UN expert calls out anti-trans media coverage in Australia

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Photo: United Nations

A United Nations expert has hit out at some Australian media for “othering, demonising and scaremongering” transgender people and the doctors who care for them.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz is the UN’s independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Writing in The Guardian, he said recents attempts by Australian media to paint trans people as part of a new “social fad” or “ideology” are “profoundly incorrect”.

He said such “misrepresentations” also perpetuate “harmful stereotypes” which delegitimise transgender Australians’ identities and ultimately impede their human rights.

“In the past few decades [the trans community] has made extraordinary progress in the furtherance of its human rights,” he wrote.

“[However] members maintain a reported life expectancy of just 35 years in some parts of the world.

“I am of the view that some aspects of the public debate in Australia misrepresent the lived realities of trans people, particularly trans youth.

“I sincerely hope that all persons interested in this issue would listen to the voices of trans persons and their families.

“If they listen to only a fraction of the stories that I have heard, they would no doubt recognise the struggle that is their everyday life, and that is worthy of respect and solidarity.

Madrigal-Borloz said gender diversity “has existed at all times and across all societies,” including among indigenous Australians.

“Trans people are by no means part of some new ‘idea’ or ‘ideology’ being brought to Australia,” he said.

“Australian trans youth are not being influenced by social media as part of a social fad.

“Classifying trans-inclusive healthcare as ‘experimental’, ‘gender engineering’, or as part of a broader political agenda is reductive and offensive.”

Transgender people must be placed at the forefront of the conversation

He said a gender transition is “a deeply personal decision which is often made at great risk to a person’s own safety.”

“In this context, access to trans-specific healthcare, identity documents, or even bathrooms, are basic human rights and must be treated as such,” he said.

“Transgender lives are not sinful by definition, are not disordered by definition, and certainly are not immoral by definition.

“Stigma automatically associating trans people with sin, illness and crime must be dismantled.

“Rather than ‘othering’, demonising or scaremongering, the best way to continue… is through a public narrative that is evidence-based and respectful of human rights.

“The people most affected by public policy decisions, trans and gender diverse people themselves [must be placed] at the forefront of the conversation.”

In August, The Australian newspaper came under fire from experts for “biased” coverage of transgender issues in a dedicated “Gender Issues” section on its website.

Australian Press Council’s new guidelines for reporting on LGBTIQ issues

It comes after the Australian Press Council unveiled new guidelines on Friday to assist journalists and publications to improve reporting on LGBTIQ issues.

“This advisory guideline is intended to help publishers and journalists report on people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics and the issues which affect them,” a spokesperson explained.

“The Press Council also aims to promote the understanding that unfair or inaccurate reporting about these individuals can have serious adverse mental health outcomes for them.”

The APC said the new advisory guideline was the culmination of 12 months’ research and consultation, including with community leaders at ACON and Thorne Harbour Health.

ACON Deputy CEO Karen Price said while the guidelines are not binding, “we know that journalists and editors want to get it right.”

“The new guideline provides a good reference point to support better quality reporting,” Price said.

“Given our communities’ experience of verbal and physical abuse and concerning rates of mental health problems, reporting that is salacious, stigmatising or aims to create ‘click bait’ headlines can cause real damage.

“These pieces contribute to attitudes and environments in which our communities feel fearful, misunderstood and excluded.

“We congratulate the Australian Press Council on this work and commend them for taking the initiative in support of their members.”

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