Trans people face ‘unparalleled’ violence, hate crime inquiry hears


Eloise Brook from the Gender Centre addresses NSW LGBTIQ hate crime inquiry
Images: Special Commission of Inquiry, Ted Eytan/Flickr

The New South Wales’ LGBTIQ hate crime inquiry has heard violence against transgender and gender diverse people is not a “historical phenemonon” and the risk is in some ways “greater than ever before”.

The inquiry, the first of its kind in the world, is examining suspected gay and trans hate crime deaths between 1970 and 2010 in the state.

This week, a string of witnesses have given evidence in Sydney discussing the “social, legal and cultural factors affecting the LGBTIQ community” in that period.

‘In some ways risk of violence is greater than ever before’

On Thursday, Eloise Brook addressed the inquiry. Brook is an author, academic and advocate who is health and communications manager at Sydney’s The Gender Centre.

Brooks told the inquiry that while the NSW inquiry is focused on crimes from 1970 to 2010, anti-LGBTQIA+ violence isn’t a “purely historical phenomenon”.

“In some ways the trans and gender diverse community is now at greater risk of violence than ever before,” she said.

“As our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters were about a decade or two ago, we’re in the middle of a civil rights struggle to be able to further the lives of our community.”

Trans communities globally are facing “unparalleled” levels of violence and discrimination, Brook said.

“The trans community in New South Wales is part of a global community,” she said.

“Right now we are experiencing levels of violence, but also [media] reporting that’s transphobic and discriminatory, unparalleled.

“We live in a world where weekly we have another international article targeting trans people, whether that’s in sport, whether that’s children,” she said.

“This year in particular we have seen a federal election, we’ve seen an American midterm, we’ve seen in the UK. [We’ve seen] the forefronting of trans identity as being somehow a central aspect of policy or of platforming towards re-election.

“Fortunately, in almost all of these instances, they’ve failed.

“The wider community of Australia – and even the UK and also the US – can see how problematic, dangerous and discriminatory it is.”

‘All hands on deck trying to bring transgender community through’ current climate

But she warned the “unrelenting negativity” that washes through both the media and social media “has a wearing effect upon the resilience of our community and, in particular, a wearing effect upon our most vulnerable young people.”

“We are in a situation where we are all-hands-on-deck trying to make sure that we can bring our community through whatever it is that you would call this at the moment,” she said.

Brook said statistics show four out of five trans young people have ever self-harmed and around one in two trans young people have attempted suicide.

“That particular figure is burned into the mind of all of the parents who are doing the best that they can to keep their young people alive,” she said.

“The Gender Centre saw 347 families in the last financial year, and of those families, 67 were on suicide watch.

“This means one parent [is] at home all the time and one [is] working. The pressure upon the family to reduce income just to be able to keep their young people alive, for years and years takes an incredible toll.”

But Brook said if you can “keep a young person within the safety of a loving, supportive family”, that risk drops significantly.

“This is not a rusted-on… high figure suicide rate we often see across different cohorts. This is something we can actually do something about,” she said.

‘No distinction’ between LGBT people in the 1980s

Eloise Brook said Sydney transgender community was also “swept up” into violence against other members of the gay and lesbian community.

The inquiry heard of 88 deaths considered by Strike Force Parrabell, a police review of deaths between 1976 and 2000 suspected to involve gay-hate bias, only three were known to be trans or gender diverse.

Brook said this was unlikely to be the true figure. In the 1980s, Eloise Brook said in the 1980s “the delineation in the LGBT community” was nowhere near as it is now. This meant when it came to hate violence, there was “no distinction” between people’s identities.

“No one took the time to find out whether someone was trans, a trans woman, or gay when they were perpetrating violence against them,” she said.

Eloise Brook said even today, it remains difficult to collect data on the trans and gender diverse community.

“There’s no capacity within that collection process to be able to do that,” she said.

“We still have a situation where trans people who are killed or commit suicide, the recording process around death tends to focus upon families.

“Frequently any information that a Coroner might have indicating gender diversity will be left out of the conversation.

“We frequently have people who perhaps were trans women, trans men, who have been killed, who in death are misgendered.

“We don’t have a clear way of being able to identify those community members that we lost.”

‘Fraught’ relationship with NSW Police

Brook said the trans and gender diverse community has long had a “fraught relationship” with police.

But The Gender Centre for years had “worked to educate and build rapport” with NSW Police.

“Not only just to kind of help the police change their approach to trans people, but also to try to get trans people to report or to come forward,” she said.

She said the work of the force’s LGBTIQ liaison officers was “really appreciated” but the GLLOs “represent a small section of the police.”

Inquiry urges witnesses to come forward

The NSW LGBTIQ hate crime inquiry, led by Supreme Court Justice John Sackar, continues in Sydney.

The inquiry earlier published a list of some of the cases being looked at on its website, including the unsolved murders of a number of Sydney trans women.

Investigators have urged anyone with information on unsolved suspected gay-hate deaths to come forward.

Senior Counsel Assisting Peter Gray said the inquiry is searching for “everything that is known and can be found out” about the cold cases.

“Any recollections or pieces of information that you might have, however major or minor, could provide a vital link in understanding what happened,” Gray said.

“In some cases, it may ultimately lead to arrests and prosecutions.

“This may be the last chance for the truth about some of these historical deaths to be exposed. We need to hear from anyone who can help us do that.”

To watch the hearings in full, read about the cases or provide evidence to the inquiry visit specialcommission.nsw.gov.au

If this has brought up issues for you, help is available from QLife on 1800 184 527 or online at QLife.org.au, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

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