A central Victorian MP who opposes transgender people having the right to change the sex listed on their birth certificate is threatening the mental health of an already vulnerable community, health and LGBTI advocates have said.
Ripon MP Louise Staley spoke against an amendment to the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act in parliament last week, saying she did not support pre-surgery trans people being able to legally change their gender.
"The feminist in me objects strongly to a man changing his birth certificate to female because he feels enough of a woman to identify as one but not enough to take the step of permanently doing so," Ms Staley said in parliament.
“I cannot help feel that such men are engaging in a radical form of mansplaining, telling women what really makes one a woman.”
She also cited the advantage transgender women might gain over other females in the sporting arena as a reason to oppose the bill and said even the LGBTI community was split on the Labor-led policy.
But Transgender Victoria executive director Sally Goldner said there was overwhelming support for the bill among queer people and described the language of Ms Staley and her party room colleagues as disappointing.
“I found the debate very difficult to listen to, and I shudder to think what some trans or gender diverse people and their families would think if they stumbled onto that debate, especially if they were in a regional area where there’s less support,” Ms Goldner said.
A 2013 Beyondblue report stated as many as half of all transgender community members had attempted suicide at some time in their lives, and Ms Goldner said last week’s debate would “unequivocally” cause more harm to trans and gender diverse people.
Cobaw Community Health chief executive officer Margaret McDonald, whose central Victorian organisation runs a support group for parents of transgender children, asked politicians and members of the public to remain respectful in their discussion of the LGBTI community.
She said those who accessed the Cobaw support group were “very, very hopeful” the transgender community would be granted to ability to amend the legal document.
“It would give dignity to these people – and their families, because it's important to their families too,” Ms McDonald said.
While the bill passed the lower house last week, debate will resume in the Legislative Council next month.
Even with crossbench support Greens and Sex Party MPs, the bill appears one vote short of passing, with Democratic Labor Party and Shooters and Fishers members yet to declare their voting intention.
Ms Staley was contacted for comment.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, phone Lifeline on 131 114 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.