Health and Communications Manager

The Gender Centre

A letter to the TGD Community

Dear TGD folk and families,

As you are no doubt aware, the latest chapter in the Education Amendment (parental rights) Bill 2020 is currently underway. For many of us, if not most TGD people and families it is a distressing time. Yet again the legitimacy of trans people’s lives are being discussed across parliament and in the media. It is distressing for many of us that there is currently a focus in the NSW legislative assembly on the idea that a parent’s right to educate their children and instil their own values might necessitate a bill that requires a strict removal of any reference to trans and gender diverse people and forbids all teaching and non-teaching staff as well as volunteers from teaching, advising, instructing or counselling students on anything to do with gender diversity.

From the Gender Centre’s perspective there seems to generally be confusion and misunderstanding around the facts of the bill, around the way that organisations like the Gender Centre work to support schools, and how the Education Amendment (parental rights) Bill 2020 could work if passed.

The Gender Centre has been supporting NSW schools for a number of years. We advise and assist at least one school every week on the best way to help transgender and gender diverse children and families be treated like every other student and family. We work with schools in such a way that parent’s rights to decide values and beliefs for their child is respected and meets the Australian community’s expectations of good citizenship regardless of religious belief, ableness, gender expression or other diversity. It works. We continue to see that with the right kind of support families and students can thrive amongst a plurality of ideas, expressions, beliefs and lived experiences. We see that if you keep a TGD child within the safety of a loving supportive family then that child does well. If you keep that TGD family within the safety of a loving supportive community that child will excel.  We also see, through the various crisis services we provide, what happens when you don’t.

NSW TGD families and community members are anxious and frightened by what is happening around the education amendment bill. That’s understandable. However it’s worth considering a few things about living in NSW and Australia. Many of the major headline news stories we get about trans people and children comes from the US and the UK. In these countries things are extremely dire. The rights of trans people and families are under assault and the lives of trans people are at risk. In Australia trans people experience discrimination and violence across many issues, but there are also federal anti-discrimination laws in place, in schools and in workplaces that insure the rights of transgender adults and children.   

The Education Amendment (parental rights) Bill 2020 is currently working its way through the parliamentary process. However, there are important questions to be answered about how such a bill could work in light of existing federal anti-discrimination laws. Federal anti-discrimination law makes the central tenant’s of the Education Amendment (parental rights) Bill 2020 illegal. Federal legislation overrides state legislation (for further information about the bill you can read Ros Cook of the Inner City Legal Centre’s review of the law here,  as well as Professor Luke Beck’s article here.

The Gender centre encourages community and supporters to contact their state members to express any concerns that they have around the bill.

As usual, the Gender Centre is available to talk and can be contacted on 95199 7599.

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