A coffee with… Sally Goldner

Sally Goldner is Executive Director of Transgender Victoria, Treasurer of Bisexual Alliance Victoria and the presenter of “Out of the Pan”, a weekly radio show on 3CR covering pansexual issues. Editor-at-large of Right Now, Andre Dao, recently had a quick chat with her about her activism.

What motivated you to become a campaigner for LGBTI rights? And what keeps you going?

I don’t know if there was a motivation as such, I feel as if I followed my heart a lot. After I came out as trans, I saw some of the things trans people were facing back at that point: lack of equal opportunity protection, no ability to change birth certificates. And I suppose that was when it all began to fall into place. It was just a case really of listening to my own inner voice, so to speak, and it all went from there. And over time as I’ve come out, I then realised that I was bisexual regarding my sexual orientation.

You’ve been a radio presenter for a number of years now. How does your radio work impact upon your activism?

I think that they’re complementary. Sometimes, one of the issues that I have in my ‘official hat’ type roles, with groups like Transgender Victoria, is that I have to be a little more careful in what I say. The radio role gives me a chance to explore issues as an individual in terms of advocacy, but also other things that maybe the other roles either don’t give me the opportunity to do or I’m a bit limited in what I can say. There are times when I have to be very careful to delineate between the two. I get confidential information as an advocate that I’ll say with tongue firmly in cheek would be very easy to go on radio with but I’m not going to do that. So I do have to be careful but I think overall that it’s highly beneficial. The other angle is that when I represent an organisation, like Transgender Victoria, I can see media from both sides of the microphone. Knowing what it’s like to be both the guest and the interviewer gives me a great empathy for both roles.

In many ways, the law is still coming to terms with trans and gender diverse issues. Are there ways in which these legal shortcomings impact on the everyday lives of trans and gender diverse people?

Birth certificates is a very big one, with only one of Australia’s nine states and territories recognising people on a basis of affirmed identity, the other eight are still based on surgical requirements.

As for other impacts in terms of law, two of the bigger ones are the major areas of exemption to equal opportunity protection, being religious exemptions and sporting exemptions. Re the sporting exemption, they’re not needed, they have very little effect as it is, and they really only make for red tape. Unfortunately the religious one is a bigger problem, as some religious organisations will fight tooth and nail to keep them for their own reasons. The exemptions have an impact, particularly on welfare service provision for trans people.

Beyond the law, what’s the greatest challenge facing transgender people?

First of all, I have to admit I’m reluctant to name one. But there is one that still leaps to mind and that is when someone is beginning to realise that they have a different gender identity than what’s expected, there’s a critical shortage of health professionals, whether it’s GP, counsellor, psychologist, or psychiatrist or any type to whom we can refer people, who already have a basic knowledge about trans issues.

But the other part is where the issue isn’t trans. So let’s say I’m walking my dogs and I sprain my ankle, and I go to a GP, and I actually have to give them a ten minute education on trans because they use the wrong pronouns, or they start saying, “oh so tell me about your transgender journey.” I don’t want to talk about my transgender journey, I want to find out if I need an icepack or a heat pack or a physio for my sprained ankle. These are issues that happen repeatedly. So if there are any health professionals who feel that they would like to work with trans and gender diverse people anywhere in Australia ­– just get in touch.

What are you proudest of in your time as an activist so far?

When I came out about twenty years ago, in April 1995, I didn’t feel as a trans person that I could walk anywhere in Melbourne and feel safe, even from verbal abuse let alone physical. But I think now, at least in Melbourne, and increasingly around Australia, societal attitudes have shifted a long way in twenty years, and it’s been exponential over that time, and particularly in the last almost three years. I’d like to think that I’ve been a part of that to whatever degree, and if that’s made one person happier, if it’s saved one person some stress, that’s a really good thing.

The other thing that came with a huge amount of pride was when Transgender Victoria won an Australian Human Rights Award in December 2014, which was the first time an organisation that identified with any part of the LGBTI community had won a Human Rights Award in its 27 year history. And that has to be a source of pride for trans and gender diverse people, and hopefully gives momentum to the groups like bisexual and intersex which have had less progress than trans issues have. So I think that was a really exciting moment that will go down as a landmark.

You can follow Andre on Twitter @AndreHuyDao