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Sydney Opera House panto sparks more trans worries

Christmas pantomime TrAnnie is insulting but anti-discrimination bosses are struggling to handle complaint, say trans campaigners
Trevor Ashley getting his make-up on in the promotional video for the TrAnnie pantomime.

Sydney Opera House’s decision to stage a pre-Christmas pantomime, TrAnnie, which has offended transgender people is making waves beyond the artistic sphere.

The show at the iconic Australian venue is by popular drag performer Trevor Ashley. It’s based around a ‘he/she’ [sic] protagonist in a spoof of the New York-based musical Annie.

Trans activists are arguing laws to protect the trans minority as well as the institutions to uphold that law, appear biased against them. And some have claimed the state anti-discrimination body is, itself, guilty of discrimination.

The concerns come as the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board (ADB) begins replying to formal complaints that TrAnnie is guilty of vilification of the trans community, as set out in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

This act makes it illegal to ‘incite hatred towards, serious contempt for or severe ridicule of a person... on the ground of the transgender status of those persons’.

According to response that we have seen to date, the ADB will not at this stage look at complaints about the panto itself, on the grounds that as it has not yet been performed, it does not yet constitute a ‘public act’ within the meaning of the law.

Meanwhile, transgender campaigners are concerned the advertising material for TrAnnie which they consider incites serious hatred through the language used and through releasing details of the shows plot, which directly associates trans people with sexual perversity and pedophilia.

The name of the show, they say, is an insulting word, on a par with ‘faggot’ or ‘nigger’.

The ADB has also created concern by refusing to consider complaints by someone who has not ‘identified themselves’ as being transgendered. This is in line with state law. But it ignores the issues facing many trans men and women who, post-transition, prefer to ‘go stealth’ and not identify as trans.

We have heard from one individual who preferred to drop a case for discrimination against a former employer, rather than undergo the humiliation of being forced to out herself in order to comply with the demands of the ADB.

ADB president Stepan Kerkyasharian confirmed to us: ‘Only members of the vilified group can make complaints to the Anti-Discrimination Board. Therefore the board must satisfy itself of the identity of the complainant and the belonging to a relevant group.’

In one instance where we have seen the ADB’s official response, this is also the line they have taken with a potential complainant. But it’s not clear what proof is needed to comply with their requirements.

The New South Wales ADB website contains two conflicting definitions of who is covered by the law and who, therefore, they consider to be trans.

In one explanation whether or not you are counted as transgender under NSW anti-discrimination law appears to be simply a matter of self-identification, with no hormones, surgery or documentary proofs required.

Further down the same page, a very different definition is provided. It states transgender people need to ‘have a new birth certificate’ from one of a list of recognized bodies.

Kerkayasharian declined to provide any further response to criticism of the ADB's handling of this matter. He has, however, since written explaining that in order to qualify as a complainant, an individual need only identify as trans in their complaint. He has also stated that the ADB's position is in line with the requirements of NSW law in this respect.

The decision of the ADB is now likely to be escalated to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal, which acts to provide ‘independent, external review of administrative decisions’.

Watch the promotional video for TrAnnie here:

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