Words || Danny Zheng
It was a cold and windy evening when I had the chance to hear the words of Macquarie’s former LGBTIQ Student Representative (SR), Timothy Zhang, as he pronounced the issue of trans and intersex students getting harrassed on campus. “They do exist and they deserve our care.” Zhang said.
It’s been a while since the SRC filed a motion to speak for the demand of the trans and intersex students for a gender-neutral bathroom built on campus. The issue first grabbed my attention as it addressed the rights of people in the LGBTQI community, especially of those who belong to the T and the I.
What Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson told Grapeshot [Editor’s note: In our article on gender-neutral bathrooms] about ensuring equality for the trans and intersex students had me thinking about the issue back in the country where I came from. “Who would care that much for the T and the I?”, I wondered.
Vietnam is still a developing country where economic issues are more of a concern to the people than social and human rights. The culture has, just recently, been slightly more open to accept the gays, lesbians and bisexual people within the community, whereas the trans, intersex, and other queer people remain subjects of humiliation, hatred and discrimination. No wonder projects like building gender-neutral bathrooms, even in public places, still seem like far-off futuristic scenarios. Not until late 2015 were identities of transgender people approved legally after gender reassignment thanks to the Government’s new amendment of the Civil Code. Before that, as reported by VTV (Vietnam Television), trans people had their surgeries carried out in other countries, and lived in the hope of one day having access to legal recognition of their identities.
I’d been running around the campus trying to collect some people’s opinions on the issue of having gender-neutral bathrooms. Most of the feedback was positive, however there were still concerns, and one of those people questioned the population of the trans and intersex students on campus, arguing that it is not reasonable to make changes just to satisfy the minorities.
I found this somehow sensible so I decided to pose this question to Zhang, and his answer woke me up: “As a community, we all have a responsibility to look after the minorities”. Indeed, speaking of the matter of majority and minority, admitting that people in the minorities bear the struggles of difference, aren’t we as much of a human being as they are, and therefore supposed to embrace and make them feel like they are part of us? Taking disabled people as an example, giving how small their population in Macquarie is, our university spend an annual budget of $3.5 million to upgrade facilities for them to use. Zhang said, “We have an obligation to look after those students and that’s why we need to spend the money. So, same thing applies here. Just because you’re not transgender or you’re not intersex, doesn’t mean that there aren’t people out there who aren’t.”
In a way, the LGBTIQ community in Australia, though it shares the same struggles as every other LGBTIQ community in the world, have been more accepted and acknowledged, partly thanks to a modern society that prioritizes the human rights of the individual. Jonathan Papadopoulo, Project Officer of Student Equity and Diversity told me in an interview that “MQ university does a lot to support diversity on its campus – all our policies are inclusive, and recognise prejudicial or discriminatory actions against trans and intersex students (and staff) as forms of misconduct.” At least, there are people here to realize it and try to stop it. While in Vietnam where human rights are somewhat limited, effort in voicing for equality usually ends up being ignored.
A report conducted by ICS Center (Vietnam Association for the LGBTIQ Community) in 2015 estimated a number of half a million Vietnamese people possessing an undesired gender. Many of them still suffer the trauma of being outcast and discriminated as well as struggle for the aspiration of finding their true self through gender reassignment. Hearing stories from them is heart-breaking. I believe it’s time we thought about the ethics of caring for minorities and embrace difference. Because after all, we still remain human at the core, and humans are one big community.