Prominent Australian trans writers have stood together and refused to contribute work to a major newspaper after it published a transphobic editorial.
The Age this week courted controversy by publishing a piece by freelance journalist Julie Szego titled ‘Trans rights should not automatically trump the rights of other groups’.
Szego claims that allowing rights to trans people will erode the rights of women and gay people.
The piece has been criticised, with social media users calling it “horrific”, “transphobic”, and “deeply unsettling”.
Following publication of the editorial, The Age reportedly approached several well-known trans figures to ask them to contribute a follow-up piece – but all declined.
Writer and historian Dr Yves Rees told Pink Advocate that they decided in 2020 not to contribute again to The Age after it seemingly used Dr Rees’s work “to deflect valid criticism that The Age was platforming transphobic sentiment”.
“I made it clear that I had grave concerns about the spurious ‘both sides’ approach being pursued by the newspaper,” said Dr Rees.
“The implication that ‘trans issues’ are up for debate deeply concerns me.
“This is not a debate at all but a political struggle for trans rights, and those rights are not up for debate.
“I declined the proposed commissions [in 2021] and made it clear that I did not trust The Age with my words.”
Dr Rees said that their decision not to work with The Age, including their refusal to contribute a piece this week, has been “validated by the newspaper’s growing willingness to platform and hence mainstream transphobic sentiment”.
“I was especially shocked by the opinion article published by Julie Szego this week, which makes the entirely spurious claim that trans rights are in competition with those of other groups,” said Dr Rees.
Scholar Joshua Badge was also approached by the newspaper and declined.
“By asking me to write a response, the paper effectively asked me to validate their practice of presenting ‘both sides’ as if they are equally grounded in fact,” said Badge.
“It is the editors’ responsibility to prevent disinformation in their paper, not ours.”
Badge agreed that The Age makes a practice of presenting a “false balance” in discussing trans matters.
“Much of this anti-trans content is factually incorrect and often amounts to deliberate misinformation,” they said.
“Many of these pieces aim to undermine trans people and our rights.
“The paper has proven its hostility toward trans people and our rights repeatedly.
“Writers and advocates have raised concerns online and directly to editors, but they’ve refused to listen.”
Switchboard Victoria CEO Joe Ball announced on social media that he “couldn’t in good conscience” write a piece for The Age.
“For me to write an article would appear as a response to [Szego] and unfortunately legitimise the idea that this is a debate,” they said.
“My right to exist, to live is not a debate.
“It is also the life of many we seek to save who call our services at Switchboard.”
Ball said that presenting trans rights as a debate “buries the bodies of trans people”.
Educator and writer Nevo Zisin was interviewed for the story by Szego but was not mentioned in the published version; they also refused to write for The Age when asked.
“I didn’t know these were her perspectives and I’m glad I wasn’t included in the final article, but I had an awful taste in my mouth afterwards and now I know why,” tweeted Zisin.
Zisin publicly shared their response to the newspaper.
“For The Age to publish [Szego’s piece] at a time where trans suicide rates are at an all-time high, when anti-trans legislation is on the rise in the US and Australia, is not only irresponsible but incredibly dangerous,” they wrote.
They said that rectifying violence against trans people “requires a cultural shift [in] which platforms are not given to those who seek to politicise and elicit further harm onto trans people”.
Research co-authored by Badge published last year found that The Age was among the newspapers reporting most heavily on trans issues.
Alarmist headlines and content often involved “poorly supported claims on the ‘dangers’ of the transitioning process” and “the imagined ‘erosion’ of women’s rights”.