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To 'March 4 Justice' Is To March Against Homophobia & Transphobia, Too

Could a key 'March 4 Justice' organiser be guilty of engaging in gendered violence themselves?

Over the past few weeks, the constant stream of rape and sexual harassment allegations coming from across the Australian political landscape has been nothing short of harrowing.

From the disgraceful Brittany Higgins scandal through to the empowering speeches of the indefatigable Grace Tame, the world has seen both the best and worst that Australia has to offer, as multiple survivors of gendered violence have courageously stepped forward to tell their stories.

With a level of candour that's impossible not to admire, the lived experiences of these two women have galvanised the public to treat women with greater dignity and respect.

But among the marches, calls to action and social platforming, has the true meaning of "gendered violence"  become lost along the way? And could some of its most vocal opponents be guilty of engaging in gendered violence themselves?

While that may sound outlandish to some, it's not when people remember that homophobia and transphobia are in fact forms of gender related violence too.

Take Janine Hendry and the team behind the 'March 4 Justice' rallies across Australia over the course of the past month.

While Hendry has been rightfully praised for bringing together a vast coalition of women and male allies from across the nation over the past month, few people realise that less than six weeks ago she was actively tweeting what could be seen as homophobic and transphobic messages about an openly gay member of parliament.

Nestled among a discussion on superannuation and home ownership, Hendry's tweet (and those associated with it) towards Tim Wilson highlights just how ingrained gendered violence towards the LGBTIQA+ community is within parts of our social and political discourse.

By superimposing Wilson's face onto the body of the acclaimed actress Ethel Merman, the authors of these tweets effectively played to gendered stereotypes, which have plagued LGBTIQA+ people extensively throughout recent history. From gay men being portrayed as too effeminate, lesbian women being portrayed as too butch through to trans people being portrayed as caricatures of 'real' men and women, such cheap gags for political mileage have real and lasting influences on how LGBTIQA+ people are treated.

Having worked alongside Wilson before on the national board of Safe Schools Coalition Australia and the Marriage Equality campaign, it deeply pains me to see him targeted with this type of abuse, as I know from firsthand experience just how hard he's worked for equality for all LGBTIQA+ Australians throughout his career.

But while Wilson may have a thick skin when it comes to discrimination against himself (a fact which he reminded me of when I approached him about this story), the same can't necessarily be said for a teenager who might be struggling with gender and sexuality related bullying at school.

Such opportunistic remarks can be deadly. Detailed studies such as the latest 'Writing Themselves In' report from LaTrobe University show that nearly 60% of LGBTI 16- and 17-year-olds have contemplated suicide due to bullying, and just over 25% have attempted it. These figures are even worse amongst transgender kids, with 83% having considered suicide due to social abuse and over 37% having attempted it, as reported by Beyond Blue.

Longitudinal studies have also shown that reducing homophobic and transphobic bullying and harassment in schools, is crucial to preventing other forms of sexualised violence later on in life.

Whether she realises it or not, Hendry's long history of highly politicised remarks would've also made it difficult for many Coalition state and federal parliamentarians who want to see an end to gendered violence, publicly get behind the "March 4 Justice" movement.  From repeatedly mocking female Coalition leaders such as Gladys Berejiklian, through to comparing Prime Minister Scott Morrison to marijuana and calling for a Lincoln Project style campaign against all members of the Coalition over recent months, the toxicity connected with Hendry's online activities would have been impossible for them to ignore.

But while Hendry's remarks may come across as hypocritical, they're not the only one who've been engaging in politicised, gendered violence against LGBTIQA+ people and women recently.

As shown by Peter van Onselen, Political Editor at 10 News First, the Coalition is facing an existential threat at the next election, due to PM Scott Morrison's handling of the gendered violence crisis that continues to tear parliament apart. From male Coalition staffers masturbating on the desks of female parliamentarians through to the Prime Minister himself weaponising non-existent allegations against a media company, the bombshells nearly write themselves given the insights on political leadership (or lack thereof) that they provide.

However, sparks of hope and inspiration can still come from the nation's Parliament if we're willing to look for them.

Just days after the Brittany Higgins story first broke, a record number of Coalition parliamentarians attended a function held by the 'Parliamentary Friends of LGBTIQ Australians in Parliament House', outnumbering the Labor and Greens elected officials for the first time. While listening to the impassioned advocacy of young trans women such as Isabelle Langley and Neighbours star Georgie Stone, a Nationals MP decided to join Warren Entsch (Liberals), Graham Perrett (Labor) and Janet Rice (Greens) in being a co-chair of the bipartisan group of allies.

If such a simple act of humanity – even at a time like this – still has the potential to take us by surprise, then there may well be hope for Canberra yet.

Kate Doak is an investigative journalist for 10 News First and ViacomCBS.

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