Firstly I acknowledge the Wurundjeri people as the traditional owners of this place, their elders past and present, and all First Nations peoples here today. I also particularly give thanks for this gathering to Garry Deverell, who, like my fellow speakers, so ‘gets’ where trans people are coming from and the urgent need for stronger intersectionality for love and justice.
The great Black feminist lesbian writer and activist Audre Lorde, put it well: ‘there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.’ Therefore, ‘we share a common interest… you do not have to be me in order for us to fight alongside one another. I do not have to be you to recognise that our wars are the same. What we must do is commit ourselves to some future that can include each other and to work toward that future with the particular strengths of our individual identities.’
I finally began coming out as transgender in 2015, around the ‘transgender tipping point’ declared by Time magazine. It was an optimistic time, and there have been some advances. Notably, in Church circles, 2017 saw a declaration of support for transgender people pass overwhelmingly in the Church of England’s General Synod, backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In 2018, following on from civil law, the Uniting Church also passed its own particular marriage equality resolution. Since then however there has been a massive backlash, in religious and secular circles, and gender diverse people have borne the brunt.
The anti-trans backlash began with the 2017 plebiscite. As the ‘Yes’ campaign centred its imagery on happy conventional gay couples, the ‘No’ campaign led with Celia White, Frankston Woman herself, and attacks on gender diversity. The Right clearly signalled that gender diversity, together with religious discrimination, would be their target. Recent events are therefore not isolated incidents, or part of a legitimate ‘debate’ about sex and gender. They involve coordinated campaigns, interlinked with right wing populism and global conspiracy groups.
The backlash takes various forms. In Sydney, it uses that city’s deep conservative religious cultures, prominent in the offensively named Christian Lives Matters. This group has attacked queer Christians across Sydney, not least Catholics, and, on several occasions, Pitt Street Uniting Church. That is no accident. For Pitt Street Uniting Church has been fully affirming for decades, as Sydney’s queer religious heart, and, significantly, I remain the only licensed openly transgender ordained minister in Sydney, or New South Wales, or indeed any Australian capital city.
In some ways, it is not the obvious violence that is the greatest worry, despite the resulting trauma. For the deepest threat is the disturbing network of elected politicians, leading media elements, and professionals who promote pernicious and intentionally divisive ideologies. Thus a nest of anti-affirming care ‘professionals’ exists in one of Sydney’s major hospitals which looks after trans children. Meanwhile, beyond angry old straight men like Mark Latham, at least one major Australian party is struggling with the entryism of such people: naturally, for we have seen the same tactics in the UK, and USA, and this is being deliberately imported.
Sadly we still have to address the tragic, but easily reducible, statistics of transgender pain, including those in peer-reviewed studies of transgender adult Australians. These show 63% having reported previous self-harm and 43% having attempted suicide: many times higher than the general population. The lack of adequate attention to young gender diverse people is also massively troubling: their rates of stress and suicide being twice that of gay young people, which is quite bad enough. We know what is needed: access to trans-affirming health care, not least provision of accessible surgeries; determined education and awareness; significant employment, housing and mental health support. At best Churches are typically silent on these. As far as I am aware, beyond the welfare sector and some schools, it is rare to find specifically trans affirming policies on most things. Entering many ‘mainstream’ church spaces is still too often like playing Russian roulette, and ministry as a trans person remains challenging. In doing so, Churches fail to receive fully the gifts and enlarging image of God which gender diverse people offer.
All the above needs attention. However, above all, I want to reaffirm intersectional solidarity. Judith Butler has recently helpfully outlined how and why gender diverse people are now at the centre of debate, even though we still lack real voice, agency and resources. As she observes, opponents are actually very inconsistent and often rationally incoherent. They also construct the very ‘gender ideology’ they oppose. We therefore need to face up to their real aim, and profound threat, not only to gender diverse people, but to all minorities. For, in Judith’s words:
this reactionary movement, the term “gender” attracts, condenses, and electrifies a diverse set of social and economic anxieties produced by increasing economic precarity under neoliberal regimes, intensifying social inequality, and pandemic shutdown. Stoked by fears of infrastructural collapse, anti-migrant anger and… the fear of losing the sanctity of the heteronormative family, national identity and white supremacy, many insist that the destructive forces of gender, postcolonial studies, and critical race theory are to blame. When gender is thus figured as a foreign invasion, these groups clearly reveal that they are in the business of nation-building. The nation for which they are fighting is built upon white supremacy, the heteronormative family, and a resistance to all critical questioning of norms that have clearly restricted the freedoms and imperilled the lives of so many people.
The anti-gender diversity movement is hence a threat to so much that is life-giving. Therefore, to echo Judith Butler, ‘the time for intersectional solidarity is now.’ St Paul called it being one Body, responding to the needs of weaker, and more shamed, members. Thank you so much for your support in this.
address to Trans Solidarity Vigil by the Revd Dr Josephine Inkpin, at St Mark’s Fitzroy, on Trans Visibility Day, 31 March 2023
 Speech entitled ‘Learning from the 60s’ at Harvard University, https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/1982-audre-lorde-learning-60s/
 see further ‘The Health and Well-Being of Transgender Australians: A National Community Survey’, published online at https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/lgbt.2020.0178
Leave a Reply.
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: